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March 20, 2013

A lighter take on soup for seder

The husband is Jewish and I am his shiksa bride. As young marrieds, we ignored both traditions equally. But when we had children, we began celebrating Jewish and Christian holidays alike, so that as our kids matured they could naturally gravitate to the rituals that moved them the most.

Though I grew up in New York, I’d never attended a Passover seder until I met my future husband. I really enjoyed the meal, but the Passover service seemed so complicated that I felt a tad overwhelmed when it was time to produce my own seder. For that matter, even the meal — with its many platters of symbolic dishes — seemed pretty daunting.

I knew I’d probably never attempt homemade gefilte fish, but I figured I might be able to produce a respectable matzo ball soup. At the time (now a generation ago) I owned no Jewish cookbooks, and there was no internet. So what did I do? I called my mother-in-law. And what did she tell me? To make the recipe on the back of the matzo meal box.

And? Except for the fact that I made the balls too big and they blew up to the size of tennis balls and took forever to cook, I felt pretty proud of my soup. It was tasty.

Since then I’ve produced many matzo ball soups, and not always on Passover. My son, for one, loves it all year. At the birthday dinner parties he used to throw for himself as a teenager (guess who cooked), matzo ball soup was always on the menu. Over time, I’ve refined the recipe from the back of the box.

Like other cooks before me, I swapped out the vegetable oil in favor of schmaltz (chicken fat), which amps the flavor. I also began poaching the matzo balls not in water, but in broth. These techniques made for a notably dense matzo ball — sinkers, not floaters, as Aunt Yetta used to say. But my family liked them that way.

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