Mar 312010

chicken soup with matzah balls

Shmaltz  was the fat of choice for my Russian Ashkenazi ancestors.  In the freezing winters of the Ukraine, they needed a layer of fat to keep warm. On the other hand, people were far more active physically than most of us today. They worked the calories off chopping wood for the stove, drawing well water, making and repairing everything by hand, and walking everywhere.

Every scrap of fat was precious, and not just for eating. My father told me his great-grandmother would skim all cooking fat off, keep it frozen outside all winter, and make soap from it come spring.

Goose or chicken  shmaltz was also a home remedy for pneumonia. Rendered down with plenty of onions and allowed to cool, it was  massaged into the chest and back of the sick one, who was then well wrapped up and kept warm. Sounds disgusting? But the onions draw out fluid and phlegm, relieving the racking cough, while the heat generated by the fat and the wrappings made the patient sweat – bringing down high fever. It was what people had, in those days before penicillin. Better to spend a few days in a fug of oniony shmaltz and hopefully survive.

And people loved the taste of shmaltz – a shmear on bread or matzah, a tablespoon in the pan to start the cooking. We, who monitor our weight and heart health, have almost forgotten what it is. But I have a throwback nostalgia for it. I’m convinced that no other fat gives matzah balls that old-fashioned taste. Plus, nowadays, people no longer regard animal fat with suspicion. A little shmaltz is better for you than margarine, they say, and so I serve it with an easy conscience.

At Passover and Rosh HaShanah, I take the fat off two chickens and render it down with onions. The yield is usually just enough for one batch of matzah balls. The rest of the year, if I get a yearning for matzah balls, I use olive oil – but the taste isn’t the same.

There’s hardly a recipe. Take the raw fat and fatty skin off two or three chickens, or shnorr some off your butcher. Put it in a pan and cover it with cold water. Cook it over a medium flame till all the water has evaporated, and the skin is golden. Then chop an onion and add it to the pot. When you hear crackling and the skin and onion are dark brown, the shmaltz is ready.


Strain it, setting the chicken cracklings aside – the Yiddish name for them is gribbenis. (You can stuff matzah balls with them or add them to a kugel. Or just salt them and eat them as a guilty treat.)

Now, make your matzah balls.

Here’s the typewritten matzah ball recipe my Dad gave me, lo these many years ago: I think he took it from Jewish Cookery, adding his banana bread recipe at the bottom (the bread is obviously not kosher for Passover). It has his characteristic humorous tone. I depart a little from the recipe by adding 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger.

matzah ball recipe from Jewish Cookery

Old-Fashioned Matzah Balls


2 eggs, beaten

4 tablespoons shmaltz or other fat

1 scant cup matzah meal

1/4 – 1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (optional)


1. Combine the beaten eggs, shmaltz, and matzah meal.

2. Add 1/4 cup water, salt, and ginger.If the mix seems stiff enough to roll into a hard ball, add more water by tablespoons till it’s a stiff batter, not a firm dough.

3. Cover the batter and put it in the fridge for 2 hours. This step is important if you want light matzah balls. The batter can rest in the fridge even longer – even overnight. It will become a dough firm enough to shape, but still a little loose in the hand.

4. Have a medium pot with plenty of boiling, lightly salted water ready. With wet hands, form walnut-sized balls of dough, and drop them in.

5. Cover and cook the matzah balls over a medium flame for 30 minutes. Lower the heat so that the water simmers after the initial boil – you don’t want the boil to destroy your little treasures.

6. Remove the matzah balls from the water and either set them aside for later or put them in your soup right away.

Tip: As  Dad noted, they can be cooked directly in the soup, but don’t come out as light that way. Another tip: Use a scant cup, as Dad directed, for light matzah balls. The cannon-ball variety, and some folks like it, comes from a greater proportion of matzah meal and then packing the dough in tightly.

Nice to cook something exactly the way our ancestors did it two centuries ago. Who knows, maybe even longer?

Mar 252010

Some don’t eat garlic on Passover, to show that they are not among the kind of folks who wanted to return to slavery in Egypt. Wandering in the desert, harvesting that same old mannah every morning and evening, the unbelievers complained that they  missed “the cucumbers, leeks, and garlic” of the good old days under Pharaoh.

Well…if you know me a little, you know I love garlic, a lot.  I’m just glad my tradition accepts garlic on Passover. Reader Jasmine, commenting on my recent garlic-love post, sent a link to an article discussing the hazards in garlic imported from China. This sent me off on a search for up-to-date information, which I wrote about for the Green Prophet blog.

When you go out shopping and reach for a package of those nice white bulbs, give a thought to what I wrote in this post.

Just to spoil it for you, the moral of the story is: buy local!

Mar 242010

orange-glazed salmon and stuffed tomatoes

Salmon and orange, there’s an interesting combination for you. It makes a change from gefilte fish at the Seder table, if you want to depart from the old-fashioned Eastern European tradition.

And just in time for warmer weather,  tomatoes are bouncing back from the winter doldrums, looking fat and juicily red. If you’re looking for a dairy menu to serve during Passover week, try the cheese-stuffed ones below. Both recipes are fast and easy, with few ingredients. To round out the dish, try the garlicky potatoes I made the other night.

Orange-Glazed Salmon Fillets

Adapted from

serves 4


4 salmon fillets – about 1 kilo – 2 lbs.
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 -1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground ginger root – or 1 teaspoon powdered
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar –  or use another vinegar if balsamic isn’t available for Passover


1. Preheat oven 400 ° F – 200 ° C.

2. Cook the orange juice over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. When it’s reduced to half and thick, stir the vinegar and ginger  into it.

4. Have a baking pan ready and lined with baking paper. Put the salmon fillets down on it, skin side down. Sprinkle the flesh with salt and pepper. Pour 1/4 cup of the orange juice over the fillets.

5. Bake the  salmon 10 minutes.

6. Drizzle the rest of the juice over the fillets and continue baking 10 to 15 minutes. When the flesh breaks off in rosy flakes, it’s done.

7. Remove the salmon to a warm platter, or cover it and keep it warm on the stove top. Now reduce the roasting juices by letting them cook another 5 minutes at the oven’s highest temperature. When the juices are thick, spoon them out and spread them over the fish.


This dish is good cold too, if you have leftovers.

Cheese-Stuffed Tomatoes

adapted from Al-HaShulchan’s Sukkot 2009 Magazine

Serves 4

Roast tomatoes stuffed with cheese


4 large tomatoes

1/2 cup feta or other salty, medium-firm white cheese

1/2 cup any blue-veined cheese

1 long green onion (scallion)

8 black olives, pitted and halved

2 tablespoons matzah meal

a pinch each of salt and pepper

a pinch of dried thyme or oregano, or any dried herb of choice

1 tablespoon olive oil


Preheat the oven to 350° F – 180° C.

1. Cut the tomatoes in half, from the stem end down. Squeeze out the seeds and gel. Place them, cut side up, on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

2. Chop the cheeses into dice and mix them up.

3. Chop the scallion and mix it into the cheeses.

4. Stuff the cavities of the tomatoes with the cheese.

5. Place 2 halves of olives on top of each tomato.

6. Mix the matzah meal with the salt, pepper, and dried herb. Sprinkle this over the tops of the tomatoes.

7. Drizzle the olive oil over all.

Roast for 30 minutes. There will be some liquid on the bottom – spoon it over the tops of the tomatoes when you serve.

Mar 222010

I love fresh garlic. The season is short, just three weeks, and then the purple-streaked bulbs disappear from the market. I rush to buy my yearly 10 kilos, and shlep all that fragrance home in a taxi because I’m afraid that if I get on the bus with it, I’ll have to pretend I don’t notice all the dirty looks from 20 fellow passengers. Even so, the taxi drivers usually open all the windows. Never mind. I’m the one whose whole apartment reeks for a week, until the garlic dries.

So why do I buy all that garlic, and what do I do with it? Well, have a look at the post I wrote about garlic last year. Just about everything I cook has garlic in it. I detest the expensive imported Chinese stuff that goes sprouty a few days after buying it. I like to buy locally grown garlic that lasts ten months. I buy so much because I know there will be some loss – by the seventh or eight month, some  will go bad and have to be thrown out. And – fresh new garlic is so delicious.

Follow the link above for ideas on how to eat this seasonal treat. And here’s my panegyric on roasted garlic.

Fresh garlic cloves, being juicy, don’t burn and turn bitter as fast as dried garlic does when you’re frying. This evening we enjoyed simple garlicky potatoes made like this:

A handful of baby potatoes, washed, sliced in half horizontally, and steamed till just tender.

1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced

6 entire cloves of fresh garlic, peeled

Olive oil to cover the bottom of a non-stick frying pan

Salt and pepper

I fried the onion slices over medium heat till wilted, then drained the potatoes, and added them to the pan. When the potatoes began to take on a golden color, I added the whole garlic cloves. Sprinkled salt and pepper over all. Shook the pan once in a while to ensure that the potatoes and the garlic would become golden 0n all sides. The onion became crisp and stringy. When the potatoes were cooked through and had acquired a golden-brown color, the garlic cloves were also done. I served. There were none left to photograph.

On Passover, when it’s one potato, two potato, three potato at almost every meal, that easy but interesting recipe might come in handy.

Mar 162010

I compiled a list: Recipes of Passovers Past. And here it is. Next week, and through the holiday, I’ll be posting more.


Roast Chicken with Oyster Mushrooms and Matzah Stuffing Sumptuous stuffed and roasted chicken.

Passover meat-stuffed potato patties

Meat-Stuffed Potato Patties Especially popular with kids.

Garlic Chicken Bites I do only easy cooking on Passover. This recipe qualifies.

Now this wasn’t posted for Passover, but it’s an excellent, easy dish that work for the holiday. Curried Turkey Salad

Passover-SoupSpinach Soup with Roasted Garlic – a light, interesting soup.

Sweet Potatoes Roasted in Date Syrup – an easy vegetable dish.

Herbed Cheese Matza Brie Bubeh never had it so good.

Passover-potato gnocchi

Potato Gnocchi Can I live without gnocchi for one whole week?! No – but here’s a Passover recipe.

Kugel Crust for Quiche I was pleased to discover that quiches are possible on Passover.


Broccoli Kugel Without Matzah Meal Get those veggies into them.

Potato-Starch Noodles Straight out of Eastern Europe ca. 1890. But still good, still good.


Sorbets Light, refreshing, and fruity.

Fruit Soup After a big holiday meal, fruit soup goes down easy and satisfies the sweet tooth.

Passover almond-lemon macaroons

…and thanks to Mrs. S., I’m including the link to scrumptious almond-lemon macaroons.

 Posted by at 9:56 PM
Mar 142010

Interviewing my Yemenite friend Ofrah was so interesting that I’m giving her a post all to herself. Ophra’s  a singer and vocal coach. I study with her every week, in a group. She’s a dynamic, warm, temperamental woman who never misses a beat – or anything said in the room. Sometimes I think she never misses a thought going through our heads.

While both Ofrah’s parents were Yemenite, a streak of Ashkenazi influence runs through her cooking. Her story will tell you why.

“My mother came to Israel at age two (in the  Yemenite immigration of 1939).  By age nine she was already working as a housemaid, in the homes of elderly Ashkenazi ladies. From them she learned to cook gefulte fish, knaidelach, other Eastern European foods.

“Do you know how she was paid? They paid her in meatballs. She’d take these meatballs home and feed them to her brothers and sisters. That’s how she helped the family. She had a tough life.

“We grew up eating gefulte fish and knaidelach at the Seder, along with traditional Yemenite foods. One is matzah fatut: matzah soaked in beef soup, with hilbeh added (a spicy fenugreek relish). Normally fatut is made with bread, but on Passover it’s matzah, of course. We’d eat a dairy fatut for breakfast. The matzah is soaked in milk and samna (clarified butter or ghee flavored with fenugreek, ).

“Other Seder foods? Eggplants, meat, fish, a million kinds of salads.

“My mother would clean the house like crazy. Everything was washed in boiling water or rinsed in bleach. We’d open all the books and shake them out. The windows shone, every object shone with cleanliness.  In the kitchen, we had a separate Passover stovetop. All the spices were bought fresh and checked again. I used to love to sit at the Seder and see how immaculate every single thing in the house was.

“We didn’t sit at a table for the Seder. We would remove all the chairs and the sofa from the living room and put mattresses on the floor. Everyone sat on the mattresses and reclined to the left, and everyone read from the Haggadah in Hebrew and Yemenite Arabic. My father would read out of his father’s heirloom Haggadah. The Haggadah is hand-written and has come down from my grandfather’s grandfather to us. We ate at low tables set around the floor.

“In the community there was a woman who baked the matzot, fresh, in a special Passover taboun (outdoor domed oven). We’d buy three hand-baked matzot for the Seder from her. The rest of the week,  we ate grocery-store matzot.

“The charoset was made of dates, sweet wine, ginger, walnuts, and coffee hawaij (a blend of cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom used to flavor coffee).”

Ofrah laughed when I asked what her favorite Passover food is.

“Matzah brie and  kneidelach” she said. She knows how incongruous that sounds, coming from a typically short, dark, wiry Yemenite woman. But it’s typical of her many-sided self.

“My strongest memories are of my late parents. My father wrapped in his tallit, still young and strong. His voice, his personality, the mark in the middle of his forehead where his tefillin would lie while he prayed every morning. As a child, I was sure that the Shechinah (G-d’s presence) came out of that mark.

“And my mother, of blessed memory. She was a bulldozer type, like me. She’d make us kids eat outside the house the whole week before Passover so as not to bring chametz into the house. We thought it was fun. Memories of my parents are strongest when I sit with my own family at the Seder table.”


Learn more about Yemenite Jewry here with this Wikipedia article.

For more on Yemenite Passover customs, read this article from Bar-Ilan University.

 Posted by at 11:58 AM
Mar 142010

Israeli Food Bloggers you’re invited!

Join me and Michelle from Baroness Tapuzina to talk food, trade cooking secrets and just have fun getting to know one another. Our first meeting was great fun – this one will be too.

When: Thursday, March 18, 2010
What Time: 20:00
Where: Casserole, Lilenblum 3, Neve Tzedek

Miriam: mimi[at]israelikitchen[dot]com or
Michelle: baroness[at]baronesstapuzina[dot]com

Mar 112010

I used to get into a tizzy thinking of Passover substitutes for bread. I’d get into a tizzy baking them. It seemed necessary to produce every kind of matzah-based lasagna, muffin, cake, dinner roll, pizza. Truth is, though, I don’t like those faux-chometz foods very much.  (Faux-chometz, is that a word? Never mind, I just made it up.) So I avoided those recipes.

Then I’d feel as if I’d neglected my duty.

But fake breads make me shudder. Like matzah pizza. Those damp, greasy matzah layers with their blanket of tomato paste and cheese – they look sad and smell strange. And cakes based on matzah meal tend to be stodgy. No wonder so many people complain that Passover is the most indigestible holiday.

Now let me defend myself before I’m accused of hating matzah.  No, I’m grateful  for it. Grateful to have it and for the mitzvah of eating it. I wouldn’t want to separate myself from the spiritual, historical, and personal family associations of matzah.

Jews haven’t always had the freedom to bake matzah. I’m not talking about the far-off Spanish Inquisition – as recently as the 1960s, baking matzah was illegal in the former Soviet Union. What kind of twisted rationale makes an innocent food illegal to eat? How ridiculous would it be to make cupcakes illegal? Well, the flat, flavorless, unleavened bread, icon of freedom from oppression, naturally represents a threat to dictatorship. Yet Jews grew and watched over the wheat, grinding it in secret, secretly baking the matzahs and risking punishment or imprisonment. The bread of affliction, indeed – and the bread of national identity and freedom.

It’s not like I refuse to eat it. I love matzah balls in soup. Matzah brie. Every once in a while, matzah with a shmear of cottage cheese, pesto, guacamole (or sinful butter). This week I came across a intriguing recipe showing the affinity between matzah and eggs:  matzahs stuffed with mashed potatoes, dipped into beaten eggs, then into seasoned matzah meal, then fried.

Ow – sounds heavy, but I think it would make a good appetizer if you keep the portion small. Something to make once over the holiday.

Meantime, it’s spring out there and the markets are full of seasonal vegetables. No need to go through contortions baking bread alternatives to fill the family up.  Colorful, flavorful foods based on seasonal vegetables are a pleasure to cook and satisfying to eat. How about ratatouille to accompany hamburgers, grilled fish, or a cheese platter? Or consider an enormous, main-dish tossed salad. A casserole of sweet potatoes. Roast chicken stuffed with kugel. A turkey stir-fry. Matzah can always go on the side; it is a bread.

Sephardic Jews may draw on grains and pulses, which makes life easier and more varied. Ashkenazi Jews do eat a lot of potatoes. I cook a lot of potatoes on Passover. But it’s time to rejoice in the artichokes – the strawberries – the Swiss chard and eggplants and peppers and celery and tomatoes and avocados.

I don’t miss matzah pizza one bit.

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