Matzo ball soup gets a glow-up in this version by cookbook author Leah Koenig, with fresh parsley, dill, chives, and fennel fronds in the matzo balls themselves, plus more herbs, lemon zest, and edible flowers adding color and bright, spring flavors to each finished bowl of soup.
Passover arrives on the cusp of spring, when the trees are bursting into their annual riot of fragrant buds and flowers. It is no wonder that Passover is also called chag ha'aviv, which translates from Hebrew to "spring holiday." With all loving respect to the heavy, brown, slow-cooked dishes of my Ashkenazi Jewish people, after a long winter, my tastebuds are crying out for all things green and bright.
For Jews hailing from Eastern Europe like my family does (my mother's parents were first-generation Russian and Lithuanian), Passover's classic dishes were shaped by the seasons. The trees outside may have been starting to bloom, but the garden was still bare, and the larder told the story of late winter. With limited produce and other ingredients available, it is no wonder why dishes like tzimmes (a root vegetable stew), starchy kugels made from potatoes or softened matzo flavored with browned onions, saucy braised pot roasts, and gefilte fish quenelles poached in fish stock and brightened with grated horseradish (another root vegetable), became de rigueur.
In my family, tradition is paramount, especially when it comes to holiday food. Eating familiar dishes offers a chance to connect to our history and heritage in a tangible way. I might be able to get away with skipping the gefilte fish, but if the matzo ball soup is missing? That transgression would hardly go unnoticed. And yet, respecting tradition does not have to mean forfeiting flavor or freshness.
This year, I plan to welcome spring to the Passover table with a collection of dishes that honor my family's roots (both figuratively and literally!), while celebrating the holiday's verdant potential. I'll dress up a platter of chicken roasted with leeks and potatoes with a zippy gremolata made from toasted pine nuts, garlic, and parsley. I will serve a gorgeous and colorful salad that takes late-winter produce like thinly shaved beet and carrot ribbons, and matches them with rounds of juicy clementine.
But my guests needn't fret, the chicken soup will be on the table. But our bowls of fragrant, golden broth and comforting matzo balls will be enlivened with a tangle of fresh herbs, lemon zest, and edible flowers. It's a recipe that still honors the iconic flavors of Passover, while giving a glow up that lets them truly shine. — Leah Koenig
Stir together eggs, matzo meal, seltzer, oil, chopped mixed herbs, and salt in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a Dutch oven filled with generously salted water to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium low to maintain a simmer while you shape the matzo balls.
Using lightly moistened hands, scoop out chilled matzo mixture by heaping tablespoonfuls, and roll into balls, carefully adding each ball to simmering water after you shape it. (You will have 18 to 20 balls total.)
Cover Dutch oven; simmer matzo balls until tender and puffed, 45 to 55 minutes. (For denser, less fluffy matzo balls, cook for slightly less time.) To test for doneness, remove 1 matzo ball from water, and cut in half. It should be uniformly pale in color throughout. Remove from heat. Remove matzo balls from water, and transfer to a plate. Let cool 30 minutes. Proceed with making soup, or refrigerate matzo balls in an airtight container for up to 1 day.
Cut 2 carrots in half crosswise, and place in a large stockpot. Add chicken, onions, fennel bulb, celery, parsley sprigs, garlic, and bay leaves to stockpot. Cover with 10 cups cold water. Bring to a boil over high. Reduce heat to medium-low, and gently simmer, partially covered, until chicken is very tender and falling off the bone, about 1 hour and 30 minutes, occasionally skimming any foam that accumulates. Soup should maintain a very gentle simmer; if it starts to bubble too vigorously, nudge the heat down a little.
While the soup cooks, cut remaining carrots into thin (11/2- x 1/16- x 1/16-inch) julienned strips. Set aside.
Remove chicken from stock mixture; transfer to a cutting board, and let stand until cool to the touch, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place a fine wire-mesh strainer over a large heatproof bowl; pour stock mixture through strainer. Discard solids. Return strained stock to stockpot; stir in salt and pepper. Add julienned carrot strips. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium-low. Simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, about 10 minutes.
Remove and discard chicken skin and bones from meat. Shred meat into bite size pieces. Return shredded chicken to stockpot, and return to a simmer over medium-low. Simmer until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
Place parsley leaves, dill fronds, chives, lemon zest, and reserved fennel fronds on a cutting board; roughly chop mixture, leaving some larger pieces intact.
Place 3 or 4 matzo balls in each of 6 bowls; top evenly with soup. Generously scatter bowls with herb mixture. If desired, decorate with a few edible flowers. Serve immediately.
Cooled matzo balls can be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 day.
Floral sparkling wine: NV Freixenet Excelencia Kosher Brut Cava