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Nagymama’s Matzo Ball Soup

31 October 2009 3,459 views 49 Comments

Earlier this year I posted, “Love, 1930s style,” a letter written by my mom’s father, Papa, upon meeting his future wife. Last November, I posted my dad’s mom, Nagymama’s, recipe for chicken paprikash.

Last week Nagymama passed away. I was lucky to have her in my life for such a long time and have so many loving memories of my grandparents.

Nagymama adores Jeff at her 90th birthday dinner.

Nagymama adores Jeff at her 90th birthday dinner.

I flew home to Maryland and spent the weekend looking through pictures, sharing stories, and being together with my brother, parents, and friends. This is exactly how Nagymama, who loved nothing more than being with her family, would have wanted us to celebrate her life.

An hour before leaving for the airport, my mom asked if I wanted Nagymama’s recipe for matzo balls. If you are Jewish, you probably know that there are generally two types of matzo balls — the light and fluffy ones, and the dense and heavy ones. Nagymama’s are the latter.

She then shared her recipe for chicken soup — passed down to her from her mother, mama.

Coincidentally, tomorrow is El Dia de Los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. This holiday is celebrated by many in the Mexican community, including the many Mexican-Americans living in Austin. During this time, family and friends get together to remember friends and family members who have died. One of the traditions include making and celebrating favorite foods of their loved ones.

family passover

A Bart Family Passover - late 1980's

Nagymama’s Matzo Balls*
Makes a dense, packed with love matzo ball

6 eggs, separated
24 T matzo meal (or 1 3/4 cups)
2 squares matzo, softened in hot water with water drained out by hand or in a strainer
Salt, pepper and fresh or dried ginger to taste
vegetable oil

Whip egg whites until stiff and fold in yolks. Scoop out 24 tablespoons of matzo meal very slowly and precisely. If you are in a rush, you can scoop out 1 and 1/2 cups.^ Add the softened and drained matzo squares, kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, and fresh or dried ginger to taste.

Cover hands with vegetable oil to prevent sticking and form balls. Place individual balls in a bowl, cover, and let sit in the fridge for a 1/2 hour.

Bring a pot of water to boil, gently slide in the balls one by one, cover, turn down heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove each matzo ball with a slotted spoon and cool them down in a bowl. Put in a plastic freezer bag and sit open on the counter until cooled. Close the bag and put in the freezer until ready for use. matzoh balls freeze for up to six months.

*Please note that this recipe comes secondhand. I copied it from my mother’s handwritten recipe and grilled her with questions to fill in the blanks. My mom is a great cook — she’s just not into the details.

^If you do choose the speedy method, please know that the end result shouldn’t be passed off as authentic.

Note: If you live in Austin, you can find matzo and matzo meal at the Far West HEB.

Nagymama gardens and laughs with my mom (1970s)

Nagymama gardens and laughs with my mom (1970s)

Linda’s Chicken Soup*
Passed down from Betty Leitch (my grandmother) to Linda (my mom) and now to You

1 Kosher Chicken (often sold as a “boiler”) cut into quarters
1 peeled whole yellow onion
2-3 parsnips – peeled and cut in half
4 carrots – peeled and cut in half
4 celery with leaves on – cleaned and cut in half
Kosher salt, cracked black pepper, fresh dill
1 potato (only peel it if you end up needing it)

Boil water – enough to just cover the chicken. Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of kosher salt into the pot. Cover and boil. Skim off the fat that rises to the top with a slotted spoon. Slide in the onion, parsnips, carrots, and celery. Add black pepper, fresh dill (a couple of tablespoons). Simmer with the cover on (or maybe off a little bit) for a while. Taste it.

If it has too much salt, put a peeled potato in to soak up the salt for 20 minutes to a 1/2 hour and then remove the potato (but only if its too salty).

Do you want to know a sneaky tip? If it doesn’t taste as flavorful as you might like, add in 1-2 chicken boullion cubes.

Strain the soup using a mesh strainer over a bowl over the sink.The carrots go back in the soup and everything else is kept on the side. Some of the chicken is later added after it has been cleaned. The rest of the chicken is used for salads. Save the celery and parsnips for the dog, who loves them. The dog also gets some of the chicken remnants – but not the skin. It’s not good for her!

*This is a true family recipe as it was shared with me by my mother while she was in the kitchen getting lunch ready. Her instructions were extremely inexact and I had to push her for many of the details that she felt were obvious. She says that soup making is not a precise science and of course she is right. That said, she repeated several times that I should use a kosher chicken if possible. “It tastes better.” As I was pushing her to give me more detailed information and she was being very general, she said “I feel like my mother.”

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  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • linda

    jodi…this is so lovely…what a great post to honor your nagymama …your dad looks just like her! ginger in matzo balls…i am going to have to try that!
    thanks for sharing.

  • Jami

    Jodila – what a wonderful tribute to your two loving grandmothers. Thank you for this gift. I can't wait to give these recipes a try one cold winter day.

  • Aunt Marsha

    I loved this tasty touring..Unlike everone else I don't use Kosher chicken and mine is also delicious.
    Nagymama's recipe is good but also not precise ..no way would she have frozen her matzo balls and and for sure it would have taken her many hours to make..
    Fun to have these memories.

  • Mom

    Aunt Marsha is right….the recipe was Nagymama's….the strategy was mine…Nagymama's strategy was bring the matzoh balls to Linda's….keep everyone at the table waiting a half hour while she slowly rolled them and gently put them in the water, then stayed and looked over them while they boiled..and remember Nagypapa would be standing beside her and watching them boil also.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcwmatthews Marc Matthews

    This is beautiful Jodi. Thanks for sharing!

  • jodibart

    Thanks, Linda. Do you have a favorite matzo ball soup recipe?

  • jodibart

    Wish I could make a batch for you, Andrew and Jonah.

  • jodibart

    My mom told me over the phone that she used a non-kosher, scrawny chicken yesterday and hers turned out well too.

  • jodibart

    I didn't remember that until you wrote this but yes, I remember how he would stand guard on the items cooking and help her. They were so sweet together!

  • jodibart

    Glad you enjoyed it, Marc!

  • linda

    i do…for the holidays & the “cold” winter months i make ina garten's matzo balls…& her chicken soup as well. i always add additional carrots & parnsip to my stock. ina's matzoh balls are not perfectly round but, “rough” & we love the favor & shape. my tip: since matzo balls absorb alot of liquid during cooking i drop them into store bought whole foods organic chicken stock just to boil & cook them & then discard the wf stock. i serve with my ina chicken stock..sometimes with the chicken from soup as well. :)

  • linda

    i do…for the holidays & the “cold” winter months i make ina garten's matzo balls…& her chicken soup as well. i always add additional carrots & parnsip to my stock. ina's matzoh balls are not perfectly round but, “rough” & we love the favor & shape. my tip: since matzo balls absorb alot of liquid during cooking i drop them into store bought whole foods organic chicken stock just to boil & cook them & then discard the wf stock. i serve with my ina chicken stock..sometimes with the chicken from soup as well. :)

  • linda

    i do…for the holidays & the “cold” winter months i make ina garten's matzo balls…& her chicken soup as well. i always add additional carrots & parnsip to my stock. ina's matzoh balls are not perfectly round but, “rough” & we love the favor & shape. my tip: since matzo balls absorb alot of liquid during cooking i drop them into store bought whole foods organic chicken stock just to boil & cook them & then discard the wf stock. i serve with my ina chicken stock..sometimes with the chicken from soup as well. :)

  • jodibart

    Thanks, Linda. Do you have a favorite matzo ball soup recipe?

  • jodibart

    Wish I could make a batch for you, Andrew and Jonah.

  • jodibart

    My mom told me over the phone that she used a non-kosher, scrawny chicken yesterday and hers turned out well too.

  • jodibart

    I didn't remember that until you wrote this but yes, I remember how he would stand guard on the items cooking and help her. They were so sweet together!

  • jodibart

    Glad you enjoyed it, Marc!

  • linda

    i do…for the holidays & the “cold” winter months i make ina garten's matzo balls…& her chicken soup as well. i always add additional carrots & parnsip to my stock. ina's matzoh balls are not perfectly round but, “rough” & we love the favor & shape. my tip: since matzo balls absorb alot of liquid during cooking i drop them into store bought whole foods organic chicken stock just to boil & cook them & then discard the wf stock. i serve with my ina chicken stock..sometimes with the chicken from soup as well. :)

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