Passover only happens eight days out of the year, but for a carb-loving, bread enthusiast like me, it can be quite disheartening not to eat leavened bread for the entire week-long Jewish holiday. However, there is one dish that I always look forward to eating when Passover comes around.
Every year, I look forward to seder dinners at my grandparents’ house in New York. Passover is the one time each year where my whole extended family gathers together. We read aloud the 1930s version of the Haggadah—the Jewish text that tells the story of Passover—that was passed down to my grandparents. The book is outdated and written in old English, but it’s a tradition, so reading it’s a necessity. We sit at the dining room table and take turns reading a paragraph. We practice the customs of the seder and collectively sigh when the last blessing is read, which cues the start to dinner.
When the books are cleared, the first course of dinner is served. Without delay, bowls of matzo ball soup are ladled into fine china, and just as quickly as they are passed out, the soup is gobbled down by the guests at the table.
There’s something about matzo ball soup. It’s a simple and minimal dish. A large, softball-sized matzo ball is served with a hefty ladling of chicken soup. Matzo balls have a bready, sponge-like texture and are served in a chicken broth. The balls are made up of a mix of eggs and matzo meal—ground up matzo bread—which allows the bready soup dumpling to soak up the flavor of the chicken broth. The broth is no different than regular chicken noodle soup, but it isn’t served with all of the fixings at my grandma’s. No celery, no onion, no carrots, not even pieces of chicken. Just broth and matzo balls. The chicken flavor is so potent that it tastes just like the liquid form of a chicken. The soup is served hot and warms the soul.
Matzo ball soup is hands down my favorite soup of all time. Aside from the grandiose flavor, the dish brings back memories and a wave of nostalgia. Each spoonful transports me back to when I was younger at these Passover seders. Because I was the youngest child present at the table, I had to read a passage every year called ‘The Four Questions’ in Hebrew. While it was nerve-wracking every time, as a reward for reading, I was one of the first to be served a bowl of matzo ball soup when the time came. While this might have been pure coincidence—or due to the fact that I sat next to my grandfather at the head of the table—I rationalized my good work with the prize of matzo ball soup.
I have made my own matzo ball soup based on my grandma’s recipe numerous times, and while the renditions taste great each time, they simply are not the same. I’ve mastered the art of making matzo balls, perfecting both the size and texture, but my chicken broth has never compared to my grandma’s. Without the potent flavor of poultry in my broth, my matzo balls are less flavorful, too. Alas, this does not discourage me from making the wonderful dish at all. Rather, it encourages me to keep trying.
While I can make matzo ball soup all I want, my all-time favorite soup is the one at my grandparents’ house that I can only get once a year. Plus, my grandma’s matzo ball soup gives me a reason to look forward to Passover every year.
Cover photo courtesy of Melanie Cooks