What’s a person to do during Christmas when they don’t celebrate it? Back in the day when reverence for this holiday seemed ubiquitous enough to shut down towns for a couple nights, Chinese restaurants had the reputation of being one of the few, if only places open during Christmas. Many Jewish families knew they could rely on their local Chinese restaurant to welcome them with open arms, and many Chinese restaurateurs could rely on their patronage. To honor this multi-generation symbiotic relationship, I developed a Chinese Chicken Matzo Ball Soup.
Matzo/matzah balls are an Ashkenazi Jewish soup dumpling made from matzo meal (finely ground dry unleavened bread that resembles the modern cracker). The matzo meal is mixed with water, eggs, and fat (traditionally oil or chicken fat), and then dropped in a pot of boiling water or soup broth and simmered until cooked through. Depending on additional ingredients, matzo balls can be characterized as “floaters” or “sinkers”. I’m partial to the light fluffiness of floaters which can require a leavening ingredient like baking powder. Since it’s not Passover time, we don’t have to worry about whether or not floaters are in the spirit of avoiding chametz (technically fermented grains, so baking powder doesn’t really count). Since matzo balls are traditionally served in chicken soup, it wasn’t a stretch to marry them with a Chinese chicken soup full of fresh ginger, garlic, and green onions.
Chinese Chicken Matzo Ball Soup (Yield: 10-12 servings)
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into thin strips
8 T soy sauce
4 T dry vermouth
2 T sesame oil
8 garlic cloves, minced
6 T tahini (sesame seed paste)
4 tsp hot chili sauce (e.g. Sriacha)
4 T seasoned rice vinegar
4 T grated fresh ginger
2 T sugar
3 tsp salt
16 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 head chopped Napa cabbage (about 6 cups)
10 green onions, sliced thin on a diagonal
1. Whisk soy sauce, dry vermouth, and 2 T sesame oil in medium bowl. Toss with uncooked chicken. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
2. Prepare matzo balls up until placing them in the fridge to rest before boiling (see below).
3. While the matzo balls are resting in the fridge, whisk garlic, tahini, hot chili sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.
4. Heat 2 T sesame oil in a large Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add napa cabbage and green onions and sauté until cabbage is tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Add chicken with marinade and tahini mixture. Reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is cooked, about 5 minutes. Take off heat.
5. Serve soup in bowls and added 1-2 matzo balls to each.
Note: If storing soup and matzo balls in fridge for later, store separately as the matzo balls otherwise will absorb the liquid and become soggy.
Matzo Ball Ingredients:
1 cup matzo meal
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
3 large eggs
3 T schmaltz or oil (e.g. grapeseed, vegetable, etc.)
2 T minced fresh parsley or cilantro
12-15 cups salted water (5-10 chicken bouillon cubes for added flavor)
1. Whisk matzo meal, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper in a small bowl.
2. In another bowl, whisk eggs and schmaltz/oil. Pour egg mixture and chopped parsley/cilantro into the dry ingredients. Fold together with a fork until just combined.
3. Place in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes.
4. Form matzo balls the size of golf balls with your hands, two spoons, or a mini ice cream scoop.
5. Bring broth or salted water to a simmer.
6. Gently add matzo balls and cover pot with lid. Boil matzo balls for 30 minutes until cooked through and fluffy.
7. Remove from liquid with slotted spoon and add to individual bowls of soup.