During my long career writing about Jewish cooking, I’ve focused on finding lost recipes. But recently, a recipe found me.
Hanukkah begins on the evening of Nov. 28, after a long weekend of cooking and eating (and cleaning) for Thanksgiving. I’ll be with my adult children and grandchildren, and, of course, we will most likely have latkes and brisket. But even the most devoted latke lovers do not want to eat potato pancakes every night of the holiday, much less tidy up after preparing them. (I most certainly don’t like doing dishes.)
Still, the holiday calls for something festive and filling. So my ears perked up when, at the playground with my grandchildren, I heard a few mothers discussing recipes. One mentioned an easy chicken stew with dumplings that she had found online.
I was inspired! And immediately thought of a main course: matzo ball soup. During this season, I thought, when young parents are so stretched, why not make it an easy, hearty one-pot dinner? You could swap out the dumplings for matzo balls and fill the pot with plump pieces of chicken and delicious vegetables for a meal that’s equal parts soupy and stewy.
I made it within days, adding fresh ginger and nutmeg to the matzo balls, an old German Jewish tradition. Herbs like parsley or cilantro, also found in ancient Yemenite and Persian Jewish chicken soups, lend even more brightness to the broth.
The whole stew comes together in one pot and can be entirely made a day ahead. Thankfully, chicken soup and matzo balls, found in some form for thousands of years and beloved by both children and adults, improve on standing. All you have to do is warm this soupy stew up.
Joan Nathan’s Chicken Matzo Ball Stew
Makes: 6 servings
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes, plus 3 hours’ cooling
For the Stew:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut in large chunks
- 1 celery stalk, sliced in chunks
- 1 turnip or parsnip, scrubbed, halved if large, and cut in thick slices
- 1 cut-up chicken with bones (about 4 pounds)
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut in thick rounds
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley or dill, for serving
- For the Matzo Balls:
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons schmaltz (from the stew) or vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 1 cup matzo meal
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, dill or cilantro
- Coarse kosher salt and black pepper
1. Start the stew: Set a large (5-quart) heavy pot over medium-high heat, add the oil and then the onion, celery and turnip, and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken and cover with 5 cups of water, or enough to almost cover the chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and simmer for about 30 minutes, skimming any scum that rises. Cool, cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours, but ideally overnight. Scrape off and reserve 2 tablespoons chicken fat from the surface of the soup for the matzo ball mix. Freeze any remaining fat for another use. (You can substitute 2 tablespoons vegetable oil if you prefer.)
2. Meanwhile, make the matzo ball mix (at least 3 hours before serving): Stir together the eggs, schmaltz or oil, stock, matzo meal, nutmeg, ginger and parsley in a large bowl until well mixed. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours, or overnight.
3. About 45 minutes before serving, finish the stew: Using your hands, break the chicken pieces into large-bite chunks, removing skin and bones as you go. Put the chicken back into the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and add the carrots and peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Add heavy spoonfuls of the matzo ball mix to the top of the soup. (You should have about 18 balls.) Cover and simmer until the matzo balls are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve topped with fresh dill or parsley.