By Charlotte Gilbert
Almost every Friday of my childhood my family would go to my Nanny and Papa’s house to have dinner. And every time we went over, I could count on eating my Nanny’s matzo ball soup. Savoury and filled with salt, with flavorful chunks of celery and carrot that had been simmering in broth for hours. Yet the best part was the soft and fluffy balls of matzo rolled with care by my grandmother's experienced hands. Years of nursing had given her hands a careful precision that she used specially for the ones she loved to make a soup that could cure anyone's cold.
My brothers and I would spill into their quaint kitchen and there, simmering on the stove, would be a pot filled with the magic soup. Nanny always made dinner before we got there so that she could pay us all full attention, which my brothers and I needed much of. I loved sitting in the dimly-lit kitchen, the loud conversation filling the small space. Eventually, my grandmother would step towards the stove to start filling bowls with the liquid gold, and we would all gather quickly around the table. There was always a brief pause of silence as my brothers and I devoured the beautifully round matzo balls and spoonfuls of broth before the chattering continued once again.
For the past two years, I have struggled not seeing my grandparents every Friday like I used to. I’ve missed the warm light of their kitchen, the feeling of comfort I felt when I would hug my grandparents goodbye and of course, the taste of my Nanny’s matzo ball soup. When my Papa passed away in the fall of this year, there was nothing I wanted more than the familiar embrace of my grandmother that I hadn't felt in years. His passing was the first time I was allowed to see my Nanny other than the few outdoor greetings we had arranged. As my family from across the country travelled to Ottawa, we grieved the passing of our beloved Papa. Sitting around the dinner table, leaving the spot where he would always sit empty, we ate the familiar fluffy matzo balls floating in steaming broth. The soup's healing powers couldn't heal our grief, but in that moment, it comforted a part of me that had needed my grandparents' love.
Vegetarian matzo ball soup recipe
Total time 1 ½ hours
Garlic peppercorn stock
10 cups water
3 whole heads of garlic, broken into cloves
2 potatoes, scrubbed and thickly sliced
2 carrots peeled and quartered
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
4 fresh parsley sprigs
3 bay leaves
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
Matzo ball box mix
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup peeled and chopped carrots
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
8 cups garlic peppercorn stock (see above)
2 cups inch long asparagus pieces
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Ground black pepper to taste
Dill sprigs (optional)
Step 1 (Prepare in advance, must simmer for 1 hour)
Combine all stock ingredients in a large soup pot, cover, and bring to a boil on high heat. When the water boils, lower the heat and, still covered, simmer for 1 hour.
Allow to cool slightly; then strain the stock through a sieve or colander with a bowl underneath to catch the stalk.
Follow the recipe on matzo ball box mix. Refrigerate.
Warm the oil in in a soup pot. Saute the onions, celery, and turmeric on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables just begin to soften. Add the carrots, thyme, dill, and stock, cover, and bring to a boil; then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the asparagus and salt and cook for 5 minutes, until tender. Add black pepper to taste.
When the matzo dough has almost finished chilling, bring 3 quarts of salted water to a simmer. For the fluffiest matzo balls, very lightly form them into balls. Drop each matzo ball into the simmering water. Cover the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the balls are firm yet tender.
Spoon several matzo balls into each bowl, ladle on the hot soup broth, and if you wish, garnish with dill sprigs.