New and Old World Meet in This Passover Matzo Ball Soup Recipe

Passover is about to roll by and matzo ball soup is a comfort food key to the springtime celebration.

Passionate interest in food and it's connection to our entire experience as human beings has fueled a thirty-plus-year journey in cooking for me. I am so grateful for the chance to share little slices of my voyage here with you in my weekly Seed to Feed articles. 

Pacifica is so rich in the diversity and experiences of her citizens that there is no chance I will ever run out of fascinating and delightful offerings to feature each week. Continuing with Gabriela's focus on the culture of breaking bread and the power with which this simple act draws us together will be my intent.

I will introduce a different Pacifican in almost every article and provide a look into what makes them unique and yet connected to each of us.

Just a couple of last things before we dive in. This is, by nature, a reader driven column, so I encourage questions and commentary and will do my best to respond to as many I can. If you live in or have deep roots in Pacifica, I would love to hear about that special recipe and the story that ties it to your family and your cultural experience, so email knivesandfiretv@gmail.com. I will try to include you in future articles.

Matzo Ball Soup

There are as many recipes for matzo ball soup as there are Jewish families on earth. Status for this classic on the ultimate comfort foods roster is undisputed. There is no soup known the world over as more homey, soothing and nourishing.  With Passover just around the corner I thought this would be a perfect time for me to share my recipe for this iconic dish.

Passover is, of course, one of the biggest celebrations of the year for Jewish families, and matzo is king at Passover time. While for many, matzo ball soup is not part of their Seder meals, it is a favorite year round.

Since Joyce  Goldstein  taught me the basics of kosher cuisine and Jewish tradition way back in the early '90s, I have honed my skills and added new twists to classic renditions of and traditional favorites. We'll talk challah another time.

There are some key characteristics most traditionalists want to see in their matzo ball soup: rich flavorful broth, lighter than air but substantial matzo balls (no souffléd pillowy stuff, please. However, if you really love the fluff, the fluffy recipe option follows as well) and big chunks of moist chicken and vegetables.

In the following recipe, classic culinary technique and Grandma-style cooking merge perfectly to produce a relatively easy and wholesome treat the whole family will enjoy. 


For the soup:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 6 cloves of garlic, cracked
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A pinch of dry thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

For the matzo balls:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup matzo meal (if you desire, use whole wheat matzo meal. Just add 2T extra seltzer and let dough stand and extra hour)
  • 2 tablespoons spoons chicken fat reserved from the soup( olive oil is a great substitute, still providing flavor but much healthier. Although I have to say, the way grandma made it tastes better, just save it for special occasions)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 tablespoons seltzer water
  • 1 Tablespoon Vodka- a trick I learned from Mimi Sheraton via the NY Times Passover Cookbook ( this will keep the matzo balls tender, preventing gluten from forming those chewy proteins)


Remove the breast meat from the chicken as demonstrated in the video to the right and reserve for another dish. says breast meat dries out in soup and can be used for a meal of it's own.

Using a heavy knife or cleaver, separate the legs from the remaining bones. Chop the bones a bit to break them up so you get all the flavor out and place them in a large stock pot with the legs. Cover with water 3 or 4  inches above the bones and place over medium heat until the broth begins to simmer. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for a couple of hours. In the first ten or twenty minutes, a frothy foam will form on top. Skim this away with a spoon and discard.

From then on, skim every 20 minutes, saving all the fat you skim off to use in the matzo ball mixture. Remove the legs from the broth after an hour or so as they will be fully cooked and tender. Set aside to cool and then pull the meat off the bones and cut into large dice. Reserve this chicken dice until it is time to serve the soup.

In a medium bowl, combine all the matzo ball ingredients well and chill for one hour.

For the fluffy variety of matzo balls, use chicken stock or water in place of the seltzer. Seperate the eggs and whip the whites until soft peaks form. Add the yolks in to the mix with the other ingredients except the egg whites. Fold in the whipped egg whites and let stand proceeding as instructed from here.

While the broth is simmering, make a large dice of the onion, 1/4 inch slices of the peeled carrots and a large dice of the celery. Reserve all the scraps to infuse the stock later. Using a touch of the chicken fat, sauté the large diced onion over medium high heat until translucent, stirring frequently to prevent browning, for about five minutes.

Add the carrots and celery and cook over medium heat until tender. Set aside.

After 3 hours of gentle simmering and skimming, add the carrot, celery and onion scraps as well as the garlic, bay, thyme, whole clove and some black peppercorns to the pot. Allow to simmer for twenty minutes more and then strain. This short infusion time gives a bright aromatic profile and leaves an essence of fresh veggies, not boiled ones.  Combine half the broth with the reserved soup vegetables and return the rest to the pot and bring to a simmer.

While the broth is returning to a simmer, make the matzo balls. They can be large or small; it's totally a personal taste issue. Drop them into the simmering broth and simmer covered continuously for 35 minutes. If you peek too many times or let the temperature get too low, the matzo balls will have that super-dense center and sink like a rock.  When the matzo balls are done they will float and will have an even texture throughout.

Heat the vegetables and broth and then add the diced chicken. Place matzo balls in each bowl and then ladle some of the chicken soup over them, garnish with some chopped parsley if you wish.


Zoe April 24, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Thanks Derek! Love the recipes...
Derek Burns April 24, 2011 at 09:30 PM
Thanks Paula, Spread the word, I am looking for cool recipes from Pacificans all over town. Any culinarily minded librarians in town?
Zoe April 24, 2011 at 09:42 PM
Ia Vang makes a awesome Chinese Chicken salad.. :)
Derek Burns April 25, 2011 at 03:33 AM
so funny! you are the third person today to say I should do an article with Ia. She and I have already hatched a plan and you are sure to see something special from her soon!


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