My mum cooks the best food I've ever tasted - and no, I'm not just saying that because she's a) my mother, and b) reading this. She's neatly side-stepped all the, um, less desirable bits of the Jewish mother stereotype (the 'Why-haven't you-found-yourself-a-nice-Jewish-doctor-to-marry-already-and-when-are-you-going-to-give-me-grandchildren-and-why-are-you-wearing-the-green-dress-I-bought-you-is-there-something-wrong-with-the-purple-one?' bits), and instead, epitomises all that's good about Jewish family life. To sum up: she's great.
And because I can feel a nasty cold brewing, my thoughts turned last night to the one thing that cures everything when my mum isn't around: chicken soup. Every family has their own recipe, and everyone thinks theirs is best - but obviously they are all wrong. This is the definitive version. This is the ULTIMATE chicken soup. This is Mama B's Jewish Penicillin. I messed around with the matzo balls (so sue me), adding raisins, pine nuts and dill in a nod to the cookery of the Sephardic Jews of Spain and the Middle East. Mighty fine they turned out, too.
This is not a recipe to be hurried; the soup needs to cool in the fridge to develop a layer of fat - and you need that fat to make your matzo balls. It's worth the wait, though - plus it freezes well, so you won't have to faff about next time you want some!
Mama B's Jewish Penicillin soup & Laura B's matzo balls with raisins, pine nuts and dill (serves 6-8)
For the chicken soup
- 1 medium-sized chicken (or the equivalent amount of chicken pieces - thighs work well)
- 3 carrots, roughly chopped
- 3 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
- 1 parsnip or baby turnip, chopped
- 1 large onion, peeled and halved
- Large bunch of dill and parsley, tied up with string
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Enough cold water to cover the chicken
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tbsp schmaltz (don't panic... just read on!)
- 4 tbsp soda water (or try 2 tbsp soda and 2 tbsp of your clear chicken soup)
- 125g matzo meal
- 2 tbsp pine nuts (toasted in a dry pan - not strictly necessary, though, if you can't be bothered WASHING ANOTHER BLOODY PAN)
- 2 tbsp raisins
- 1 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Trim your chicken if there's a lot of loose fat, and rinse it. Place it in a large pan, breast-down.
- Cover the chicken with cold water and bring to the boil.
- Turn down the heat, then simmer for an hour, skimming regularly.
- Add the other ingredients and simmer for a further two hours (or longer - it won't hurt!). Do your salting and peppering now.
- Strain the soup through a sieve or colander. Keep the chicken and veggies for later.
- Pop your strained soup in the fridge until a layer of surface fat (schmaltz) has appeared. Leaving it to cool overnight is usually best, if you can wait that long!
- Remove the schmaltz, and set aside for using in your matzo mix.
- Beat the eggs, then add all the other ingredients. The mixture will be gloopy but not thick enough to make into balls (yet!).
- Put it in the fridge for at least an hour.
- Just before you take your bowl out of the fridge, get a large pan of boiling, salted water on the go.
- Roll walnut-sized blobs of your matzo mix into balls.
- Drop the balls into your pan of boiling water. Ensure none are sticking to the base of the pan, then leave them simmering in a covered pan for 30-40 minutes. Drain before plopping them into your soup (see below).
- I like to keep one or two uncooked matzo balls aside to bake in the oven (this is commonly called Passover Bread). Simply pop them on a baking tray and stick them in a medium-hot oven for around 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Reheat the soup when you're ready to eat - either serve as a clear soup, or shred the chicken and throw it in with the leftover veggies. Mama B removes the herb bundle, but if you fancy some chopped dill in yours, I'd add fresh at the last moment.
- When the soup is simmering, add your cooked matzo balls.
- Serve with Passover bread on the side, if you've made some. Give yourself at least two extra matzo balls. Jewish mothers the world over insist.