- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I’m not exactly sure why we begin each Passover meal with gefilte fish and then follow it with chicken soup with matzo balls, but I have been to enough Seders to know that this is the unofficial beginning to a long and hearty repast.

Every person who makes this soup has their own special touch, whether it’s the herbs or vegetables or how they make their matzo balls. I love chicken soup year-round, especially when I am feeling the least bit low or sniffly.

I am such a chicken-soup lover that I always have a quart of this magical potion ready for any emergency stocked away in my freezer.

For Passover, which ends Saturday, I like to make my soup a few days ahead to let the flavors mingle.

I have made my share of chicken soup recipes throughout the years, and I find that this one, featured in my book “Seriously Simple Holidays,” is my current standby. This recipe gives you a head start because you begin with a good quality store-bought broth. (Make sure to look for “Kosher for Passover” on the label.)

Skinless bone-in chicken breasts add more chicken flavor. (The bones help to enrich and slightly thicken the soup.)

The sweet carrot and parsnip flavors are accented by the onion-flavored chopped leeks. For a slight twist, I add tiny cherry or grape tomatoes, along with chopped fresh mint.

Once the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are just tender (about half an hour), the chicken is cut up and returned to the soup, awaiting its final pairing with the herbed matzo ball. If you prefer a lighter soup, strain out all the vegetables and chicken and just serve the broth with the matzo balls. (Use the reserved chicken to make chicken salad.)

Matzo balls can really get a conversation started.

There are those who love floaters and others who love sinkers. I think it has to do with one’s early taste memories.

I am a fluffy matzo ball appreciator, so you will find that these matzo balls are light and floatable. What are my secrets? I use seltzer water to lighten them, and I use schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) to enhance the flavor.

Chopped fresh parsley and chives add both flavor and color to the pale beige dumpling. You can make up the matzo balls in the morning and keep them at room temperature in a little water until warming them in the chicken soup.

Help is on the way:

• Since the chicken soup begins with chicken broth that usually has some salt in it, salt the soup at the end of cooking.

• Schmaltz can be found in the frozen meat section of many supermarkets. You will also find it at kosher meat markets. Make sure to bring it to room temperature so it is softened before using.

• Use Kosher-for-Passover oil if you can’t find schmaltz.

• To lighten the matzo balls even further, separate the eggs and whip up the egg whites separately. Fold the whites into the matzo ball mixture.

Quick chicken vegetable soup with herbed matzo balls

SOUP:

2 medium whole chicken breasts, halved, skin removed, bone in

8 cups chicken broth

6 cups water

3 medium leeks, light green and white part cleaned, finely chopped

4 carrots, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick

2 ribs of celery, sliced ½ inch thick

2 parsnips, peeled and sliced ½ inch thick

2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped

4 cherry tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, for garnish

MATZO BALLS:

1/4 cup rendered chicken fat (schmaltz), softened or vegetable oil

4 large eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup matzo meal

2 tablespoons fresh parsley plucked and finely chopped

2 tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped

13/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup seltzer water, any sparkling water

Place the chicken breast, stock and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Skim the soup. Add the leeks, carrots, celery, parsnip, mint and tomatoes.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about ½ hour or until the chicken is cooked and the vegetables are just tender. Skim periodically. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the chicken breasts from the soup and cool slightly. With your hands remove the meat from the bones, making sure to discard any bone or cartilage; tear the chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to the soup. Cover the soup and refrigerate.

To make the matzo balls, blend schmaltz or oil and eggs together with a whisk.

Add the matzo meal, chopped herbs and salt to the egg mixture, and stir together mixing well.

Add the seltzer water and blend well. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for half an hour for the mixture to thicken enough to make the matzo balls.

Bring enough water in a large wide pot to come up 3/4 of the way to a boil on medium-high heat. Make the balls by rolling them very lightly into 1½-inch balls. (The more you roll them, the tougher and heavier they will become.) Reduce the flame and drop the balls into the barely simmering water. Cover the pot and cook about 25 to 30 minutes or until cooked through.

When ready to serve, remove the soup from the refrigerator and carefully remove any fat layer from the soup. Reheat the soup on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Add the matzo balls at the last minute just until heated through, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve in large bowls and garnish with parsley.

Advance preparation: The soup may be made up to 3 days ahead of time, covered and refrigerated. The matzo balls can be made up to 4 hours ahead, covered and left at room temperature.

Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks. To contact her, go to www.seriouslysimple.com.

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