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Chicken soup with matzah balls.
The Kosher Table

Jewish Soups To Warm The Soul

-- Lisa Kelvin Tuttle

Now that it is really starting to feel like winter, I thought it was time to get you to lug out that big stock pot and get some new soups simmering on your stove. Soup has always been the perfect food of immigrant people, as its main ingredient is water. Add a few vegetables, some grains or legumes, and you have a nourishing meal. Soups have served our people well in rich times as well as poor. Chicken and meat soups were often saved for Shabbat or other special occasions, yet elegant consommés and vegetable combinations --- like the vibrant, regal beet borscht --- are both healthy and festive.

Unless one is a vegetarian, no Jewish cooking repertoire is complete without a good recipe for chicken soup! There are as many versions as there are cooks, and seasonings vary with the country of origin or adopted region. Greek Jews enjoy their Avgolemono, made with rice and fresh lemon juice. In New Orleans you might enjoy a "Creolized" concoction fragrant with curry and cayenne pepper. I have seen Sephardic and Southwestern versions with fresh cilantro and chiles. Joan Nathan has a recipe for Yemenite Chicken Soup in Jewish Cooking in America made with a spice mix that includes garlic, fenugreek, saffron and cardamom seeds.

My chicken soup is about as simple and basic as can be. It is the real deal Jewish Penicillin, a traditional Ashkenazic recipe I enjoyed on a weekly basis in my Grandma Rosie's kitchen, served with slices of carrots and a huge helping of fine egg luchshen. My Aunt Janet adds a whole, peeled sweet potato to her chicken soup, which slightly sweetens the broth and fills her kitchen with a wonderful aroma.

Though my mother made the lightest, fluffiest matzoh balls, try as I might, I have just never matched hers. These days, when I do not use Streit's matzoh ball mix (a "secret family recipe" shared with me by a friend whose matzoh balls always garner compliments!), I like to experiment with different matzoh ball recipes. Don't just serve them with chicken soup, though! Matzoh balls are also terrific with chunky vegetable soups and as an accompaniment to creamy soups such as carrot and butternut squash.

I hope you enjoy this collection of soups to warm your tummy and your soul.

Until we eat again,


Chicken Soup with Luchshen or Knaidlach (a.k.a. Jewish Penicillin with Fine Egg Noodles or Matzah Balls)


If you add the optional sweet potato, leaving it whole is a must, as it makes for a clearer broth, since sweet potatoes disintegrate if cut up. Crushing the peppercorns instead of grinding them also contributes to a fine, clear soup. Do not be tempted to cook your noodles in the soup, as doing so will drink up your broth and the starch in the noodles will make the broth murky.

  • One 5- to 6- pound whole chicken with neck and giblets but without the liver
  • 2 large onions, halved, but unpeeled
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and cut into large chunks (optional)
  • 1 whole sweet potato, peeled (optional)
  • 10 to 15 parsley sprigs
  • 18 to 20 black peppercorns, crushed
  • 8 ounces fine egg noodles and/or matzah balls
  1. Remove the fat from the cavities of the chicken and rinse well under cold running water. Run your fingers over the insides and scrape out any remaining innards. The cleaner your chicken, inside and out, the clearer your broth will be.
  2. Place chicken in a stockpot with 5 or 6 quarts of cold water and the vegetables. The vegetables and chicken should be barely covered with water. Bring to a boil and immediately lower the heat. Skim any foam that rises to the surface and adjust the heat so just the odd bubble appears on the surface. Add the peppercorns, partially cover the pot, and simmer for about 2 hours, skimming occasionally. The chicken should be cooked through but not falling apart
  3. Remove the chicken to a large platter and when it is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones. Reserve the meat to serve alongside the soup or to make a chicken salad or sandwiches. Return the bones and skin to the simmering soup and cook for another hour or so.
  4. Strain the soup into another pot and set aside the sweet potato and carrots; discard the rest. Cool the soup and refrigerate overnight. Remove the fat that has hardened on the surface. If serving the soup the same day, skim the hot chicken fat off the surface using a large serving spoon (For an exceptionally flavorful soup, start again using this broth and another chicken and a second batch of vegetables. You may need to add a bit more water to cover the chicken and vegetables.)
  5. Before serving, reheat the soup and taste to correct for seasoning. It is likely you will need salt and perhaps more pepper. Makes 5 to 6 quarts.
  6. Just before you are ready to serve your soup, fill a large saucepan half full with fresh cold water and bring it to a boil with a 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook 8 ounces fine egg noodles until thoroughly cooked, just past the al dente stage --- soft but not mushy. Drain well.
  7. To serve, in each soup bowl, spoon in a generous helping of luchshen, shredded or sliced chicken, soup and vegetables. Garnish with snipped fresh dill.

Fluffy Matzoh Balls

The batter for these, from Levana Kirschenbaum, can be made in the food processor. Many matzoh ball recipes call for schmaltz (chicken fat) or its pareve substitute, Nyafat. I like that these use the healthier vegetable or olive oil. Leftover matzoh balls freeze beautifully. When you remove them from their cooking water, let them drain on a plate then gently arrange them several inches apart on a cooking parchment-lined cookie sheet and freeze completely. When solid, remove them to a zip-lock plastic bag and store in your freezer. To defrost, simply add them to hot broth and add them to your soup.

  1. 1 cup matzoh meal
  2. 1/2 ice water or seltzer
  3. 1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil
  4. 4 large eggs (or use 8 egg whites)
  5. Salt and pepper
  • Mix all ingredients together in a bowl or in a food processor. The mixture will look thin: do not add extra matzoh meal in an attempt to thicken it. Chill for 1 hour.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. With wet hands, form the matzoh balls --- 2 inches in diameter for small, or 3 inches for large. Place the matzoh balls in the boiling water. Cover the pot and cook for about 30 minutes. (The matzoh balls will rise up to the top after a few minutes.)
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove the matzoh balls and serve them along with your hot soup.

Mushroom-Barley Soup

Healthy, hearty mushroom-barley soup is a staple of the traditional Eastern European Jewish kitchen. It can be made with either fresh or dried mushrooms or a combination, as in this simple version, that includes dried porcini or Polish mushrooms, lending an earthy aroma to your kitchen as the soup simmers. If you enjoy a creamy mushroom-barley soup, puree one-third to one-half of the soup in a blender and return it to the pot. This soup will thicken when chilled, so add back some water or vegetable stock when reheating.

  • 1 ounce (about 1/2 cup) dried porcini or Polish mushrooms
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups finely diced onions (about 1 large onion)
  • 1 cup finely diced carrots (about 3 small carrots)
  • 1 cup finely diced celery (2 medium-long celery ribs)
  • 12-ounces domestic mushrooms, sliced or chopped
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 10 cups of cold water
  • 1-2 tablespoons kosher salt or to taste
  • Splash of soy sauce (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh dill for garnish
  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup of boiling water for 30 to 60 minutes.
  2. Sauté the fresh mushrooms over high heat in a bit of oil for 8-10 minutes and set aside.
  3. Chop the onion, carrots, and celery and put into a 6-quart stockpot with the barley and 10 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and bring to a simmer.
  4. Strain the dried mushrooms through a fine sieve lined with a paper towel or cheesecloth. Pour the remaining liquid into the soup pot. Remove the dried mushrooms from the sieve, chop them coarsely, and add them to the pot along with the fresh sautéed mushrooms and any remaining juices.
  5. Simmer the soup, partially covered, for about an hour or until the barley is tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with fresh dill. For a dairy meal, this soup is lovely with a dollop of sour cream.

Hot Russian Borscht

This simple vegetarian version of the traditional beet soup was given to restaurateur and cookbook author Levana Kirschenbaum by her Russian mother-in-law (published in Levana's Table: Kosher Cooking for Everyone). Thankfully, Levana recommends using a food processor to grate all the vegetables!

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 6 large cloves garlic
  • 3 ribs celery, peeled and cut into thirds
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 medium parsnips, peeled and grated
  • 2 medium turnips, grated
  • 1 small head white cabbage, shredded
  • 4 medium beets, scrubbed well and grated
  • 2 medium potatoes, grated (put in a bowl of cold water until ready to use)
  • 4 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • 4 quarts (16 cups) water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot over high heat. Combine the onion, garlic, and celery in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add this mixture to the hot oil and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the carrots, parsnips, turnips, cabbage, beets, potatoes, tomatoes, dill, and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Add the sugar, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste and cook for 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Smoked Salmon and Dill Soup

This delicious and unusual chowder-style soup from Marlena Speiler's The Complete Guide to Traditional Jewish Cooking, hails from the Jewish community of Alaska who jokingly refer to themselves as "the frozen chosen." The recipe calls for fish stock, so I have provided a quick and easy recipe I discovered on about.com's Guide for Busy Cooks below it.

  • 1 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 7 cups fish stock
  • 2 medium potatoes, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 to 3 ounces smoked salmon scraps, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 pound salmon fillet, skinned and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the onion and cook for 6 minutes until softened.
  2. Stir in the flour. Reduce heat to low and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
  3. Add the fish stock and potatoes to the mixture in the pan. Season with a little salt and ground black pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when tested with a fork.
  4. Add the smoked salmon scraps and the cubed salmon, then simmer gently for 3 to 5 minutes until it is just cooked.
  5. Stir the milk, cream, and chopped dill into the contents of the pan. Cook until just warmed through, stirring occasionally, but do not allow to boil. Adjust the seasoning to taste, then ladle into warmed soup bowls to serve.

Easy Homemade Fish Stock

Do not use mackerel, skate, or mullet in this recipe; their taste is too strong and heavy.

  • 8 cups cold water
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalk with leaves, chopped
  • 15 black peppercorns
  • 6 sprigs parsley
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 9 whole cloves
  • 3 strips lemon rind
  • 3 pounds lean fish bones and trimmings
  1. Place water, onion, carrot, and celery in stockpot.
  2. Tie peppercorns, parsley, bay leaf, thyme, cloves, and lemon rind in a square of cheesecloth and add to pot. Add rinsed fish bones and trimmings.
  3. Heat to a simmer over medium high heat. Simmer for just 15 minutes, no longer. Skim the surface of the soup, strain the stock, and refrigerate or freeze. Makes about 7 to 8 cups of stock.

Previously on the Kosher Table

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