This week, in honor of Hanukkah, my students made chicken soup with matzah balls. I know, matzah ball soup– not exactly part of the celebration of oil that is Hanukkah. Some sort of fried dough, dripping with honey, latkes, doughnuts, maybe even pretzels would have been more appropriate. As a defense, two tablespoons of olive oil did make it into those matzah balls. In truth, I’ll admit it, I love soup (and therefore my students cook what I love). I also recall my mother making matzah ball soup for Hanukkah so I figure, why not? But, like me, she loves soup and likely just made it with any excuse.
Holiday cooking with children is a lot of fun. They definitely get into the spirit, making the whole month about that single event– October is Halloween, November is Thanksgiving and December is, well, more often about Christmas. So it goes without saying that as we walked to our classroom with the inevitable, “what are we making today,” trailing behind me, a few students made their guesses:
“Oh! We’re making gingerbread houses.”
“No, it’s going to be stained glass cookies.”
“Something for Christmas!… Something for Christmas!”
In the classroom I quiet them down. “Today,” I begin, “we’re making chicken soup with matzah balls for Hanukkah.” There are a few cheers of approval, “I love chicken soup!” But in every class, as with any unfamiliar dish, I also receive a response I find slightly hilarious: “Oh, I’m not Jewish, I can’t eat matzah ball soup.” Often said with a little hesitant uncertainty.
I don’t really understand where this response comes from. Obviously, it’s a foreign food and an easy defense. It happened when we made our fatayer as well. But it’s the “can’t” in the response I fail to grasp. Where do they learn that from? Instead, I respond: “Do you eat egg rolls?” Yes, the students very much enjoy egg rolls. “Do you eat pizza?” There is a strong endorsement for pizza eating. “And tacos?” Nods of approval. “Well, since you are all neither Chinese, Italian or Mexican combined, I think we’re also safe with matzah ball soup.” (With reference to Judaism as a culture.)
We set out to make our soup. The single dish this semester that was not fully vegetarian. Not because I don’t think it’s important for kids to be exposed to raw meats, it is. But because keeping an eye on 15 hands wandering mouth-wards and a tendency to flick food bits from hands (onto our neighbor’s hair and often onto the teacher’s clothing), it becomes less of a concern for rogue bacteria (and favorite shirts acquiring blood stains). It also makes a week’s worth of allergies and religious dietary restrictions less of a problem.
Why expose children to raw meats? Here’s a little scene that occurred while making our soup:
Student: “We have to add the chicken flavor square now.” This sounds like bouillon cubes to me.
Teacher: “Right, we’re adding chicken flavor, but it’s not coming from a little cube. We’re getting all our chicken flavor from actual chicken.”
Eyes open wide in amazement. You mean you can get actual chicken flavor from actual chicken? Yes! And it’s coming from the bones! Students worriedly glance at each other — are we going to be asked to eat bones?
The soup is boiling and we’re back at the table rolling our matzah balls. Matzah balls get boiled, tables are cleaned and set, and we’re ready for eating. Our parsley flecked matzah balls get dished out, steaming broth ladled over top.
“So what do we think?”
There is affirmative head nodding as mouths are busy blowing to cool hot broth. A student turns to me, “This is pretty good, but my grandmother’s is better.”
I smile and agree, “I know, grandma’s food is always better.”
Chicken Soup with Matzah Balls
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons seltzer water
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup matzah meal (ground up matzah crackers, or alternatively, ground crackers)
4 quarts water
2-3 lbs chicken with bones (in class we use chicken wings so everyone can have a piece)
3 carrots, broken into 2-3 pieces
3 celery stalks, broken into 2-3 pieces
1 medium onion, quartered
2-3 stems fresh thyme
1 small bunch fresh parsley
1 tablespoon salt
Make the Matzah Balls: Combine matzah ball ingredients. Stir to combine, refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes.
Make the Soup: Bring water to a boil in a stock pot. Add remaining soup ingredients, return to a boil then simmer at least 30 minutes (1 hour or more will result in tastier soup).
Finish Matzah Balls: Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Roll the matzah balls into small, marble-sized balls. Transfer to boiling water and cook 15 minutes.
To Serve: Place 2-3 matzah balls in a bowl. Top with broth, a carrot and/or celery piece and a piece of chicken.