My Matzoh Ball Soup recipe is worn and yellowed with a scrawl of notes penned in the margins, delectable adaptations, and that curious scent of lingering schmaltz is telling me it’s time.
This tattered recipe is nudging me to make my 48-hour soup in time for the Jewish holiday of Passover, which begins Friday.
Over the years Wine Country chefs have weighed in so the recipe has gone through countless iterations. I now make Matzoh Balls with fresh ginger in the mix, and I sauté onions, scallions and carrots to give the soup a hint of caramel. What’s more, I make a broth with schmaltz, that impossibly rich and textured chicken fat that makes this soup a pot of comfort, a steam bath of aromas; it completely soothes that part of you that needs a respite from the race, the howling deadlines of life.
I’m well aware that a 48-hour soup is not cost effective, from boiling the chicken to making artisan Matzoh Balls, but that doesn’t stop me from searching for the best Jewish comfort food on the market. I did a little research in Sonoma County, and if you’re hungry for comfort, here are some tasty dishes not-to-be missed. One caveat. Observant Jews wouldn’t consider some of these dishes suitable for Passover, but they are within reach and can be enjoyed throughout the year.
Matzoh Ball Soup at Bird & the Bottle
The Matzoh Ball Soup at this restaurant is exotic comfort with barbecue chicken and a Ramen broth.
“With Ramen being a big craze we combined those flavors with a traditional Matzoh Ball, made with homemade schmaltz and Korean grilled chicken,” said executive chef Mark Stark. “Chef Eric (Foster) loves Korean food, and I am intrigued by the underappreciated Jewish cuisine. Makes perfect sense.”
The $10 soup has become a signature dish, one you can always find on the menu, popular with Millennials and boomers and everyone in-between.
“I’m a big fan of food memories,” Stark said. “My first great steak, eating Tapas with my wife in Spain, sitting in a crab shack on the Chesapeake Bay eating Bluepoint Oysters and crisp soft shell crab sandwiches. Our daily goal is to recreate those memories for our guests. That’s comfort food.”
Hot Pastrami Sandwich at Mac’s Deli & Cafe
At this casual deli in downtown Santa Rosa, a hot pastrami and Swiss cheese on grilled Rye is a regular on the menu. And owner Toraj Soltani knows just how to dish up comfort.
“We slice the pastrami thin and hold it in a steam box, so the fat generally melts and it gets juicy,” he said. “We get our corned beef and pastrami from Chicago and we feel it’s the best in town.”
The sandwich, priced at $9.95, is a hit with a generous slab of hot pastrami stacked high and a kosher pickle on the side.
Latke at Forestville’s Backyard
You can step inside this Forestville restaurant and taste a latke with a Sonoma County twist, a unique creation that sidesteps that traditional starchy potato.
“Sometimes we do an heirloom carrot and celery root latke,” said chef Daniel Kedan. “But other times, like in the summertime when there’s an abundance of summer squash, we have a summer squash latke.”
The Backyard version of latkes, at $12, supports the local farms of Sonoma County, Kedan said. The chef sources local vegetables, and instead of serving the dish with a traditional dollop of sour cream, he opts for preserved fruit like Gravenstein apples.
“I don’t always have brisket or Matzoh Ball soup on the menu but I always have latkes on it every day,” he said.
The chef said latkes are a favorite because these scrumptious pucks of flavor bring back great memories from his childhood in Trumbull, Conn.
“When I was in elementary school, my mom would make latkes for my first and second grade class, and that was always fun,” he said.
Crafting latkes from a revolving door of ingredients – carrots, squash, etc. – is a great way to highlight a vegetable in a unique way, he said.
“It allows us to hold true to where we came from,” Kedan said, “and also highlight where we are now — Sonoma County.”
Babka at Pop Up at Farmers Markets
For the past few years Les Goodman has been a POP UP artist, one who occasionally showed up at Farmers Markets in Sonoma County, wowing the crowd with his rendition of Chocolate Babka.
“Babka is made from a dough similar to brioche, an eggy sweet dough, rolled and braided,” Goodman said.
The chef said he fancies Jewish comfort food even when it’s unfussy like his mother’s version of brisket made with a packet of French onion soup.
“Brisket goes back to Eastern Europe,” he said. “It was an inexpensive cut of meat, but that’s not the case anymore … my version is with dried cranberries and caramelized onions.”
Goodman is now the chef/manager of the food program for Sonoma Academy, but he said he may do another POP UP at a Farmers Market this summer.
“I had a good mix, a lot of regulars, a lot who were Jewish,” Goodman said. “I think Jewish comfort food is made with love … it reminds people of how they grew up.”
Peg’s Matzoh Ball Soup recipe from the California Kosher cookbook, with tweaks from Wine Country chefs.
3 ½ quarts water
2 whole celery stocks
Small bunch of parsley
A crisp, New Zealand-styled sauvignon blanc with bright acidity.
2 tablespoon schmaltz or chicken fat
3 eggs lightly beaten
½ cup matzoh meal
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons kosher club soda
1 tablespoon parsley, finely minced.
2 tablespoons shredded ginger
Mix the schmaltz and the eggs. Add Matzoh meal, ginger and salt. Blend well. Then add kosher club soda and parsley. Put mixture in a Tupperware container and place in the refrigerator overnight.
Put chicken in pot with cold water. Bring to a boil, skimming off the foam. After the chicken is cooked thoroughly (about an hour), pull out the chicken and cut it into short strips to add to the soup later.
Keep the schmaltz in the pot for now and set aside. Then sauté the carrots, shallots, onion, leek and parsnips to give the soup rich texture and hint of caramel.
Put the pot back on the stove to boil after adding 2 quarts of water and that bottle of sauvignon blanc with bright acidity. After 30 minutes, add in the sautéed ingredients.
Matzoh Balls — the final magic
Pull the matzoh ball mixture out of the refrigerator, and bring a three-quart pot of salted water to rapid boil. Make walnut-sized balls by rolling batter in your hands, using water to moisten your palms. Drop them into boiling water. Lower heat and cover pot, tilting cover slightly, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes.