The Husband is Jewish and I am his shiksa bride. As young marrieds, we ignored both traditions equally. But when we had children, we began celebrating Jewish and Christian holidays alike, so that as the kids matured they could naturally gravitate to the rituals that moved them the most.
Though I grew up in New York, I'd never attended a Passover seder until I met my future husband. I really enjoyed the meal, but the Passover service seemed so complicated that I felt a tad overwhelmed when it was time to produce my own seder. For that matter, even the meal — with its many platters of symbolic dishes — seemed pretty daunting.
I knew I'd probably never attempt homemade gefilte fish, but I figured I might be able to produce a respectable matzo ball soup. At the time I owned no Jewish cookbooks, and there was no internet. So what did I do? I called my mother-in-law. And what did she tell me? To make the recipe on the back of the matzo meal box.
And? Except for the fact that I made the balls too big and they blew up to the size of tennis balls and took forever to cook, I felt pretty proud of my soup.
Since then I've produced many matzo ball soups, and not always on Passover. Over time, I've refined the recipe from the back of the box.
Like other cooks before me, I swapped out the vegetable oil in favor of schmaltz (chicken fat), which amps the flavor. I also began poaching the matzo balls not in water, but in broth.
However, for the purpose of this column, I wanted to dream up a matzo ball that is lower in fat and calories, but that doesn't sacrifice any flavor. The schmaltz was the first ingredient to go. It's also
pure saturated fat. So it was back to vegetable oil.
Then I kissed off the whole eggs in favor of egg whites, which are leaner. Then I added some baking powder, which made them more buoyant. Make sure your get baking powder that's been certified kosher for Passover. Next poach the matzo balls for much longer than recommended, which helped to cook them all the way through, and made them less dense.
The soup part of this recipe is thick with spring vegetables — fava beans, asparagus, leeks, mushrooms and peas. If you want to get fancy, use fresh, seasonal morel mushrooms instead of the buttons. Just make sure you wash them well.
Spring Vegetable Soup with Low-Fat, High-Flavor Matzo Balls
Start to finish: 2 hours (45 minutes active); Servings: 8
For the matzo balls:
¾ cup matzo meal
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 large egg whites, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth
For the soup:
½ pound shelled fresh fava beans or shelled fresh lima beans (or 1⅔ cups defrosted frozen), or a combination
3 medium leeks
½ pound asparagus (about ½ bunch), tough ends discarded (peel the stalks if thicker than ⅓ inch)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ pound small white mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
10 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup shelled fresh or defrosted frozen green peas
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Chopped fresh dill, to garnish
To make the matzo balls, in a large bowl stir together the matzo meal, salt and baking powder. Add the egg whites, vegetable oil and chicken broth, then stir until well combined. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
While the matzo mixture cools, prepare the vegetables. If using fava beans, in a large saucepan bring 1 quart of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the shelled fava beans and blanch for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to immediately transfer them to a bowl of ice water to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, gently peel the skins from the beans. If using lima beans, this step can be skipped.
Trim off and discard the green parts of the leeks, leaving about 5 inches. Cut the white part in half lengthwise, then slice into 1-inch pieces (about 3½ cups). Rinse them well and pat them dry. Cut the asparagus crosswise into 1-inch pieces.
In a large saucepan over medium, heat the oil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, or until they have softened. Add the asparagus and mushrooms to the leek mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes more, or until almost tender. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and set aside.
Return the saucepan to the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add the chicken broth and bring it to a boil. Shape the chilled matzo batter into 16 balls and add them to the broth. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover and cook for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the matzo balls are tender.
Add the vegetable mixture to the chicken stock and matzo balls, along with the fava beans and peas and simmer until heated through. If using defrosted frozen lima beans, add them first to the soup and let them simmer for 5 minutes or until tender, then add the other vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste, ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped fresh dill.
Per serving: 230 calories; 80 calories from fat (35 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (0.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 29 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 10 g protein; 1070 mg sodium.