Miso Matzo Ball Soup

Let me start by saying I broke some rules making this dish (and not just the most obvious one). For one, I made a cheater's version of vegetarian dashi. For an authentic dashi recipe you can check out this or this. There are also some instant dashi mixes on the market. You can also find instant miso soup at many stores, and if that's your thing go for it. If you are still up for making miso soup from scratch I found this post helpful.

Aside from the lack of the dashi's authenticity, this soup is also a little disorienting from the matzo ball perspective. I'm highly accustomed to matzo balls floating around in chicken broth (or vegetarian chicken-tasting broth). When I took the first taste of this soup I wondered where all the familiar flavors had gone. 

Then I took a second bite. I quickly forgot about tradition and authenticity. This is the merger of two comfort foods from two different culinary cultures. The sweet umami salty miso broth is happy to host hearty matzo balls (in lieu of soft tofu or shellfish). The scallions add a refreshing bit of green and bite. I think you could even try out a little fresh dill (gasp!) in this soup. 

One note about matzo balls: I'm not a fan of leaden sinkers, but I do like some chew to my matzo balls. You can make your matzo balls however your bubbe made them. If you really don't want to make matzo balls from scratch you can buy matzo ball mixes at the store. 

There's a lot of room for controversy in this recipe. When you're making super traditional dishes everyone has a strong opinion about what is right and wrong. It's a little daring, but I was happy to throw out the rules and combine two things that aren't frequently brought together.

This recipe could happen in moments if you take all the cheats you want... or this recipe could take just a little longer and you could make every element authentically and from scratch. However you choose to make it, this merger is a happy one.

Miso Matzo Ball Soup
Serves 4 
Makes 10-12 matzo balls

for the matzo balls
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil (or schmaltz)
½ cup matzo meal
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon kosher salt
pepper to taste

for the miso soup
1 4-5 inch piece kombu, rinsed (can substitute with an extra sheet of nori)
1 sheet nori
5 cups water
4 tablespoons white miso
2 large scallions, sliced thin

for the matzo balls
In a bowl, beat the eggs and olive oil together. To the egg mixture, add the matzo meal, baking powder, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Mix together until combined. Your mixture should be sticky and wet. Let the matzo ball dough chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before using it.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once the matzo ball dough has chilled and the water is boiling, form the dough into tablespoon-sized balls. Lower the heat to a simmer, and then carefully drop the balls into the simmering water. They will float and begin to expand. 

Place a lid on the pot, and simmer the matzo balls for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes turn off the heat, and serve the matzo balls, or let them cool in the liquid, and store them in the fridge until ready to use. Matzo balls can be made 1-2 days ahead of when you intend to serve them. While the matzo balls are cooking, make the soup.

for the soup
In a medium pot, add the kombu, nori and water. On medium heat, slowly bring the liquid to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes until the seaweed has imparted flavor to the liquid, and the nori is falling apart. Before the water has come up to a simmer, when it is warm and about 100°F, take a few tablespoons of the liquid and combine it in a small bowl with the miso. Stir until smooth and reserve.

After the broth has simmered for 10 minutes, remove the kombu and nori from the pot. The nori may fall apart a little and that's ok; the seaweed sediment adds flavor. On low heat, whisk the reserved miso mixture into the pot. Add the onions to the pot. Simmer the soup for another 2-3 minutes, but be careful not to boil the miso.

to assemble the dish
Ladle the miso soup into bowls. Serve 2-3 matzo balls per bowl. 

My grandmother's Borscht

As the child of Russian immigrants, beets played a big role in my culinary upbringing. Borscht is the king of all beet dishes, and no one makes it better than my maternal grandmother.

Borscht is beet soup.  Many Russians include meat in their borscht.  The kind that I grew up eating was vegetarian, and it is the kind I prefer.

My grandparents have very civilized meals.  Among other things, they begin every dinner with a bowl of soup. Borscht is in heavy rotation in a cycle of other great soups.

I have made borscht different ways.  I have also made non-borscht beet soups (creamy, with yogurt and dill). This recipe is the most classic version of this type of soup.  To me, it tastes like home and family. It tastes like sweet earth, bright with lemon and dill. A dollop of sour cream is an essential component. Extra fresh dill always helps. The soup does take a bit of work, but each step is easy.

To make this borscht especially good, I started by getting all of my ingredients at the Hollywood farmer's market.  I especially like going to the market when I have a specific recipe in mind; hunting for root veggies and cabbage couldn't be easier in February... even if you're not in agriculturally abundant California. These ingredients are also readily available at any grocery store.

From my experiences growing up bringing "weird" things to school in my lunchbox, I know this stuff isn't for everyone. But if you're into beets, and you're into soups, you'll probably enjoy Borscht.

Baba's Borscht
Serves 10-12

1 large onion, or 2 small onions, peeled and halved
3 stalks of celery
handful of fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3-4 medium sized beets, shredded
2 medium carrots, shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
2 cups roughly shopped beet greens (optional)
1/4 cup freshly chopped dill
Juice of 1 lemon
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Sour cream 

Fill a large pot with water.  Add your peeled and halved onions, celery stalks, flat leaf parsley, garlic and bay leaf to the pot.  Season the water with a generous amount of salt.  Bring the ingredients to a boil, lower to a simmer, and let the steep for 30 minutes.  

While your broth is simmering, peel your carrots and beets.  If you do not want beet-stained hands, use disposable gloves whilst peeling your beets.  To make life easy, you can shred your carrots and beets in a food processor.  If you don't have a food processor, or you want to work out your dominant arm's bicep, you can shred the beets and carrots with a box grater.  Add the olive oil to a large pan on medium high heat.  Add the shredded beets and carrots to the pan.  Season with salt and pepper. Sautee the vegetables until they are softened, about 15 minutes.

Once the beets and carrots have wilted and softened, and the broth has been simmering for a while, you can scoop out the onion, celery, parsley, garlic, etc. from the broth using a spider or slotted spoon.  Add the shredded cabbage and beet greens to the pot (I save the tops of the beets, wash them really well, and chop them up... if you didn't get your beets with greens, you can skip this ingredient).   Add the cooked beets and cabbage to the pot.  Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.  

At this point, the flavors will come together, and the liquid will become a brilliant red color. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and fresh dill to the pot. Ladle and serve the borscht with a generous dollop of sour cream.  I like to serve this soup hot, but you can also eat it chilled.

Borscht is best eaten with a chunk of hearty crusty bread.  If you're feeling really Russian, you can also eat your borscht with a side of raw garlic cloves, seriously.