Out of a literal melting pot comes a literally stellar chicken soup
In Molly Yeh’s exuberant followup to “Molly On the Range,” the Julliard-trained percussionist-turned-food blogger-turned-Forward contributor-turned-cookbook writer-turned-Food Network star has evolved beyond all those descriptors and embraced a new role entirely: that of mother to baby Ira and toddler Bernie (nee Bernadette).
Fear not. In “Home Is Where the Eggs Are,” Yeh’s signature playfulness is still firmly intact. But whereas her first cookbook told the “I-think-we’re-not-in-Brooklyn-anymore” story of marrying a beet farmer she referred to as “Egg Boy” and leaving the big city for a farm in North Dakota, this one marks her transition into motherhood with a deliberate shift toward family-focused recipes.
“While food, to me, used to be primarily about creativity and sustenance and the occasional big Chrismukkah party,” she writes in the book’s introduction, “it’s now also about building family traditions and memories, celebrating the everyday.”
What has always distinguished Yeh from so many other cookbook writers is her ability to draw us into a cozy, whimsical, technicolor world where rainbow sprinkles, giant pasta stars and potato tot-covered casseroles make everything in life seem sunny — yet with enough nerd-meets-cool-girl charisma and humor, and unassailable cooking chops, to keep it all firmly on the right side of saccharine.
In this world, Yeh’s Chinese-Jewish heritage mashes up so seamlessly that moo shu chicken and kale chip congee exist comfortably alongside salami matzo brei, potato challah, and babka cereal.
She draws not only from her own heritage, but also from her husband’s Scandinavian background and their life at home on the range. There are plenty of imaginative versions of the sustaining, stick-to-your-ribs Midwestern farm fare that her husband, Nick, and his fellow farmers require in order to get their work done in the fields without running out of fuel.
What’s new about this collection is that it’s informed most heavily by Yeh’s new, maternal perspective.
“What I didn’t anticipate was a pretty jarring shift in my taste buds, a newfound deeper meaning to mealtime, and a fresh perspective on food in general,” she writes.
In Yeh’s new book, one of her favorite recipes, chicken and stars soup, is a good example of this.
“The most gratifying requirement of being a Jewish mother is having a chicken soup practice,” Yeh writes in a lengthy headnote before the recipe. “It honestly doesn’t even have to be that great — you just need to make it because no matter what, your kids and your kids’ kids will both need it and love it.”
Indeed, there’s a lot to love about this recipe. What distinguishes Yeh’s chicken soup from so many others is that her pasta stars are giant. They’re made by rolling out a simple nutmeg-flecked pasta dough, then using a star-shaped cookie cutter to press out dozens of tasty, smile-inducing constellations. The veggies, too, are cut larger than usual — because, Yeh writes, “vegetables saturated in soup are Bernie’s favorite, and bigger slices are quicker to chop, easier for her to eat with her hands, and less likely to disintegrate into mush if the soup simmers for an extra long time.”
Except for the oversize stars, the recipe doesn’t veer too far from the versions known to every other Jewish mama, but it does get extra punch from plenty of dill, additional nutmeg, lemon juice and zest, and just the right amount of salt.
“This is important,” Yeh instructs. “The amount of salt in a chicken soup can mean the difference between unappetizing chicken tea and the elixir of bubbe love that it should be.”
It’s impossible not to smile at a bowl of fragrant, perfectly seasoned soup loaded with giant stars, whether eating it as part of a High Holiday dinner or on your average Tuesday — just as it’s impossible not to smile while leafing through this warm, funny volume of homey, easy-to-follow recipes.