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Lilly Zabar’s famous chicken soup and matzo balls

This recipe is from “Zabar’s: A Family Story, with Recipes” by Lori Zabar.

Chicken soup is the perfect balm for homesickness as well as for physical ailments. While Louis, Ada, Rose, and Lilly were acclimating to their new country, chicken soup with matzo balls evoked memories of the childhood warmth and security that had been provided by their mothers in Ostropolia. Lilly served her chicken soup at Friday-night Shabbat dinner and on Jewish holidays. Her matzo balls were light as a feather and her boiled chicken so moist and tender it fell off the bone. First, she served the soup and matzo balls and then the chicken on the bone in quarters—or in eighths, if it was a large chicken. These two courses were a filling meal. Though some people shred the chicken into the soup, Grandma Lilly never did.

This recipe was edited and tested by Monita Buchwald.

chicken soup

chicken soup Image by iStock

Chicken Soup

One 4- to 5-pound chicken, cut into quarters, cleaned and washed, any visible fat removed with a small paring knife and saved for schmaltz
2 celery stalks, cut into quarters
1 large onion, cut into quarters
2 to 3 large carrots, peeled and cut in half
2-inch piece of fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Small bunch fresh parsley (tied with string)
Small bunch fresh dill (tied with string)
Bouillon cube (optional)

Place the chicken in a large soup pot. Pour boiling water over the chicken to cover. Let stand for 5 minutes and then drain the water.
Add cold water just to cover the chicken. Add the celery, onion, carrots, ginger, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer until the chicken is tender, about 1 hour. Add the parsley and dill during last 20 minutes of cooking. If you prefer the chicken more done, almost falling off the bone, continue cooking to your preference. Taste, adding a bouillon cube if desired.
Remove the chicken and carrots. Strain the soup, mashing the juices of the vegetables through the strainer. Let cool, chill, and then skim the fat.
To serve, add the chicken pieces back into the strained broth. Gently reheat. Cut the carrots into disks to garnish the soup.

Matzo Balls (knaidlach)


4 large eggs
¼ cup schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), coconut oil, or vegetable oil
¼ cup seltzer, chicken stock, or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, dill, or cilantro
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for cooking
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup matzo meal

Combine the eggs, schmaltz, seltzer, ginger, and parsley in a large bowl. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper. Gently mix with a whisk or spoon.
Add the matzo meal ¹∕3 cup at a time. Stir to wet and absorb all the matzo meal. (If the matzo meal is added all at once, the mixture will turn to cement.) The mixture will be a bit loose but firmer after it chills.
Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours or overnight.
To shape and cook the matzo balls, fill a wide deep pan with lightly salted water and bring to a boil. With wet hands, take some of the mixture and mold it into a ball the size of a walnut. Gently drop the ball into the boiling water. Repeat until all of the mixture is used.
Cover the pan, reduce the heat to a lively simmer, and cook the matzo balls for about 50 minutes.
If desired, the cooked matzo balls can be transferred to chicken or vegetable soup and served immediately. Alternatively, they may be placed on a baking sheet and frozen, then transferred to a freezer bag and kept frozen until a few hours before serving. Reheat in chicken or vegetable soup or broth.

From “Zabar’s: A Family Story, with Recipes” by Lori Zabar. Copyright © 2022 by Lori Zabar. Excerpted by permission of Schocken, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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