Bachelor Food: Matzah Ball Soup

MatzahBallSoup2

I’ve got this habit – some might call it a bad habit – of posting photos on Facebook of what I’m having for dinner.

Okay, yeah. It’s goofy. Who does that?  Well, actually, probably tons of your friends do; but hey, at least it’s food that I made myself, not just some cool-lighting shot of a scone I bought with a Starbucks venti latte.

And oddly, I usually get complimentary comments on the stuff – along with questions about why I never cook for friends, or how come they’re never invited over for dinner. (Does the word “introvert” mean anyting to you?)  But as often as not, I also get asked how I made it. There are days when I don’t mind spending a little time in the kitchen chopping vegetables or experimenting with some impromptu Thai sauce I threw together with coconut milk, ginger paste and peanut butter (I’ll save that for another day).  But most times, I just want something fast and easy.  And before your mind goes where I know most of your minds are already going, I’m talking food here, not romance.  That’s the whole nature of “Bachelor food.”  Like a good date, it’s fast, it’s easy, it tastes good, and hopefully, there’s very little clean up afterwards.

So, this past week after getting home from work and staring into my cupboards for long hypnotic moments, I pulled out a box of matzah ball mix.  Yeah, I had that in there. I used to have a lot of Jewish friends, and got invited to a lot of Shabbat dinners. In fact, that’s where I first experienced this culinary delight. It’s basically peasant food. Meat substitute. And it’s even kosher, if that means anything to you. And it fits all the criteria I was looking for at that moment.

MatzahBallSoup_simple
At its most basic. Who can’t do this?

Matzah balls are basically just dumplings made from matzah. Think saltine crackers, only blander. And in fact, if you don’t happen to have matzah ball mix in your cupboard, you could probably just as easily substitute a handful of Zesta saltines.  Just crumble them up into … well, crumbs … add in a bit of onion and garlic powder, maybe celery seed if you’ve got it, and that’s basically it.

Then it’s just chicken broth. You drop the matzah dumplings in boiling broth where they’ll absorb all that chicken flavor, cook for 20 minutes, and out comes this incredible tasting ball of deliciousness, you’ll roll your eyes in disbelief that something so simple could be so good.

Like I said, it’s a soup, so you can keep it that simple (just chicken broth and the matzah balls) or you can do it up and add real chicken and vegetables.

And since it was a week night, I wasn’t in the mood to do much chopping, so I just pulled a can of sliced carrots out of the cupboard, and that was just fine. Oh, I did slice up some onion, cuz I always keep those in the fridge anyway, and I like them in soup.

So here’s the basic recipe.  Do it simple, or do it with a bit more cooking. Either way … it’s a very satisfying dish to enjoy when you’ve got a date with Netflix.

Ingredients

  • 1 packet matzah ball mix (or the handful of crumbled crackers and seasoning mentioned above)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 quarts of chicken broth (either instant, or the boxed kind from the supermarket. Get the reduced sodium variety, and organic if you can find it and are willing to spend a bit extra for it.)
MatzahBallSoup_2
With a few extras — but still “Bachelor friendly!”

That’s it for the basic recipe.  For a bit more substance, here’s what I pulled together Tuesday night:

  • ½ package of chicken breast tenders. I wanted some real chicken in that broth. You can just as easily use chicken thighs, breasts … whatever, just to get some meat in the soup.
  • 1 can of sliced carrots
  • ¼ onion, sliced
  • Whatever earthy herbs you prefer.  I added a bit of oregano, celery seed, and ground pepper.

When making chicken soup, you normally add onion, celery and carrots – the Holy Trinity of soup ingredients.  I had the onion, but no celery. The celery seed made up for that in flavor. (And guys, note: it’s celery seed, not celery salt.  Huge difference.)  The carrots – fresh out of the can.

Do it

Okay: preparing the matzah balls.  Beat the two eggs and the vegetable oil in a bowl, and then add the crumbs. Mix until the crumbs are moist. Then refrigerate for 15 minutes to give the crumbs time to absorb the egg – and give you time to prepare the chicken and get the broth boiling.

I thawed the chicken in the microwave, and then fried it in a skillet with salt and pepper and bit of vegetable oil.  It only took a few minutes to cook since the tenders where sliced thin. If you’re using chunks of meat (like whole thighs), you may want to cook them thoroughly in the microwave, before dropping them in the soup. Then just cook in the soup until the meat begins to fall off the bone.  They’ll add more flavor to the soup that way, but this time, I was just looking for some meat. The broth would have enough flavor on its own.

Dump the 2 quarts of broth into a decent sized sauce pan. Then add your chicken, chopped onions and the can of carrots (if you’re going that route).  Throw in your extra seasonings / herbs / whatever. Bring to a boil.

Take the matzah ball mix out of the fridge, and pinch off enough to roll between your palms to make ½ inch balls.  (They’ll swell up 2 to 3 times that size as they cook and absorb the broth.) Drop the balls into the boiling soup.  Depending on how large you make the balls, you should end up with anywhere from 6 to 10.  Put a lid on the pan, reduce the heat, and let simmer for about 20 minutes. You want to give them enough time to absorb the chicken flavor and to cook thoroughly.

And really, that’s all there is to it. Broth and matzah balls. Chicken and veggies, if you want more substance. Simmer, and ladle into your soup bowl.  If you’ve got pets, they’ll probably be staring at you, trying to telepathically command you to share with them since the smell will be driving them as crazy as you.  You probably shouldn’t (share, that is), since all that salt (and whatever other seasoning you added) may not be good for them.  But you could probably cut up bit of that chicken just to give them a taste.

Pour whatever is left over into a covered bowl, and refrigerate. It makes great left-overs, since those matzah balls will just get better tasting overnight. And enjoy your dinner and a movie at home, bachelor style.

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.

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Mexican Chicken Soup, Bachelor Style

One of the first sentences I ever learned in Spanish was “Me encanta comer, pero no me gusta cocinar” (I love to eat but I don’t like to cook).

That was years ago in college, when I had my head stuck in computer science stuff and my friend was majoring in foreign languages. And like any good guy with an eye to the future, I tried to pick up as many language skills as I could, because … well, you never know. And this particular sentence had more chance of actually being used than the French one I learned which began with “Voulez-vous coucher…”

I didn’t realize at the time that it could become a life philosophy. (The eating/cooking one, not the sleeping one.)

Like I said, I love to eat. And it’s autumn, which means I’m more inclined to experiment in the kitchen on cloudy, grey Saturday afternoons.  Three months of salad can put you in the mood for some warm comfort food.  So, I decided to let my mad kitchen skills fly, and see what warm luscious thing would magically come out.

Soup is easy stuff. Pick a protein (by which I mean “meat”).  Cook it up a bit in a skillet or your soup pot first to “brown” it (and to prevent from poisoning yourself with salmonella), then chop up some of your favorite veggies. For soups, that usually means the “holy trinity”: onions, celery, and carrots.   Throw them all in a pot, add a liquid of some kind (the boxed chicken-, vegetable- or beef-broth from the supermarket always works well — and it keeps in the cupboard for a LONG time, meaning I have a greater chance of actually using it). And then you throw in whatever seasoning appeals to you. If you’re earthy, you throw in oregano, thyme, basil — or that Simon & Garfunkel stand-by, “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme”. Or, if you’re authentically a bachelor, you may just settle for the generic “Italian herb” mix we all have in our spice racks.  If you like things jacked up the thermometer a bit, some red pepper flakes, chili pepper work great, or just dump in some tabasco or Cholula sauce.  Umm, nice!  And then you gotta add some kind of carb.  Everyone’s got rice in their cupboard, so that’ll work fine. Couscous is cool too, but I don’t know many bachelors who keep that in stock. I had a little quinoa in my cupboard leftover from another culinary experiment a while back (it’s a South American grain, so it would fit the theme, right?), so I decided to throw that in with some rice.  Waste not, want not, right?

Nothing magical about it.  You don’t gotta be a rocket scientist or a Food Network chef.  Just willing to experiment.

So today was my day to play. It was chilly outside, so soup appealed to me. And, I gotta admit, I love the smell of something good simmering on the stove filling the house.  I looked in my freezer and pulled out some chicken breast tenders.  Easy.  Threw them in the microwave for a minute or two to thaw (yeah, I can hear the real cooks groaning already), then cut them in bite-sized pieces. Hey, when you’re impulse-cooking, who has time to let things thaw naturally?  (“Planning?” What’s that?)

A friend had posted something on Facebook about chicken and jalapenos (cuz I have foodie friends), so that sounded good. But I don’t normally keep jalapeno peppers in my fridge. But I do keep canned green chiles on my shelf, and that would work just fine. Not as spicy, but maybe even more flavorful in its own way.  And the rest is history …

 

What you need

½ pound chicken breast tenders — thawed in whatever way is convenient (and safe) for you

1 medium onion, any variety — I’m an onion fan, so I used both sweet yellow and red onion (and yes, they are both in my fridge)

4 stalks of celery — hey, these are great just to have in your fridge for any “health food” occasion

Handful of shredded carrots (optional) — leftover from the salad-days of summer

1 green pepper — more salad stuff

1 small can of roasted green chiles (4 oz) — or feel free to substitute a few fresh chopped jalapenos if you’re that adventurous

3 or 4 cloves of garlic, chopped or pressed — guys, a “clove” is a segment of the garlic bulb, not the whole bulb itself.  (just sayin’)

1 cup rice, pasta, couscous, quinoa — whatever works for ya

2 boxes of chicken broth (32oz each)

A little salt

A little cumin — it’s the secret spice (herb?) that makes everything “Mexican” tasting

A few dashes of red pepper flakes

And a small fistful of fresh cilantro, chopped — another secret herb for a “Mexican” or even “Middle Eastern” flavor

 

Then just do it

Cut the chicken tenders in bite-sized cubes, and throw into a pot or Dutch oven thing. Add a little oil in the bottom of the pan to let ‘em brown without sticking. Margarine will work just as well. Shake some salt on them just to add a bit of flavor.

When the chicken is cooked and nicely browned on the outside, toss in your onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and green pepper with a little more oil, and sauté for a few minutes until they soften up a bit and pick up some of that great chicken flavor.

Then dump in your chicken or vegetable broth.  That’s your basic soup, so now just add seasoning to your taste: maybe a bit more salt, a few shakes of red pepper flakes for kick, and sprinkle in some cumin (if you’re the anal type that needs measurements, start with ½ teaspoon).

Bring to a simmer, a low boil.  Then pour in your rice (or quinoa or …).  A lot of people will save the chopped cilantro for the bowl, almost as a garnish. But I love cilantro, so I want the flavor to cook into the broth. If you’re like me, now is the time to add the cilantro to the soup.

Then just let it simmer for a while, stirring occasionally, till the rice is cooked and absorbs some of the broth, and that wonderful smell saturates everything in your living room.

Flip on the TV, watch a football game (if you’re not me) or something on Netflix (if you are like me), and enjoy your Mexican-style chicken soup.  You made it. You should be proud of yourself.  Enjoy!

 

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
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