March 7, 2011
For this month’s Inviting Writing, we asked people to share their stories about food and dating. Of course, as in Lisa’s starter story, dates don’t always end well, and sometimes, in some way, the food is to blame.
Today’s story comes from Evelyn Kim, who lives in Berlin and writes about food and sustainability issues at the cleverly titled blog Edo Ergo Sum (I eat, therefore I am).
The Matzo Ball Blues
By Evelyn Kim
There is that moment when you are dating someone and you realize that as much as you think the family accepts you…they don’t. I dated this man through college, after college, and for a time I was even engaged to him. But after we split up, I knew that no matter how many brises, weddings, or bar or bat mitzvahs I went to, I was never really part of the family. How did I know? It was the matzo ball.
I made really lousy matzo ball soup. The soup part was fairly easy, but those matzo balls! I could never get them to turn out right. They had the consistency of school paste and the density of doorstops. They were basically rubber balls in kosher clothing.
It was not for lack of trying. I received all sorts of advice. Trust me, I asked around. Moms, aunts, cousins, rabbanim, the Korean deli on 76th and 3rd—they all had their own methods: club soda, finely ground matzo meal, lard (Kosher food rules were clearly not part of the licensing exam for Korean deli owners in New York), whipped schmaltz, The Jewish Book of Why. None of them worked. I suspected that until I married the guy and converted to Judaism, Moses (or my boyfriend’s grandma) wouldn’t divulge the secret to light and fluffy matzo balls.
For years, I thought dumpling dilemma was due to my lack of culinary skills. Maybe I had the wrong matzo meal. Maybe the eggs were too old. Maybe God was punishing me for eating bacon for breakfast. Clearly, I thought, there was something wrong with me. Maybe the matzo ball and I were like Romeo and Juliet–star-crossed lovers that were only to end in tragedy.
After five years of dating, the guy and I split up. There were the usual reasons: arguments ending with “why aren’t you in therapy,” or “I really don’t care about your career.” But then there was his family: “Oh, I forgot. You’re not Jewish,” “This brisket is good, but not as good as fill-in-the blank,” and my favorite, “But you’re Korean.” Needless to say, I never did get the matzo ball recipe.
And I really didn’t think about the matzo ball—until about three months after we split up, when I sat alone at a deli and blubbered into my hot, steaming bowl of matzo ball soup. I really did miss him. I missed the relationship. I missed his neurotic over-analyzed family. I even missed the smelly shedding cat. And I still couldn’t make those stupid matzo balls.
I knew it was time. Time for the matzo ball showdown. With my self-esteem in the gutter, I trudged through the Safeway aisles. I was determined to make the ur-matzo ball, and nothing was going to stop me.
By 2 a.m., I was a hot, sticky mess. I had egg whites floating all over the place. I had almost exhausted my three-box supply of Manischewitz matzo meal. Little bits of chicken fat were clinging in my hair making me the first Asian with dreadlocks. And in my frustration, all I could think about was those stupid quenelles I mistakenly ordered when I first met his parents in college. Why did I order those pretentious, French fluff-balls?
I started crying all over again. What was wrong with me? Maybe I didn’t deserve to know the secret of the matzo ball. Maybe I didn’t deserve to be part of his family. They probably never liked me. That matzo ball was like Proust’s madeleine—but from hell—a constant reminder of a failed past. In my self-pity, I didn’t realize the answer was right in front of me. That stupid quenelle. If I made matzo balls like quenelles, they would be the perfect consistency. I picked up my pathetic puffy-faced self, and went back for more supplies. At 4:30 a.m., I had my soup. I did it myself. I had conquered the matzo ball. I was going to be O.K.
Schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) is the way to go here. You can also use duck or goose fat (it’s delicious). I suppose you could use butter, but the taste and texture might be off. And please, don’t use margarine. I tried cooking the dumplings both in chicken stock and in water. Chicken stock is tasty, but it will color your dumplings yellow. Either way, your tummy will thank you.
4 large eggs, separated
1/4 c. schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), room temperature
2 tbs. Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, minced
1/2 tsp. salt (kosher or sea salt)
freshly ground pepper
2/3 c. unsalted matzo meal
1. In a medium bowl, thoroughly blend egg yolks, schmaltz, parsley and salt. In another medium bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites until it holds stiff peaks. Gently fold egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, alternating with matzo meal, in 3 additions, respectively. Cover and chill until firm, about 2 hours (overnight is fine).
2. Bring a large pot of salted water or stock to a boil. Using moistened hands (the mixture WILL stick), form mixture into balls, about 1 1/4 inch in diameter. When all the balls have been formed, drop matzo balls into boiling water. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until cooked through, about 30 minutes, turning balls over once.
3. Drain and serve immediately with chicken soup of your choice.
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