Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Matzo ball soup and Suliman's pilaf

funny, the things we yearn for
A few years ago, Nora Ephron wrote that she was “a Jew with a big crush on WASP food.”

I’m a something-or-other with a big crush on Jewish food. Knishes, blintzes, brisket, challah, kugel, latkes. This is probably because I had a lot of Jewish friends growing up and read All-of-a-Kind Family at least seventeen times. 

The only Jewish dish that has never appealed to me is gefilte fish. I first saw a jar of gefilte fish in some supermarket circa 1975 and was traumatized by the disintegrating vomit-colored blobs floating in a cloudy liquid. Looking at jarred gefilte fish still makes me a little queasy. We all have our triggers. I'm sure gefilte fish can be edible and attractive when prepared at home. I mean, this doesn't quite make my mouth water, but I'd eat it. 

Long story short, I made matzo ball soup last night. Not for the first time, but this was a particularly great version with big, light, fluffy matzo balls. I made a basic chicken soup with celery and carrots then used Wolfgang Puck’s matzoh ball recipe which you can find in this New York Times story. The formatting is crazy, but the recipe really is in there. 

If you choose to make Puck's matzo ball soup, some tips:

a. I didn't clarify the butter
b. used sparkling water, not club soda 
c. used about a teaspoon of thyme because that’s all we had 
d. left the batter in the refrigerator for one hour, not two
e. cooked all the matzo balls at once 

Given that the soup was wonderful, you are safe doing the same.

Here is the Suliman’s pilaf recipe I promised, adapted from LambThe biggest change I made was to cook the rice by the absorption method using Madhur Jaffrey's formula. Supposedly soaking the rice enhances the flavor. I’ve never tested this; I just soak the rice.

Suliman’s pilaf

2 cups basmati rice
1 tablespoons olive oil for the rice
1/4 cup olive oil for the lamb
1/2 pound chopped lamb 
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup raisins
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tomatoes, fresh or canned, optional
2 tablespoons pine nuts or blanched, slivered almonds
thick yogurt
kosher salt and pepper

  1. Wash the rice well and put it in a bowl. Add 5 cups water  and 1 teaspoon salt. After 30 minutes, drain.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan then add the rice and cook for a minute, stirring. Add 2 1/4 cups water and 3/4 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a boil, cover the pot, lower heat to the lowest possible setting, and cook for 20 minutes. Lift the lid, mix rice gently with a fork, cover, and cook for 10 minutes more. 
  3. While the rice is cooking, heat the 1/4 cup oil in a skillet and add the onions. Cook until softened. Add all the other ingredients except the yogurt. Cook for a few minutes to heat and let the flavors meld. Season with salt and pepper. Add the rice and gently fold together. Serve with yogurt. Serves 4-6.


  1. I love matzo ball soup but I usually just buy at the Jewish deli--we made Italian wedding soup for dinner last night. Ian said, "this reminds me of that wedding soup with matzo balls."

  2. Everything I know about being Jewish comes from the All of a Kind Family books (and I'm half Jewish). I LOVED those books when I was a kid and still reread one or two every few years.

  3. Gefilte fish = creepy. My grandmother used to make fried green tomatoes using matzo meal for the coating. It's still one of my father's favorite foods. He managed to recreate the recipe all on his own (and he's a very basic cook, so that shows how motivating a yearning can be). I loved All of a Kind Family too.