Matzoh Ball Chicken Soup, Vietnamese Flavors (Pho)
Yes, of course, I still make my traditional matzoh balls… hundreds of them in fact. But I also like to mix it up a bit, and surprise my guests with some exotic flavors… such as my mysterious Saffron Matzoh Balls, super-flavorful Mexican Matzoh Balls, and the Thanksgiving/Hanukkah Poultry-Seasoned Turkey Matzoh Balls. Those fancy Fried Matzoh Balls from Passover 2021 were an outrageous hit, too.
This year the inspiration comes from Pho Ga, that fragrant herby Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup. Here, matzoh balls are subtly spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger and stand in for the rice noodles. The chicken broth is flavored with blackened onion and ginger, lemongrass, and star anise where the smoky-salty-sweet-umami layers are simply intoxicating.
Matzoh Ball Chicken Soup
Vietnamese Flavors Recipe
Chicken Soup Recipe
- 1 whole chicken, cut up
- 1 lg sweet onion, cut into 4 thick slices
- 4″ knob ginger, peeled
- 1 medium daikon, peeled, and sliced into large chunks
- 2 lemongrass stalks, peeled, bruised
- 5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 shallots, rough chopped
- 2 t. black peppercorns
- 3 whole star anise
- 1/3 c. fish sauce (not Kosher) or substitute tamari (certified Kosher)
- 1/4 c. sugar
Place chicken in a large soup pot filled with filtered cold water, bring to a boil, then adjust heat to low. Skim the surface periodically to remove scum.
Meanwhile char onion and ginger on a BBQ or under the broiler. Slice ginger after charring. Place onion and ginger into the soup pot.
Add daikon, lemongrass, garlic, shallot, peppercorns, and star anise to the pot.
After cooking for one hour, remove chicken breast. Let cool enough to handle then shred the breast meat and put aside. Put all the skin and bones back into the soup pot, add fish sauce and sugar, and continue to cook for another hour.
Turn off heat and let cool slightly for 1/2 hour. Strain through a colander, discard all the solids. Strain a second time, through a fine mesh sieve into a clean pot to get a clear broth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Spiced Matzoh Balls
- 2 large eggs
- 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 T. cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
- 1 T. scallion, white and pale green, finely chopped
- 1 packet matzoh ball mix (2 1/2 oz.), available at most large grocery stores in the ethnic section, I like Reduced Sodium Manischewitz brand
- 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
- 1/8 t. ground cloves
- 1/2 t. ground ginger
In a small bowl, whisk eggs with olive oil. Stir in cilantro and scallion.
In another small bowl blend matzoh ball mix with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix with a fork until completely incorporated, but don’t over-mix.
Place matzoh ball mixture in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
In the meantime bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Wet hands and roll chilled matzoh ball mixture into eight balls.
Drop balls into boiling water. Cover. Lower the heat to medium-low (not simmer).
Cook for 25 – 30 minutes, do not lift lid while cooking.
Remove balls from water with a slotted spoon.
- mung bean sprouts, blanch 90 seconds then shock in ice bath, drain
- paper-thin onion slices
- thinly sliced scallions, on bias
- toasted sesame oil
Reheat broth to very hot. Add reserved shredded chicken.
Place mung bean sprouts in the bottom of soup bowls. Arrange matzoh balls on top of the sprouts. Sprinkle with paper-thin onion slices and scallions. Ladle hot broth with shredded chicken on top. Drizzle with sesame oil.
- basil (thai basil if available)
- red and green chiles, thinly sliced
- chili garlic sauce
- hoisin sauce
Tear herbs by hand and add generously to the soup. Squeeze in lime juice. Add chiles to taste. Serve chili garlic sauce and hoisin sauce on the side in which to dip and flavor the shredded chicken (but don’t add to the soup).
Notes: Ashkenazi Jews have a custom of not eating foods that are kitniyot (legumes, corn, rice) on Passover. The prohibition of kitniyot is a minhag (custom) and not a halacha (Jewish law). If your family does not eat kitniyot on Passover, simply omit the tamari (made from soybeans), mung bean sprouts, and sesame oil from the soup.
Mung bean sprouts are often served raw. But unfortunately, due to growing conditions, sprouts have a capacity to harbor unsafe bacteria and cause food-borne illness. Rather than take a chance, I blanch the sprouts to kill any possible bacteria. That makes them slightly less crunchy, but much more safe to eat.
Wine: Daniel Chotard Sancerre 2020
Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Loire, France
Brilliant pale yellow in color with a very pure nose reminiscent of citrus and white blossoms. Refreshing and full-bodied on the palate. Typical and elegant, well-balanced with good length. Given the connection between Vietnamese and French cuisine, it is not surprising that Sancerre pairs very well with Pho Ga. (This wine is not certified Kosher).