24 February 2012

Through Thick and Thin

Some say marriage is all about compromise and there is perhaps no place this is more evident than on the plate (or in the bowl, as the case may be).  You see, my husband is Polish, Jewish and Brooklyn all over, which means he was raised on a steady diet of hearty, starchy, mostly beige foods such as pasta, bagels, pierogies, blintzes and the like.  When I met him, the only vegetable (thanks, Congress!)  he consumed on a regular basis was pizza and ‘salad’ involved either macaroni or potatoes and a whole lotta mayo.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love me some beige food too, but my half-Chinese/half-Hippie upbringing plays into my food ethos as well.  I’m all about eating the rainbow.  Farmers markets are my happy place.  Salad—the green kind—is something to be craved, not simply tolerated.  In fact, I’ve never met a vegetable I don’t like…well, maybe one (I’m looking at you, steamed broccoli florets).

The way we eat and the foods we crave are deeply rooted in our personal histories and sensory memories.  This is especially true when it comes to our go-to comfort foods.  While for some that may conjure images of meatloaf, mashed potatoes or chicken pot pie, for me, nothing comforts more than soup.  Whether in sickness or in health, the soups I crave are most often light, brothy affairs—bowls of restorative goodness brimming with vegetables and vitality.  Although my husband likes soup too, as you might have guessed he favors thick, substantial varieties like split pea, chili and cream-of-anything.  You know, the kind a spoon can stand up in.

Food compromises are not always easily arrived at.  I’m always looking for dishes that can satisfy the starch monster that lives inside my husband, yet slowly introduce him to the joys of vegetable consumption.  After twelve years, my master plan is finally working.  The other day, he dropped the ultimate dude compliment on me.  He said, “Babe, you make vegetables taste good.”

Below is a recipe for one way to make vegetables taste good.  Both brothy and beige, starchy and soothing, matzo ball soup is the perfect compromise.

Matzo Ball Soup

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking (new version)

4 large eggs
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp snipped fresh dill
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp soda water
1 cup matzo meal
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 leek, quartered, chopped and well-rinsed
1 carrot, peeled, quartered and chopped
2 stalks of celery or bulb of fennel, chopped
6 cups rich chicken or vegetable stock
Additional freshly snipped dill, for garnish

Beat eggs and salt together for 1 minute.  Stir in pepper, dill and soda water.  Fold in matzo meal until fully blended.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours.

With wet hands, form the matzo into walnut sized balls then drop into a large pot of boiling salted water.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

While the matzo balls are cooking, heat olive oil in a large soup pot and sauté leeks, carrot and celery or fennel over medium heat until softened but not browned, 5-10 minutes.  Add stock and simmer for an additional 5 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

With a slotted spoon, transfer cooked matzo balls to the pot with the stock and vegetables.  Top with additional dill and serve.

NOTE: Although I don’t understand you, I know there are some of you that don’t appreciate the joys of dill.  If this describes you, simply substitute parsley, chives or a combination of both for the dill.