Friday, January 28, 2011

La Mamita


After months years of begging my mother to come visit me in Buenos Aires, she finally came for a week in late November. Besides lots of walking and talking, we went to some of the typical tourist things that one goes to, because even if you don´t particularly like touristy stuff, you might as well given that you've already flown 5000 miles-- La Casa Rosada, San Telmo, tango...


Because I have some lovely friends, we also got to spend one of the days at a beautiful house on one of the island on the Tigre Delta. And we were lucky enough to have perfect weather that day, just hot enough to want to throw yourself off the pier into the river before lunch (and not after-- although my friend´s 5-year-old nephew was adamant about going straight back in. I´ve now come to the conclusion that:

     1. waiting an hour or two to swim after you eat is a common notion worldwide
     2. waiting an hour or two to swim after you eat was invented by guardians of young children so        they could rest/take a siesta after eating







My mother's matzoh ball soup, along with her challah, are the things I make most often when I want to be reminded of home.  Most people have memories of their mother's or their grandmother's chicken soup, the one that reminds them of home and winter and the flu, but in that good, someone taking care of you way.  My friend Mira asked me awhile ago to do a chicken soup-off with her.  Clearly I decided to go about this the long way (surely a surprise to exactly no one who knows me), as chicken soup and matzoh ball soup are not exactly the same thing, but in my mind they occupy a similar place in the psyche, and my mother's version is that starting point for me.  

Which is my way of saying: this is not your mother's chicken soup, unless your mother also happens to be a vegetarian Jew. Instead of chicken it's made with root vegetables, turmeric, and parsley.  It's deep-flavored and comforting and perfect heated up for breakfast the next morning on a cold day. During Passover my mom makes a huge vat of this in her grandmother's copper pot which could fit a small child in it (e.g. see picture above) along with an innumerable amount of matzoh balls. Matzoh meal being unconscionably expensive down here (and Passover still far off), I've taken to making the soup with semolina dumplings, which also works extremely well, though the taste is a bit different...though it always will, regardless if the ingredients are identical.  Home stuff is like that. We do what we can, and thank goodness for airplanes.



Vegetarian Matzoh Ball Soup


3 med. carrots
3 parsnips (in Argentina I find batata works well as a replacement here)
4 celery stalks
2 cloves garlic
2 med. onions, chopped
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil (I use sunflower)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. turmeric
salt
pepper
stalk or two of parsley


Finely slice 2 of the carrots, 2 of the parsnips and 2 celery stalks. In a large pot over low heat warm the vegetable and olive oils together and then add in the sliced carrots, parsnips, and celery stalks along with the onion, turmeric, and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Cover the pot and let stew until slimy and mushy, then chop up the garlic and let it stew for another 5 min. Add 2 cups of water, scraping the bottom of the pot to incorporate any caramelized bits. Leave it to cook once again while you slice the left over carrot, parsnip, and celery stalks, either into coins or into sticks, whatever you prefer.  Add in another 3 cups of water along with the vegetables, the parsley stalk, and another big pinch of salt.  Let simmer partially covered until the vegetables are cooked, and then taste for salt. You should have a yellow, well-flavored, very slightly sweet (from the carrot, parsnip and onion) broth-- if it tastes bland, continue to add salt, and if it's very light in color, consider adding another 1/2 tsp. of turmeric as well.  Now, for the matzoh ball/dumplings...


Matzoh Balls

1 c. matzoh meal
4 eggs
1/4 c. water
salt


Stir the matzoh meal, eggs, and water together with a pinch of salt. Add more water if necessary-- you want to be able to form the batter into loose golf balls. As you make the balls add them into the simmering soup, and the cover the pot. They are ready when they have doubled in size-- I usually leave them around 20 min.  The balls can be reheated later along with the soup if necessary (or if you, like me, like to eat matzoh ball soup for breakfast the next day). 
One caveat-- I grew up with hard matzoh balls, so I like them that way. Some people do everything in their power to avoid hard matzoh balls-- adding seltzer water, baking soda, etc...therefore if your goal is fluffy, cloud-like matzoh balls-- use a different matzoh ball recipe. Or make the semolina dumplings below (just don't serve them to Jews on Passover):


Semolina Dumplings
     adapted from Smitten Kitchen


2/3 c. water
2 Tbsp. butter, separated
pinch salt
1/2 c. semolina
1 egg
1 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley


Over medium heat in a small pot bring the water, 1 tablespoon of the butter and salt to boil. Turn off the heat and immediately add in the semolina. Using a wooden spoon, stir briskly until the mixture forms a ball and starts to come away from the side of the pot (this will happen very quickly.) Continue to stir briskly while you incorporate the other tablespoon of butter, the eggs, and the parsley into the mixture (it will seem hard and unmanageable at first, just make sure to keep stirring so the egg doesn't cook, and continue to break up the mass until it all smoothes out. If you've ever made choux paste it acts very similarly-- at the beginning it always looks like there it no way the egg will incorporate, but then gradually with enough beating it does.) Spoon tablespoon-sized balls of the dough into the simmering soup and let cook for about 5 min., until they float back up to the surface.

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