I will be the first to admit that most shiksas do not have balls. But this one does.
Of course, this entire discussion is predicated upon the reader knowing what the hell a shiksa is. “Shiksa” is an uncomplimentary Yiddish term for a female gentile. I, being not Jewish, could be called a shiksa, though it wouldn’t be very nice to do so. All of my Jewish friends and relations assure me that I am not a shiksa.
The problem is, I like the -sound- of the word, and enjoy saying it. “Shiksa.” It is just fun to say. Say it with me. “Shiksa.” I like to draw out the “sh,” and then append the “iksa” in a quick perfunctory fashion. One of the greatest words of all time.
Now, knowing as we do that a shiksa refers to the female of the species, why would she be endowed with anything resembling balls?
Well, I am not referring to that kind of balls. I am actually referring to matzo balls.
Matzo balls are dumplings made out of matzo meal, which is ground up matzo. Matzo, for those who are not knowledgable about such things, is the crisp unleavened bread that is eaten during Passover in remembrance of the exodus from Egypt, when the Jewish people had no time to leaven their bread, so they made flat breads.
Matzo balls are usually served in a very rich chicken stock, which may or may not have noodles in it in addition to the balls. Sometimes there are shreds of chicken. A sprinkling of herbs is nice, but it is a fairly simple soup.
It is the soup that Bubbes (Jewish Grandmas) make when kids and grandkids get sick. And it is a supreme comfort food, indeed.
Well, that is great, but I like soups that eat like a meal, so the first time I made matzoh ball soup, I added an entire farmer’s market worth of vegetables. Leeks, garlic, carrots, mushrooms and potatoes all found their way into the soup, along with the chicken and the matzoh balls. In fact, I changed the dish so much, I felt the need to rename it. Having a sick sense of humor, I called it Shiksa Ball Soup. Zak and his family all think it is a cute name, so it stuck.
To this day, it is what Zak wants when he is sick, unless he wants Hong Kong style Barbeque Pork Noodle Soup, in which case, I make that for him, though it is infinately more complicated, involving a pork and chicken stock and Chinese barbeque pork.
When I was a personal chef in Baltimore, several of my clients were Jewish. I was booked for Passover every year by a wonderful woman who grew up in Russia, and who was a most delightful cook herself. She would have me help her cook for the sedar, which is the ritual Passover meal, because it was a lot of company and she getting up in years and wanted to be able to enjoy the dinner and ceremony. So, I would come and help with the main course, and once she saw I knew how to make matzoh ball soup, I would make that, though I would stick to the traditions and not “shiksa up” the recipe. She laughed when I told her about my version and what I called it, though she assured me that I was no shiksa.
I would serve the dinner, but hang out in the kitchen, watching the food. Her husband, who conducted the service, had the most beautiful tenor voice, and he chanted many parts of the Hebrew. The melody would soar and dip like a bird in flight and I would hover near the door, listening.
When they found out I was listening, they made a place at the table and insisted I sit with them. They had assumed that since I was a gentile, I would not be interested. So, I sat with them, and celebrated with them. At one point while we were eating, one of the guests pointed to the empty place set at the table near the open dining room door. “Why is it we always set an empty place at Passover?” the woman, who was indeed Jewish, asked.
Before I could check myself, I said, “It is for Elijah. That is why the door is open, too.”
Everyone looked at me with surprise, and the host smiled. “Yes, yes, you are right!” he exclaimed and then went on to explain the tradition of leaving a place for the prophet Elijah to his guest. I blushed and was silent, but my client, as we cleared the plates said that I shouldn’t be embarrassed to know so much.
“It was her who should have known and didn’t who should be embarrassed.”
So we served the next course, and all was well, though I felt very shiksa-awkward for a while after that.
Let us fast-forward to yesterday evening. We were supposed to be flying to Tucson for vacation. Instead, Zak was abed, sick with the flu, and I was in the kitchen, cooking shiksa ball soup, and praying that the touch of the flu I had didn’t develop into a full-blown case of it. (So far, so good.)
Since I had the flu, I did not start with a whole chicken carcass. I cheated and started with chicken broth, because I was too tired to roast bones and skim scum off the top of a stockpot. Besides, Zak needed healing, pronto, so I needed to make soup in a couple of hours, not in a process that takes all day.
But there is so much other good stuff in there, and I made the shiksa balls from scratch, so hey–it turned out to be quite flavorful. When next I have a whole chicken to work with, then, I shall make shiksa ball soup slowly and traditionally, rather than using my fast, cheater’s method.
But, as I said, I am breaking tradition all over the place in this soup, so why not?
Also, I used leeks in the soup. I love leeks in soups and stews; if you slice them very finely they eventually break down into the broth, giving it body and a most delicious flavor. However, there is a problem when it comes to leeks. They are filthy. Fine black grit gets in between the layers that make up the leek stalk, so I advocate rinsing them, cutting off the root ends, splitting them in half, and then rinsing them again. And then, I slice them thinly and stick them in a big bowl and rinse them again, letting them soak a bit this time. I swish them around in the water with my hand, and then lift them out of the water–if you pour them into a colander and let the water wash over them, all the grit just gets back on them. And gritty soup sucks, let me tell you. After lifting them out of the water, pouring out the bowl and rinsing it, I repeat the bowl treatment at least two more times.
Leeks are a pain in the tuchus, but they taste really good, so it is worth it.
You will also note the presence of dried shiitake mushrooms and a dash of soy sauce in this soup. I generally explain this by commenting on the Jewish people who wandered off and ended up in China (apparently, several of the lost tribes did this a long time ago–I used to joke about this as an explanation as to why Jewish folks love Chinese food so much, but I recently read an article by a scholarly rabbi documenting just such a historical occurance, so I guess I won’t joke about it any more), but the truth of the matter is that both add a great amount of flavor to the soup, so that is why they are there.
I also add turmeric, not only for the rich yellow color it imparts to the broth, but also for the subtle flavor it gives the soup.
Here is the recipe as I made it last night:
Shiksa Ball Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large leeks, sliced thinly and washed at least three times, then drained
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon crushed celery seed
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 bay leaves
black pepper to taste
1/4 cup sherry or dry white wine
3 quarts chicken broth
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 pound baby red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into eighths
1/2 pound baby carrots
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked
1 tablespoon aged soy sauce or tamari soy sauce
1 1/2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced
2 eggs, well beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup matzo meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
seasoning to taste (I used Penzey’s Fox Point and Northwoods Seasonings and a dash of dried chipotle chile powder)
2 tablespoons chicken broth
2 small turnips, peeled and diced finely
Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, deep soup or stock pot. Add washed, drained leeks to the oil, and saute until they just begin to turn golden and shrink a bit. Add garlic, herbs and spices, and continue cooking until the leeks begin to brown on the edges, then add sherry or white wine and allow alcohol to boil off.
Here, the leeks, garlic, and herbs are cooked in olive oil a bit in order to make a flavor base for the soup. Eventually, the leek slices will disintigrate into the broth, giving it body and wonderful flavor.
Add chicken and vegetable broth. Add potatoes and carrots, and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.
Take shiitake out of the soaking water and squeeze out the excess water. Cut off stems and discard, then cut the mushroom caps into a dice. Add to the pot, along with the soaking liquid. Allow soup to cook while you prepare shiksa balls.
Beat eggs, oil, salt and seasoning together until well combined. Add matzo meal and stir to combine. Add broth and stir well. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let mixture sit in the refrigerator for fifteen minutes.
When the potatoes are tender and done, take out shiksa ball mixture. Add diced chicken to the soup, and bring to a boil, then turn down to an active simmer.
Using a small cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop up mixture and form into balls. Drop into simmering soup and cover with lid. Set timer for fifteen minutes.
After fifteen minutes, add turnips, put lid on pot and set timer for fifteen more minutes.
When timer goes off, the shiksa balls should be done, and the soup is ready to serve.
Okay, a few more words about matzo, or shiksa balls.
There are two kinds of them–dense ones that Zak kindly refers to as “neutronium balls” and light fluffy ones which I call “fluffbunny balls.” He prefers the former, which is what my recipe will make. If you want the lighter ones, there are a couple of things you can do. One, is you can get Manischewitz Matzo Ball Mix and follow the directions on the package. When I do that, they turn out light and fluffy. I suspect that the bicarbonate of soda that is in the mix is what does the trick.
If you follow my recipe, they will be heavier, though not leaden. Leaden shiksa balls would be nasty indeed, and would probably not heal anyone or anything.
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