I Bet You Didn’t Know That Shiksas Had Balls….

The finished soup, ready to go forth and heal the sick. I have never seen it raise the dead, though it has come close.

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.

Notice the dirt caught between the layers of the leeks. This is why I advocate cutting the leeks up and then rinsing them in at least three changes of water.

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

Ingredients for shiksa ball soup, the fast method.


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.

Dried shiitake mushrooms before being soaked.

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.

Using a cookie scoop makes the making of matzoh balls a less messy and somewhat simpler process.

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.

Unlike most people, I cook the matzo balls in the soup itself, because I like the soup flavor to get into the dumplings. Also, why dirty two pots?

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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  1. Thanks for the great tip on the washing of leeks; I avoided using them, because of the grit, but now I can branch out!!!

    Best wishes for a return to health, continued happiness, and a successfully completed move in the near future.

    Comment by wwjudith — March 4, 2005 #

  2. Ya know,

    I should have known better than to read Barb’s blog before I go to lunch. It’s also especially bad when she fixes things that I’ve been craving for -SUCH- a long time.

    Mmm…Matzo Soup.

    The only such soup I’ve had has been Bryian’s “Tom’s sick and coughing, give him soup” variety but with my seasonal impersonation of a Dragonlance Mage finally coming to an end, I’m missing the usual remedy. 🙂

    Keep it coming Barb. Not that I could ever replicate some of your culinary formulas but I love reading about them.

    Later Fury. 🙂


    Comment by Tom Riley — March 4, 2005 #

  3. Those are some fabulous looking shishka balls.

    The recipe is wonderful and I need to make it very soon.

    Comment by The Food Whore — March 4, 2005 #

  4. Hey, Judith–Glad to know I gave you the gumption to try leeks. They really add a lot of flavor to soups and stews–I’d be sad without them. I know folks braise them in larger chunks, but I don’t really know how they get the dirt out of them that way–I just always cut them up small like you see and soak and rinse.

    Tomcat, dear–I shall have to make you some shiksa balls when next we meet. There will be plenty of opportunities for me to slap some good culinary formulae upon you in person.

    Well, hello, Madame Food Whore–I do love your blog, and read it almost every day. Glad you like the looks of the shiksa balls–and the recipe is quite good as it is. But, if you want to really send it over the top into the stratosphere, start with a whole chicken, feet and all if you can, and do the whole chicken stock thang, and then put together the soup.

    But, if you just want it to be great, and not orgasmic, then the recipe as written is extremely good. And, if you make it the soup the night before, then heat it up and -then- make the shiksa balls and cook them in the soup–oy, that is to die for.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — March 4, 2005 #

  5. Mmm, matzo ball soup. I had it for the first time at a Messianic synagogue, and although most of the Jewish world would consider their theology heretical, I suspect the soup was spot-on. (I also attended a couple of Seders there, and it IS a beautiful service. I’ve developed a love of haroset.)

    BTW, this is Laura, formerly of OU, who used to hang around the store a lot and pet Adder. 🙂 Can’t remember how I found your blog, but I’ve been enjoying the food talk and salivating appropriately. I also appreciated your entry on the Chinese-Japanese Cookbook; I’d seen the text online not long before, and getting the backstory was interesting. And I’ve just finished eating Velveeta melted over broccoli. Yum, dammit.

    Comment by Laura — March 6, 2005 #

  6. No ‘E’ in Fox Point, though. 😉

    Comment by Anonymous — March 6, 2005 #

  7. Haroset is divine. My client always used to send me home with some after Passover, and both Zak and I would gobble it up, with or without matzo.

    Hey, Laura! How are you? I haven’t heard from you in a long, time. Glad to know you are reading along and enjoying the blog.

    Adder, by the by, is still alive and well and is living with Sarah, if you remember her from Horsefeathers. He is opinionated and cranky and is very assured of his utter gorgeousness. In other words, he has not changed a bit.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — March 6, 2005 #

  8. I will edit out the excessive “E”. Thank you, Anon! 😉

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — March 7, 2005 #

  9. Thanks for this recipe. When I was blasted sick a few weeks ago, Bry sent me some Manschewicz (and how is that spelled again…) Matzo Ball Soup mix, the kind that is all in the box. It was my first encounter with the soup; it was pretty good, but it had enough MSG in it to give me a thorough headache. So no more of that mix… But your recipe, I will have to try. (I think the matzo meal they make is safe for me…it was in the soup broth.)

    Comment by The Soundgirl — March 7, 2005 #

  10. You can also get matzo ball mix without the soup, but really, it is just as easy to make it with the matzo meal from scratch.

    But whether you use the ball mix or the meal to make the balls, make the soup starting with broth or a chicken or something. I tend to mistrust dehydrated soup mix things for just the reason you discovered. MSG affects me badly in large quantities, too–it can trigger migraines in me. And since I have been migraine free for about five years now–I don’t want to do -ANYTHING- that might break that record. I just don’t want to set that shit off, you know?

    As for it being good for your diet, yes, if it is kosher, you can eat it for halal.

    My next batch of shiksa balls, btw, is going to have fresh roasted garlic in them. We shall see how that goes, probably tomorrow, so we can finish up the rest of the soup.

    I shall report on the results.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — March 8, 2005 #

  11. Hey, Laura! How are you?In transition. Moved to Florida with my fiance, Don; looking for work down here. Other than that, can’t complain too much …

    *holds up sign, “Will copyedit for food”*

    Hope your move goes/has gone well.

    Comment by Laura — March 9, 2005 #

  12. I hope it will go well, too. It happens around the 28th-30th of this month.

    Good luck finding work!

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — March 10, 2005 #

  13. Awesome post. As a college student who is trying to get better at cooking, I terribly enjoy reading this blog. Next time you make the soup, try adding a bit of pureed pumpkin. I look forwards to trying out your recipie!

    Comment by Adam Schwartz — April 11, 2009 #

  14. Just wanted to tell you, my family’s “traditional” Matzoh Ball Soup bears a greater resemblance to your “shiksa version” than what you describe as traditional. My mom, grandmother(both born in NY) and great grandmother (born in Russia) all made their soups with a whole chicken, carrots, parsnips, assorted herbs, onions and whatever other item caught their fancy and looked good at the market. My Mom used to say that a good soup should “taste green” and our family used to joke that the reason we always had leftovers after the seder on Passover was that no one had room for the main course after the matzoh ball soup.
    Keep cooking! Your recipes look great.

    Comment by Rachel — March 27, 2010 #

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