I’ve got this habit – some might call it a bad habit – of posting photos on Facebook of what I’m having for dinner.
Okay, yeah. It’s goofy. Who does that? Well, actually, probably tons of your friends do; but hey, at least it’s food that I made myself, not just some cool-lighting shot of a scone I bought with a Starbucks venti latte.
And oddly, I usually get complimentary comments on the stuff – along with questions about why I never cook for friends, or how come they’re never invited over for dinner. (Does the word “introvert” mean anyting to you?) But as often as not, I also get asked how I made it. There are days when I don’t mind spending a little time in the kitchen chopping vegetables or experimenting with some impromptu Thai sauce I threw together with coconut milk, ginger paste and peanut butter (I’ll save that for another day). But most times, I just want something fast and easy. And before your mind goes where I know most of your minds are already going, I’m talking food here, not romance. That’s the whole nature of “Bachelor food.” Like a good date, it’s fast, it’s easy, it tastes good, and hopefully, there’s very little clean up afterwards.
So, this past week after getting home from work and staring into my cupboards for long hypnotic moments, I pulled out a box of matzah ball mix. Yeah, I had that in there. I used to have a lot of Jewish friends, and got invited to a lot of Shabbat dinners. In fact, that’s where I first experienced this culinary delight. It’s basically peasant food. Meat substitute. And it’s even kosher, if that means anything to you. And it fits all the criteria I was looking for at that moment.
Matzah balls are basically just dumplings made from matzah. Think saltine crackers, only blander. And in fact, if you don’t happen to have matzah ball mix in your cupboard, you could probably just as easily substitute a handful of Zesta saltines. Just crumble them up into … well, crumbs … add in a bit of onion and garlic powder, maybe celery seed if you’ve got it, and that’s basically it.
Then it’s just chicken broth. You drop the matzah dumplings in boiling broth where they’ll absorb all that chicken flavor, cook for 20 minutes, and out comes this incredible tasting ball of deliciousness, you’ll roll your eyes in disbelief that something so simple could be so good.
Like I said, it’s a soup, so you can keep it that simple (just chicken broth and the matzah balls) or you can do it up and add real chicken and vegetables.
And since it was a week night, I wasn’t in the mood to do much chopping, so I just pulled a can of sliced carrots out of the cupboard, and that was just fine. Oh, I did slice up some onion, cuz I always keep those in the fridge anyway, and I like them in soup.
So here’s the basic recipe. Do it simple, or do it with a bit more cooking. Either way … it’s a very satisfying dish to enjoy when you’ve got a date with Netflix.
- 1 packet matzah ball mix (or the handful of crumbled crackers and seasoning mentioned above)
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 quarts of chicken broth (either instant, or the boxed kind from the supermarket. Get the reduced sodium variety, and organic if you can find it and are willing to spend a bit extra for it.)
That’s it for the basic recipe. For a bit more substance, here’s what I pulled together Tuesday night:
- ½ package of chicken breast tenders. I wanted some real chicken in that broth. You can just as easily use chicken thighs, breasts … whatever, just to get some meat in the soup.
- 1 can of sliced carrots
- ¼ onion, sliced
- Whatever earthy herbs you prefer. I added a bit of oregano, celery seed, and ground pepper.
When making chicken soup, you normally add onion, celery and carrots – the Holy Trinity of soup ingredients. I had the onion, but no celery. The celery seed made up for that in flavor. (And guys, note: it’s celery seed, not celery salt. Huge difference.) The carrots – fresh out of the can.
Okay: preparing the matzah balls. Beat the two eggs and the vegetable oil in a bowl, and then add the crumbs. Mix until the crumbs are moist. Then refrigerate for 15 minutes to give the crumbs time to absorb the egg – and give you time to prepare the chicken and get the broth boiling.
I thawed the chicken in the microwave, and then fried it in a skillet with salt and pepper and bit of vegetable oil. It only took a few minutes to cook since the tenders where sliced thin. If you’re using chunks of meat (like whole thighs), you may want to cook them thoroughly in the microwave, before dropping them in the soup. Then just cook in the soup until the meat begins to fall off the bone. They’ll add more flavor to the soup that way, but this time, I was just looking for some meat. The broth would have enough flavor on its own.
Dump the 2 quarts of broth into a decent sized sauce pan. Then add your chicken, chopped onions and the can of carrots (if you’re going that route). Throw in your extra seasonings / herbs / whatever. Bring to a boil.
Take the matzah ball mix out of the fridge, and pinch off enough to roll between your palms to make ½ inch balls. (They’ll swell up 2 to 3 times that size as they cook and absorb the broth.) Drop the balls into the boiling soup. Depending on how large you make the balls, you should end up with anywhere from 6 to 10. Put a lid on the pan, reduce the heat, and let simmer for about 20 minutes. You want to give them enough time to absorb the chicken flavor and to cook thoroughly.
And really, that’s all there is to it. Broth and matzah balls. Chicken and veggies, if you want more substance. Simmer, and ladle into your soup bowl. If you’ve got pets, they’ll probably be staring at you, trying to telepathically command you to share with them since the smell will be driving them as crazy as you. You probably shouldn’t (share, that is), since all that salt (and whatever other seasoning you added) may not be good for them. But you could probably cut up bit of that chicken just to give them a taste.
Pour whatever is left over into a covered bowl, and refrigerate. It makes great left-overs, since those matzah balls will just get better tasting overnight. And enjoy your dinner and a movie at home, bachelor style.
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.