Passover Recipes from Bay Area Restaurants: Comal’s Matzo Ball Soup + Firefly ‘s Kugel

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Happy Passover - Matzo

Happy Passover! The Jewish holiday celebrating exodus and freedom starts at sundown this Monday, March 25, and continues for the next eight days. The foods served during this holiday week are influenced primarily by the prohibition on eating any kinds of grains or flour.

The prohibition isn’t so much on the grains themselves, but on leavening, and if there’s one things grains do really well once they’re moistened is to interact with natural or added yeasts and –poof!–start fermenting into tasty, stretchy, airy-chewy dough (or alcohol). So, no leavening=no grains. The only allowable grain product is matzo, the crackly-thin flatbread that must be mixed, shaped and baked in no more than 18 minutes exactly. Any more time than that and fermentation can start to occur.

As a result, matzo is the only breadstuff of the holiday, and its cousins, matzo meal (coarse matzo crumbs) and matzo cake meal (the same, only finer) the main substitutes for flour. Potato starch stands in for corn starch, and ground nuts give structure and heft to dozens of cakes. I’ve already sung the praises of my breakfast mainstay, Passover rolls, and every Jewish cook I know has a favorite flourless chocolate cake (like Laurie Colwin’s bittersweet chocolate-almond cake, based on a classic recipe of Elizabeth David’s) for dessert.

Comal Chef Matt Gandin offers his own spin on traditional matzo ball soup. Photo courtesy of Comal

Comal Chef Matt Gandin offers his own spin on traditional matzo ball soup. Photo courtesy of Comal

So, sweet or savory, matzoh is a mainstay of this week. Passover being a celebration of spring, there are also a wealth of ways to feature the beauty of the season’s first new vegetables and fruits on your table through the influences of Jewish culinary traditions around the world. At Firefly, Delfina, Comal, and Perbacco, the chefs and staff are adding special Passover dishes to the menu next week, inspired by recipes and flavors from Italy to Mexico and beyond. (Perbacco will be limited to one special dinner on Wednesday, March 27.)

Jalapeno in matzo balls? Cauliflower in kugel? Why not? Matt Gandin, executive chef at Berkeley’s Comal, offers his own spin on traditional matzoh-ball soup, making a Mexican-inspired caldo de pollo with cilantro-jalapeno matzo balls. Meanwhile, Brad Levy of Firefly makes his classic kugel colorful with roasted carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Comal’s Caldo de Pollo with Cilantro-Jalapeno Matzo Balls
Adapted from a recipe by Matt Gandin.

Comal’s caldo de pollo features a rich chicken broth spiced with dried chiles and filled with shredded chicken and spring vegetables. Fresh jalapenos and cilantro add Mexican flavor to the traditional matzo dumplings.

    Ingredients:
    For the broth:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno, whole
  • Pinch black peppercorns
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • For the matzo balls:

  • 1 cup matzo meal
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup sparkling water
  • 1/4 cup chicken fat, melted
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • Pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 large jalapeno, seeds removed, minced
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, stems removed, chopped
  • For the soup:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced in 1/2 inch strips
  • 1 large carrot, split lengthwise, then sliced in 1/4 inch thick half moons
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced in 1/4 inch half moons
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 oz tequila
  • 2 dried morita chiles, toasted and ground
  • 3 qts chicken broth, from broth recipe, above
  • 6 large green beans, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large zucchini
  • 3 spears asparagus, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 bunch chard, stems removed, leaves chopped
  • 1/2 cup cooked black beans, optional
  • Shredded poached chicken meat from broth recipe, above
  • Salt to taste
    Preparation:

  1. To make the broth, add the chicken and all of the other ingredients to a stock pot, and cover with cold water. Bring the pot to a boil, then turn it down to a low simmer. As the chicken releases its fat, it will float to the top. Skim this fat off the top with a ladle and reserve it for making the matzo balls. Simmer the broth until it is rich and golden, and the chicken is tender.
  2. Carefully remove the chicken from the broth. Let cool. When cool enough to handle, pick the chicken meat, discarding the skin and bones. Reserve meat for soup. Strain the broth through a fine strainer and set aside.
  3. To make the matzo balls, combine ingredients in a bowl, and whisk until the mix just comes together as a homogeneous batter. It should seem a little too loose to form balls. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest. The dough will firm up as it chills.
  4. With wet hands, roll the matzo mixture into walnut sized balls between your palms. Set on a tray. Meanwhile, bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. One at a time, drop the matzo balls into the pot. Cover with a lid and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, until the balls are cooked through. They should double in size.
  5. To make the soup, in a large pot, heat the olive oil, then add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and a pinch of salt, and sweat the vegetable over medium heat until they have softened, but are not taking on color. Stir frequently.
  6. Add the tomatoes, and sauté for a minute, then add in the tequila and simmer for a minute to cook off the alcohol. Add the reserved chicken broth and ground chiles. Bring the broth to a simmer, skimming any foam that may come to the surface. When it comes to a simmer, add the rest of the vegetables, and cook them for a few minutes, until they are just tender but still have some snap. Adjust the seasoning with salt.
  7. At this point, you can either take the soup off of the heat and cool it down for later use, or add the shredded chicken and matzo balls and serve immediately, garnished with chopped cilantro.

Firefly’s Matzo and Roast Vegetable Kugel
Adapted from a recipe by Brad Levy.

If you want to make your kugel even more colorful, look for multi-colored varieties of carrots and cauliflower, in hues of purple, yellow, orange.

Firefly's Matzo and Roast Vegetable Kugel. Photo: courtesy of Firefly

Firefly’s Matzo and Roast Vegetable Kugel. Photo: courtesy of Firefly

    Ingredients:

  • 1 cup diced shallots
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 3 cups broccoli florets, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 3 cups cauliflower florets, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 10 unsalted matzohs, broken into roughly 2-inch squares
  • 7 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Salt
  • Oil, either vegetable or olive
    Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss the shallots, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower with 2 tablespoons oil. Arrange on a baking sheet. Roast, shaking the pan occasionally, for about 12-15 minutes until just tender and nicely browned. Set aside to cool. Reduce oven heat to 350°F.
  2. Put the broken matzo into a large bowl. Bring 1 1/2 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Pour the boiling water over the matzo. Stir gently for 20 seconds, then drain off the water through a strainer, shaking out the excess.
  3. Beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Add to matzo and stir gently to mix well. Let stand for 15 minutes, then stir in the roasted vegetables.
  4. Coat the inside of a 9″-by-11″ casserole dish with butter or oil. Add the matzo mixture and dot the top with oil or butter. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the kugel springs back and top is nicely browned.
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About the Author ()

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. Last year, she worked as an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists' residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and worked as a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. She has lived in San Francisco for nearly 20 years, interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan.