JEWISH PENICILLIN

It was raining this morning. Not torrential rain. A steady, dismal drip, drip, drip. Kind of like our noses. Drip, drip, drip. And our spirits. Drip, drip, drip.

Whatever medication the doctor had to offer we are already taking. It was time to bring on The Big Gun. Jewish Penicillin. The cure-all. Chicken soup.

I make really good chicken soup. I didn’t learn it from my mother because she was a terrible cook and thought heating up a bowl of Campbell’s was haute cuisine. I get recipes from cook books and friends, then keep messing with them until they taste the way I like. For this reason, I’m a little hazy about quantities.

Nonetheless, this is about as foolproof a recipe as you could want. Although I’m not much for precise measuring when I cook, I’m very precise when I bake. But cooking is forgiving. If you don’t over-salt it or overwhelm it with garlic or some other strong spice, it will turn out well enough. Usually much better than that.

This is the recipe for chicken soup to cure what ails you. The kneidlach (matza ball) recipe follows.

Chicken soup 1

SOUP

You need 4 boneless, skinless chicken quarters — lower or upper quarters will serve equally well — and a good-sized pot. A 7-quart tureen should do nicely. Some people like to use smaller pots, but I like room to spare. It makes less of a mess.

Put the chicken quarters in the pot. It doesn’t matter if the chicken isn’t entirely defrosted. It’ll defrost soon enough.Β Add enough water to cover the chicken with maybe an inch or two to spare. A lot of it will boil away as it cooks. Add a large quartered onion. If you have one, peel and cut up a carrot or two. Into the pot it goes.

If you have a sweet red or yellow pepper, clean it, dice it into bite-size pieces and throw it in the pot. Green pepper doesn’t work with this recipe. Trust me. It doesn’t.

Turn the heat to high. While the pot is coming to a boil, get the spices ready: salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, basil, dill and oregano (it’s not just for spaghetti sauce). And three beef bouillon cubes.

Crush the bouillon cubes and turn them to paste with some hot water. Into the soup pot. Add all the aforementioned spices. To taste. Don’t get carried away with the garlic and especially, not the salt. You can always add more, but it’s hard to remove.Β How much of each you use is a matter of personal taste. A couple of bay leaves should suffice. Otherwise, it’s up to you. I use a lot of basil and thyme. Some people like a bit of rosemary, but use with caution. If you have fresh parsley, chop it up and add it.

While this is coming to a boil, it’s time to make the goop, aka – Kneidlach or kneidels. Pronunciation is a matter of dispute, depending on your extraction. My mother and father spoke different version of Yiddish. The issue was never settled. If you aren’t sure, refer to them as matza balls. Technically, they are matza dumplings.

When the soup is boiling, turn it down to a high simmer. It should continue to boil slowly and gently.

Chicken soup 2

Kneidlach (Matza dumpling) Ingredients:

4 eggs, well beaten

1 cup matza meal

1/4 cup very cold water or seltzer

1/4 cup corn oil

A bit of pepper, a pinch of salt and my no longer so secret ingredient, a dash of nutmeg.

Mix it up in a bowl. I use a wooden spoon because it sticks less to wood than metal. Put the mixture in the fridge to chill. An hour or more makes the dumplings lighter and the mixture easier to handle.

HOW DO I KNOW WHEN IT’S DONE?

The soup is done when the chicken is falling apart. Taste it. Add whatever you think is missing. Exactly how long to cook it? A couple of hours is enough. Contrary to cooking mythology, longer isn’t better. If you cook anything too long, it loses flavor. Except for salt which will grow stronger until it’s the only flavor left. If the soup boils down too much, add as much water as you need at any point.

Make sure there’s enough liquid to cook the kneidlach. Dumplings need to cook in liquid.

ABOUT THOSE DUMPLINGS

Bring the soup back to a full boil. Take the goop and roll it into balls and drop them (one at a time) into the boiling soup. How big should they be? I prefer medium. My granddaughter likes them huge. Some people make them really small. I find if they are really big, they don’t cook all the way through in the right amount of time. They should cook and start to float in five minutes or less.

Some folks like to chop up the chicken and return it to the soup. I sometimes do, sometimes I just serve the pieces. It makes a nice meal. This is when you will appreciate having used boneless, skinless chicken. You can, if you prefer, extract the chicken and make chicken salad. When I was even poorer, I made chicken salad as a separate meal the next day.

Serve very hot. The soup’s legendary curative powers are stronger when it’s piping hot.

WARNING

Do not serve this soup before a large dinner. No one will eat dinner. I once served a clear version of this soup with Kneidlach before the turkey on Thanksgiving. I had an entire dinner left over, but not a drop of soup remained.

33 thoughts on “JEWISH PENICILLIN

      • Only a week late but I found your reply. Dumplings are very basic – flour, salt, water. I have fixed them with with a little shortening and milk instead of the water. I haven’t made any in a long, long time. When the kids were little, I would roll the dough and cut into strips and freeze. When ready to cook some, I would just take the strips out of the freezer, break off into about 2-in strips and drop into the boiling broth. I found them much better when made ahead. [I sent you an email tonight. Sure hope you and Garry both are feeling better by now!]

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  1. Nothing beats JP for fighting bugs. Nothing! Plus, while you’re clearing your lungs you get the bonus of being able to make those excellently phlegmatic Yiddish ‘KCCCCCHHHHHHH’ sounds with extra drama! Double your fun.

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  2. Oh this looks delicious, Marilyn, nothing like home-made chicken soup, when you are sick, I love that you added dumplings as well, one of my faves! feel better my friend and thanks for a lovely recipe!

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  3. I’m so glad I found your blog! I dated a nice Jewish boy who’s aunt Edith lived with them. She was always cooking, and had a running instructive commentary, whether someone was in the room or not! The cadence of your voice (in my head) sounds just like Edith. I lost the boyfriend to a nice Jewish girl, but would have loved to keep aunt Edith!

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  4. Ooh, sounds gorgeous: I salivate as I read! Hope it brings in the gastronomic big guns and tells those bugs to b***** off! xxx

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        • Roots. My husband cannot say the “kch” or however it’s spelled gutteral. He has tried. Once, while interviewing Billy Chrystal and Robin Williams (Comic Relief), he tried to use the word “Chutzpa” and they just worked him over (hilariously) on camera. I wish we had a copy of the footage. It was something of a career high spot. True, he was the butt of the joke, but it was great tape! He never did get that “Kch” though. Even with Billy and Robin doing the teaching.

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