Chicken vegetable soup is a Passover favorite

Diane Rossen Worthington
Tribune Content Agency

I’m not exactly sure why we begin each Passover meal with gefilte fish followed by chicken soup with matzo balls, but I have been to enough Seders to know that this is the unofficial beginning to a long and hearty repast.

I love chicken soup year-round, especially when I am feeling the least bit low or sniffly. I am such a chicken soup lover that I always have a quart of this magical potion stocked in my freezer ready for any emergency. Every person who makes it has their own special touch, whether it’s the herbs, vegetables or how they make their matzo balls. For Passover, however, I like to make my soup two or three days ahead to let the flavors mingle. Some of my friends insist on making it a month ahead and freezing it. That works well if you are just going to serve the broth and not the chicken and vegetables.

This recipe begins with a good quality store-bought broth, which immediately gives the chicken flavoring a head start. (Make sure to look for “Kosher for Passover” on the label.)

Skinless bone-in chicken breasts add more chicken flavor. (The bones help to enrich and slightly thicken the soup). The fresh leeks accent the sweet carrot and parsnip flavor, and, for a slight twist, I add tiny cherry or grape tomatoes, along with fresh dill.

This chicken soup cooks slowly on the stove until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are just tender. The chicken is cut up and returned to the soup, which awaits the finishing touch of the herbed matzo balls. If you prefer a lighter soup, strain out all the vegetables and chicken and just serve the broth with the matzo balls. (Use the reserved chicken to make chicken salad.)

Matzo balls can really get a conversation started. There are those who love floaters and others who love sinkers. I think it has to do with one’s early taste memories. I am a light matzo ball appreciator, so you will find that these matzo balls are fluffy and floatable. What are my secrets? I use seltzer water to lighten them, and I use schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) to enhance the flavor. Chopped dill adds flavor and color to the pale beige dumpling. You can make up the matzo balls up to four hours ahead and keep them at room temperature in a little water until warming them in the chicken soup.

Tips to remember:

■Since the chicken soup begins with chicken broth that usually has some salt in it, salt the soup at the end of cooking.

■Feel free to change the herbs is your group doesn’t love dill.

■Schmaltz can be found in the frozen meat section of many supermarkets. You will also find it at kosher meat markets. Make sure to melt it before using.

■Use Kosher for Passover oil if you can’t find schmaltz.

■To lighten the matzo balls even further, separate the eggs and whip up the egg whites separately. Fold the whites into the matzo ball mixture.

Quick Chicken Vegetable Soup with Dill Matzo Balls

For the soup

2 medium whole chicken breasts, halved, skin removed, bone in

8 cups low-sodium chicken broth

6 cups water

3 medium leeks, light green and white part cleaned, thinly sliced

4 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 ribs of celery, sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 parsnips, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick

2 tablespoons fresh dill leaves, coarsely chopped

4 cherry tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, for garnish

For the matzo balls

1/4 cup rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) or vegetable oil

4 large eggs, slightly beaten

1 cup matzo meal

3 tablespoons fresh dill leaves, finely chopped

1 3/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup seltzer water, any sparkling water

Place the chicken breast, stock and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Skim the soup. Add the leeks, carrots, celery, parsnip, dill and tomatoes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 1/2 hour or until the chicken is cooked and the vegetables are just tender. Skim periodically. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the chicken breasts from the soup and cool slightly. With your hands, remove the meat from the bones, making sure to discard any bone or cartilage; tear the chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to the soup. Cover the soup and refrigerate. (At this point if you prefer just the broth, strain the soup first and then refrigerate.)

To make the matzo balls, blend schmaltz or oil and eggs together with a whisk. Add the matzo meal, chopped dill and salt to the egg mixture and stir together, mixing well. Add the seltzer water and blend well. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, so the mixture thickens up enough to make the matzo balls.

Bring enough water in a large wide pot to come up 3/4 of the way to a boil on medium-high heat. Make the balls by rolling them very lightly into 1 1/2-inch balls. (The more you roll them, the tougher and heavier they will become.) Reduce the flame and drop the balls into the barely simmering water. Cover the pot and cook about 25 to 30 minutes or until cooked through. (Don’t take the lid off while they are cooking.)

When ready to serve, remove the soup from the refrigerator and carefully remove any fat layer from the soup. Reheat the soup on medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Add the matzo balls at the last minute just until heated through, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve in large bowls and garnish with parsley. Serves 8.

Per serving: 322 calories; 12 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 34 percent calories from fat); 28 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 143 mg cholesterol; 758 mg sodium; 24 g protein; 3 g fiber.