I didn’t marry into a Jewish family for the food. Some of it is just fine (lox, bagels, challah, latkes), some of it can be iffy (kugel, chicken livers), and some is just plain nasty — gefilte fish, I’m looking at you.
Then I met the magic of a well-done matzo ball soup. I’ve always been a chicken soup fan, but this simple yet delicious bowl of warmth ups the ante with dashes of schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) and culture, in that the dough balls are made from unleavened bread, like the kind the Jews ate while following Moses on their exodus from Egypt. That’s why it’s such a fixture at the seder meals of Passover, the celebration of that escape, which starts Friday night.
And no fear if you don’t have in-laws who’ve mastered the matzo, or even if you’re just a goy who wants a taste of this tradition. Santa Barbara’s Carole Bennett will make a batch just for eight to 10 of your closest friends and family this Passover season (or whenever) for $60, which includes a loaf of bread.
“My grandmother made everything from scratch for Passover — even the gefilte fish,” said Bennett, who was born and raised in Cleveland by Jewish families originally from Germany. “She cooked the chicken and strained the fat so she could use a bit of it in the broth. She never seasoned anything because she believed that all the natural ingredients should come through on their own merit.”
Bennett recalls watching her roll the matzo balls very tight, learned that the texture is as important as the taste, and only uses plump chicken and stock, fresh eggs, organic celery and carrots, and matzo meal. “I don’t even want to put a bit of parsley in it because it stands beautifully on its own once you lift the lid and take a nice deep breath,” she said. “When I deliver a soup and pour it from my pot to theirs, the customers are always thrilled and amazed by the chunks of chicken and perfectly formed matzo balls that come tumbling out. They often take a spoon from the drawer and dig right in.”
I can attest to its amazingness. Sorry, in-laws, but Carole’s was the best I’d ever had. Oh, and she also makes a mighty fine brisket, which should also be atop everyone’s list of foods that Jewish culture does well.
Passover Pairing: As far as I’m concerned, Manischewitz’s popular Concord grape wine can go hang with gefilte fish in the corner. But there’s quite a bit of very good kosher wine on the market, and Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard is almost certainly the best and biggest producer of fine kosher wine in the country. They’ve got a tasting room, restaurant, and almost 50 wines to choose from. See herzogwinecellars.com.
Jewish Festival Cometh
Just one week after Passover is done, the annual Jewish Festival takes over Oak Park on Sunday, May 1, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The free event features traditional Jewish and Mediterranean cuisine (including falafel from UCSB Chabad’s Jerusalem Café), Israeli dancing, music by Avi Vaknin of Rock in the Red Zone and Kalinka, kids’ areas, and more. See jewishsantabarbara.org.