PATI'S MEXICAN TABLE

September 23, 2011 5:00 PM
Mushroom-Jalapeño Matzo Ball Soup

My grandfather on my mother's side, Francisco, whom we called "Yeye," was wild about chiles. Not very common in his native Bratislava, I guess. He used to say that what he loved the most about his new country was the predictable weather (especially the bright sunny winters), the colorful markets, and most of all, the chiles. All of them.

He was oh so very crazy about them that my grandmother used to hide them from him. She complained about him having no boundaries, no sense of measure, when eating them. He simply would not stop.

But he knew all the tricks, discover all the hide outs, and stuff them in his pockets. Seriously. Not only fresh jalapeños or serranos but also wet pickled jalapeños... Those must have been some messy pockets to wash...

My "Lali," liked to please him though. She had Austrian training in the kitchen and made exquisite and elegant foods. Once in Mexico, she fell in love with the cuisine and learned how to combine the two culinary traditions. And she was a master at it.

She created a classic dish out of her Mushroom-Jalapeño Matzo Ball Soup.
 

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See? Just because you add a chile to something does not mean it gets a Mexican stamp. You have to know how to add it. How much to add. And most importantly, when to add and when not to....not every dish that is Mexican has a chile in it either.

She made a mushroom base with a traditional Mexican treatment. Gently cooked onion, garlic and chopped jalapeños (with the seeds please...), and once the mushrooms are added, the pot is covered so they will steam. Their liquids come out, then slowly dry up again and the mushrooms begin to brown.


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Of the thousands of ways to use chiles, steaming them with other ingredients for a while brings out their flavor in a subtle way. Then she poured her chicken broth on top, which always had the perfect nutty tone that reflected its depth of flavor. 

Her Matzo balls were fluffy, round and simply seasoned with some parsley (which has been growing so happily in my garden). That mushroom base from the photo above, seems to delight itself in the company of parsley...

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Grated nutmeg is also added to the matzo ball mix. And that is enough, no need to add freshly ground black pepper.

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The eggs are the glue that holds the matzo balls together, combined with a bit of oil...

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Then she had a trick to make the matzo balls fluffy. That is, if you like them fluffy. Which most of my family does.

It seems that the main division in the matzo ball world, is between those that like the matzo balls hard and those that like them fluffy. Cooks debate all the time on how to make them fluffy or hard: more egg or less egg, more oil or less oil, matzo meal or matzo mix...

My grandmother's trick to make them fluffy was to add sparkling water. But just a tablespoon for a full recipe, if you add more, you have a messy mess that falls apart. And I always leave a bit of the mix apart without any, as it happens, I am the only one around here that likes them hard...

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As much as my grandfather begged, my grandmother added little jalapeños. She argued, that one needs to taste everything else, which in principle sounds right. But if he were here, I would make him an extra batch, with as many jalapeños I could find in my backyard. And there are oh so many...


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MUSHROOM AND JALAPEÑO SOUP
Serves 6-8 (makes 10 to 12 medium to large sized matzo balls)

INGREDIENTS
1 cup matzo ball mix
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste
4 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sparkling water, optional, to make the matzo balls fluffy

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 jalapeño chiles, finely chopped, seeded optional, more or less to taste
1/2 pound white mushrooms, wiped clean with cloth, sliced
3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or to taste

8-10 cups chicken broth

TO PREPARE
In a large mixing bowl, combine the matzo ball mix, parsley, nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon of salt. In another small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with 1/3 cup of vegetable oil. Fold in the beaten eggs to the matzo ball mixture with a spatula. Add the sparkling water if you want the matzo balls fluffy, and mix well until well combine. Cover the mix and refrigerate for at least half an hour. 

Bring about 12 cups of salted water to a rolling boil in a large soup pot. Bring heat down to medium and keep at a steady simmer. With wet hands, make about 1 inch balls out of the matzo ball mix and gently drop them into the water. Cover and simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil over medium heat in a large cooking pot. Add the onion, garlic and chiles and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until they have softened. Incorporate the sliced mushrooms. sprinkle the salt, stir and cover with a lid. Steam the mushrooms for about 6 to 8 minutes.

Take off the lid and pour the chicken broth over the mushroom base. Once it is simmering, incorporate the already cooked matzo balls, without their cooking liquid, and serve.