My street cred when it comes to matzo ball soup is shaky at best: I don’t have a bubbie, and truth be told, I can’t make a (good) matzo ball to save my life. As a chef, I’m disappointed to admit this shortcoming in my repertoire. But then again, there are lots of things I can’t cook well, like hollandaise, or anything that requires culinary precision, like French macarons or tiny fancy cakes.
Last week, in the middle of a July heat wave, I had a debilitating craving for matzo ball soup. This wasn’t just any kind of craving, like “I’m craving chocolate, so any version of chocolate – cookie, ice cream, cake, chocolate chips if we have them – will do.” This was a craving that hit deep in my gut, one that went beyond filling my belly with a warm bowl of soup. To me, a bowl of matzo ball soup is the dietary version of a hug. It’s comforting in the way the aroma floats up into your nose, caressing it with savory promises. I love that first spoonful of broth and the way that you can feel it warming up your body from the inside out, coating your tummy with goodness that restores the life to your soul. I love the way the matzo yields to each bite, with strangely familiar flavor and spongy-soft texture. So while matzo ball soup wasn’t a part of my childhood experiences of family, love, or comfort, it has come to symbolize those familiar nurturing qualities for me as an adult. And right now, I’m craving comfort, love, and more than anything, I’m craving home.
You may have noticed that I’ve been away from my blog for a while. I’ve been working on new projects and traveling…lots of traveling…which is wonderful until it’s not. Sometimes the best place to be is home, which is why I’m writing about matzo ball soup in the middle of July. I’m back at home in the bungalow, and craving my creature comforts more than the Roman pasta I dreamed about for years, enjoyed on a patio in the shadow of the Parthenon. I want to get back to my simple yogurt parfaits in lieu of flaky French croissants. Even the flakiest croissant I’ve ever had – and yes, it was truly remarkable and so so so good – can’t replace the comfort of making coffee in the morning for my husband while I gently whip up breakfast polenta and pour it into my favorite mug. I want to sleep in my own bed and I want to sit on my patio. These things aren’t particularly fancy or grand; our patio holds two small armchairs, a round table with plastic chairs, and is watched over by a lovely flowering tulip tree. That’s it, but it’s all ours, and I enjoy watching over my happy patio while washing dishes. I miss puttering in my kitchen, wandering my local farmers market, and chatting with my neighbors. Sometimes I prefer the simple comforts of home in lieu of a grand chateau, or the jaw-dropping Gaudi architecture of Barcelona, or even the serene shores of Lake Michigan. Sometimes home is the only place I want to be.
The other night, I walked to our corner diner and ordered a matzo ball soup to go. I love that in a town of glitz like Los Angeles, where a hot new restaurant opens every day, this place feels like it hasn’t changed one thing in over 50 years. It feels like time forgot this corner of Beverly Boulevard, with its giant parking lot of free parking. There is no valet stand at Jan’s. There is a long bar with round stools reminiscent of a soda fountain, and deep, comforting booths. They make their matzo ball soup from scratch every day. I know this because when we walk our dog through the neighborhood in the morning, I can smell the onions that have gone into the pan to sweat down, awaiting the addition of carrots, celery, and other aromatics. They still make most things from scratch at Jan’s. And while it’s not particularly remarkable or fancy, sometimes that’s what I want over the latest and greatest, or the trip of a lifetime.
I’m feeling grateful to be home, even if it’s short-lived. Soon we’ll set out for a new adventure, new places and dishes to taste and photos to take. We’ll be spending the rest of the summer in New York, among those tall, strong skyscrapers, feeling the energy of the streets and the sweltering heat of the deep summer. I will seek comfort in finding new routines, perhaps not matzo ball soup but something that will remind me of the comforts of home while we’re away. Until then, I’m going to savor this bowl and all of it’s steamy goodness…even if it is making me sweat in the middle of a heat wave.
But honestly, this shake video was SO FUN to make!
“Make a shake using Valentine’s Day conversation hearts,” said the powers-that-be, and so we went to work creating this doozy of a combination. Spending several days creating and taste-testing milkshakes is a rough job, but someone has to do it! It’s true, it took a few no-so-pretty versions before we chose the final version…mixing orange and green hearts does not produce a pretty (or tasty) milkshake…but the final product is a sight to be seen. Eric (director) and Emily (producer) came up with the idea of adding crushed purple hearts to the whipped cream. I admit, I was skeptical at first but it was truly worth all the trouble of using the whipped cream charger. Grinding the purple hearts down to a dust that could be mixed into the cream and then figuring out how to use the nitrous cartridges the right way (there might have been a purple explosion before we mastered it) resulted in something beautiful AND delicious!
I hope you enjoy the video…and have a happy Valentine’s Day!
This recipe first appeared on Eating Made Easy, a blog written by my friend and nutritionist, Amelia Winslow. Amelia’s blog is full of healthy, delicious recipes, including the month of salads she is featuring in January. Amelia is my go-to-girl for nutrition advice, as she gives common sense suggestions that fit into my busy, food-loving life.
I was excited to share this “recipe,” as I often create salads like this one when I’m anticipating a busy week. I mix up all the ingredients on Sunday, parcel the salad out into individual jars, and stick them in the fridge until I need something quick and healthy. Please don’t be too concerned with following the recipe; use it more as a guide and throw in items that are fresh, in-season, and on hand at your house. You’ll soon discover what combinations you like best. If the salad tastes flat, it probably needs more lemon, salt and/or pepper, or a drizzle of olive oil. If you get stuck, just ask and I would be happy to help you work it out into something delicious! Read on for my latest mix.
I came up with this idea for a salad when I wanted to take something with me that was healthy but also substantial. Combining grains and lentils add protein and heft, and the veggies add a nice fresh crunch. Don’t be shy with the fresh lemon juice or salt; the grains need to be seasoned well, otherwise the salad will be bland. Feel free to experiment with different grain and bean options. I have yet to meet a combination that I don’t like!
Yellow Lentil Power Salad
1/2 cup yellow lentils
1/2 cup farro
1/2 cup Israeli couscous
2 celery ribs
4 scallion tops, green parts only
1/2 cup cilantro leaves (pull the stems out and keep for other dishes)
fresh lemon juice (about 2) + extra-virgin olive oil to taste
salt + freshly ground pepper to taste
Cook each of the grains/lentils separately and according to package directions, minus a couple of minutes. The key to this salad is grains and lentils that are still al dente, or have texture when you bite into them. Mushy grains will result in a mushy salad. In my experience, the lentils cooked in ten minutes, the the farro cooked for 20 minutes, and the couscous was ready in just four minutes.
While the grains are cooking, chop the celery and carrot into small dice, or into the size that you would prefer to eat. Chop the scallion tops and the cilantro leaves a little smaller so that they distribute evenly through the salad.
Allow the grains to cool before combining the ingredients to make the salad.
When ready to assemble the salad, combine the grains and veggies in a large bowl, then toss generously with fresh lemon juice. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil until wet and shiny (a couple of tablespoons should be enough), and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir well to combine, then taste and see if it needs more salt or lemon, etc. It’s a good idea to go with more lemon (and salt if needed) because the grains will absorb the flavors.
This salad improves with time, so it’s a great make-ahead option. If you don’t have one of these ingredients, feel free to substitute with what you have on hand. Fresh parsley is a great stand-in for the cilantro, and if you have leftover brown rice in your fridge, for instance, use that instead of going through the trouble of making farro. You can also serve this salad over greens for a heftier meal, as well as add chunks of chicken if you like. This salad travels very well. I like to store it in mason jars and take it with me when I need healthy “fast food.” Enjoy!