Passover Potpourri

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

The Hebrew word seder means order. Thus the irony of my seder menu ideas, which jump from soup to nuts. Literally. From chicken soup to charoses (with nuts), and then on to Shmura matzahs and matzah toffee. Fasten your seatbelts.

Chicken soup advice from the pros

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No Passover meal would be complete without chicken soup, that rich golden elixir of generations past. It is the essence of tradition. Many of us have made this soup before, if not on Passover, perhaps for a Shabbat meal, or throughout the year as a cure for the common cold.

Perhaps you learned to make chicken soup from a family recipe passed down through generations, or by watching your Bubbe or mother cooking in the kitchen. Or, like me, you have experimented with one of the myriad recipes printed in cookbooks and online.

While each of our versions might seem like the best, and it may well be, and the methods we use, the best ones, I was curious to learn the secrets of some of the soup mavens in our community.

St. Louis is fortunate to have a number of outstanding chefs, and Josh Galliano of Monarch restaurant in Maplewood is one of our finest. He was recently named a finalist in the 2010 Best Chef-Midwest category by the James Beard Foundation.

Galliano told me that every great soup begins with a great stock, and chicken soup is no exception. At Monarch, Galliano uses the bones left over from boning chicken. If you don’t have leftover bones, however, he suggests using chicken backs and wings.

“The key is to rinse the bones or chicken under cold water for about fifteen minutes,” said Galliano. “Then place them into a pot of unsalted cold water and bring the water to a boil. Drain the water from the pot and rinse the bones again in lots of cold water. Then repeat the boiling process using cold unsalted water. You may still need to skim the fat and other impurities, but your stock will have a very clean taste.”

Freddie Youngblood is another soup maven. He has been the executive chef at Straub’s for the past 10 years. Youngblood is passionate about flavor. He uses fresh herbs and vegetables at varying stages throughout the cooking process to enhance his chicken soup.

Youngblood told me that he likes to wrap a couple sprigs of rosemary, six to eight sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf, and fresh parsley (stems and all) in cheesecloth and add it at the beginning with all the other soup ingredients.

“Once the soup has been cooled and skimmed,” he said, “I add raw carrots and celery and reheat the soup until the vegetables are just tender. Then I garnish the soup with fresh chopped parsley before serving.”

Sue Rundblad may not be a James Beard Award nominee or a professional chef, but she is the undisputed winner, two years in a row, of the annual Chicken Soup Cook-Off benefiting the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.

When I asked Rundblad for her secret, she seemed surprised that I would want to know.

“It’s a 50-year old soup ladle that was my grandma’s,” she confessed. “You can tell I am not a cook. I dump a whole chicken into the pot and keep dumping in the other ingredients until I am done. I finally add 15 black peppercorns, bring the soup to a boil and let it simmer for two and a half hours. That’s it,” she said.Combining some of the above tips and techniques with my own, I offer this recipe (above left). I just wish I had a 50-year old ladle through which to channel my late grandmother Chana while making chicken soup.

Got Charoses?

My family fears there will never be enough charoses. Thus I always make too much. If you, too, have a leftover bowl of this ambrosial condiment after the second seder, consider using it to make these yummy Passover cupcakes. They are perfect for breakfast, snacks or dessert.

See my recipe, adapted from www.cupcakeproject.com, below.

The Ultimate Matzahs

Shmura matzahs are made under strict rabbinic observation, from the harvest of the wheat all the way through the final baking. They are, to say the least, a challenge for home cooks. Unless, of course, you are Dr. Ethan Schuman. Every year, Schuman orders special flour from Israel, sets up a workstation in his garage to mix and roll the matzahs in the allotted 18 minutes, and makes a fire-brick oven in which to bake them.

Not up to the task? Neither am I. You can entrust this elaborate, and daunting, preparation to the Lubavitch Matzah Bakery in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where they have been making shmura matzahs for the past 30 years. To learn more, visit their website, www.lubavitchmatzah.com, or call them at 1.718.778-7914.

A sweet indulgence

I absolutely love the combination of matzo and chocolate. (See my April 2008 column and recipe for Chocolate Matzo Bark.) I am not alone.

While attending a crafts fair in Chicago with my family last fall, we sampled mouth-watering toffee from Terry’s Toffee and talked with the founder, Terry Opalek. His toffee was perfectly balanced: rich and buttery, crunchy and smooth. Glancing over his product menu, I noticed a listing for Mazel Toffee. It is described in the literature as “a playfully delicious combination of nut-free toffee embedded with matzo and finished in milk chocolate.”

Because Terry makes his Mazel Toffee only for Passover, I could not sample it. However, based on the quality of the other varieties we tasted, I’m sure that the Mazel Toffee is as delicious as the ones we sampled. Please be advised that this product is not certified kosher for Passover. For more information, visit his website at www.terrystoffee.com, or call them at 1.877.TOFFEE4.

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of two. A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected]