Matzoh Ball Soup for the Lone Vegetarian
March 28, 2018 4:36 AM   Subscribe

This year at the seder I help cook and organize, we've got about 16 people coming and only one vegetarian. I'm responsible for the chicken soup and chopped liver and would love to make some similarly satisfying and delicious soup for the veggie guest to have with the matzoh balls. Ideas?

I'm especially motivated to do this because my chicken soup has received rave reviews and I pull out all the stops for it, use chicken feet and backs for a really thick nutritious broth, rainbow carrots to make it festive, it's a multi-day process that I'm currently on day 3 of. And there will be a vegetable kugel that the vegetarian guest can have for a main, but pretty much everything else has meat in it, and that's depressing. What I want to do is bring my giant vat of chicken soup, my matzoh balls, and a small container of vegetable soup and be able to give him a happy bowl of soup and matzoh balls along with everyone else at the table.

I'd been planning on cooking my matzoh balls in some diluted stock but now I'm thinking I'll do them in water (maybe with some saffron) so they're vegetarian. I'm pretty sure this guest is fine with eggs but I'm not sure about dairy - and it's a meat meal so I'd like to avoid dairy anyway. But what should I do about the soup itself?

I'd like for the soup to have lots of flavor but not be too wacky since Passover is about comfort food. I was thinking about maybe a simple broth with carrots and sauteed leeks as the main garnish, but that's not very fancy and it's hard to get a good depth of flavor in a vegetable broth. My other ideas include a mushroom stock with dill, or an onion and tomato broth. What do you think would go with matzoh balls, and what kind of simmered veggies would go best with them, other than carrots?

I'll only be making about 3-4 cups of this, and ideally it'd be something that comes together pretty quickly with only a few dirty dishes, since I have a lot of other cooking and chores to do at the same time. So I'm trying to strike that balance of fancy and satisfying but relatively easy to make.
posted by Mizu to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up with celery in chicken soup but some people seem to hate it.

Ginger is a nice addition to either chicken or veggie stock. Miso has kitniyot (and depending on the type, potentially also outright chametz, so YMMV based on observance) in it but I would totally eat matzo balls in a dressed-up (onions/carrots/etc) Trader Joe’s Miso-Ginger broth, which I find to have more flavor than other boxed vegetarian broths (I often heat up vegetables and tofu in it to make an easy soup.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:59 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

My instinct for a comforting rich vegetarian broth with some of the same qualities as chicken would be a mushroom one using dried porcini, which has a deep umami flavour. In fact I use porcini soaking water as a stock substitute regularly for convenience, where I just pour boiling water over some dried mushrooms and leave them to steep for half an hour or so. Obviously if you make a proper vegetable stock and use that to soak the porcini, so much the better. Then chop up the reconstituted mushrooms and add them to the soup.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 5:21 AM on March 28, 2018 [10 favorites]

Definitely mushroom broth, and I would skip the tomato. Just a bunch of dried mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, and whatever seasonings you use in your chicken stock. You could also add a little bit of potato starch to give it some body, if you're worried it won't have the unctuousness of chicken stock.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:30 AM on March 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

How sweet of you! I'm vegetarian, and my mom makes me a veggie version of her chicken and matzoh ball soup every year. Just chopped onion, carrots, celery, olive oil and salt, boiled and simmered. That's the whole recipe apart from the matzoh balls. It is so simple, but genuinely comforting and delicious. Your carrot and leek version sounds similarly tasty, and using rainbow carrots as you do for the meat soup would look pretty and festive as well! When I make this soup at home, I add a bunch of nutritional yeast, which contributes protein and a chicken-like flavor. I think mushrooms also sound delicious, but they can be a love-it-or-hate-it food so I might pass on it unless you know the veggie guest likes them. Maybe bring some kosher for Passover soup nuts too, for some texture? I don't know if they are fancy, but they are traditional at my family's seder meals.
posted by prewar lemonade at 5:51 AM on March 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

Shredded sweet potato cooked & simmered with the rest of the vegetables adds body and a little more depth. It should disintegrate as you simmer the soup.

I'd also suggest a homemade vegetable stock. Sweat or roast the vegetables in a couple tablespoons of olive oil to deepen the flavor. Include mushrooms, fennel bulb, 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste or 1-2 chopped paste/plum tomatoes for more body and savory flavor. I've used the recipe in Ratio by Michael Ruhlman and the resulting broth had good flavor and body. Strain through cheesecloth/butter muslin for a clearer (though not clarified) stock.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:08 AM on March 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Disclaimer: I'm opening a higher end vegetarian restaurant soon. I still don't know even close to everything, and I'll never call myself an expert, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about and learning how to get as much flavor as I possibly can from simple vegetables that usually get treated as an afterthought.

Definitely use either veggie stock or veggie broth instead of water. And don't use store-bought; it's pretty much salty garbage.

Here's what I do when I make a standard veggie broth:

One yellow onion—Chop half of it into 2-4 large chunks, and finely chop the other half.
One large celery stalk—chopped in large chunks
One or two large carrots—Chop half into large chunks, finely slice the other half with a mandolin or make a fine dice
Two or three leeks—chopped into large chunks
One whole head of garlic, chopped in half along the equator, skins intact
A few bay leaves
Some fresh parsley
Fresh thyme
Fresh rosemary
Celery root (if the market has it in stock—if not, it's fine), chopped up
Kombu (dried seaweed) shredded
Dried shiitake mushrooms, chopped up
A neutral oil, like canola, grapeseed or soy
Salt & pepper
Brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 300° F and line a baking sheet with foil. Chop up my veggies—I use a mixture of large chops and shreds/dices so the finished broth will have more layered complexity, featuring the flavors of both cooked vegetables (from the large chunks) and caramelized vegetables (from the shreds)—and lay them out on the baking sheet. Cover with the shredded kombu and shiitake. In a small bowl, mix equal parts miso and oil and drizzle over all the vegetables like you're dressing a salad. Bake, tossing halfway, until vegetables are slightly shriveled and fragrant, about an hour or so.

Then transfer them to a large stock pot, season them with salt and pepper and brown sugar to taste, and add 4 quarts of water. I also sometimes add some freshly chopped uncooked vegetables to this step, to increase the layers of flavor. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, then then cook (uncovered, occasionally stirring) until it's reduced by half, another hour or so.

Let it cool, then strain with a fine mesh strainer and store to use.

Also, some go-to umami/funk boosters to add to your repertoire:
Miso—you'd be shocked at what all I put this in. Spaghetti sauce. I even make an onion-miso jam I smear inbetween layers of cheese for my grilled cheese sandwiches.
Bragg's Liquid Aminos
Marmite or vegemite
Save the liquids when you roast mushrooms

Pick something that you think will compliment the other flavors in your soup! Good luck!
posted by ferdinandcc at 6:42 AM on March 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

I have found Better Than Bouillon No Chicken Base to be pretty great for stuff like this. Nice chicken-soupy color from the tumeric, and very tasty in a basic, comforting way.
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 7:06 AM on March 28, 2018

Just a note, that BTB base probably isn't Kosher for Passover; it contains yeast extract and, depending on how you feel about kitniyot, corn ingredients.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:28 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Err I just realized my answer involved nutritional yeast which many folks do not consider kosher for Passover. Sorry for the brain fart; please don't use it!
posted by prewar lemonade at 7:35 AM on March 28, 2018

Response by poster: Just to head this off at the pass, I'm completely comfortable making it entirely from scratch and have no intention of using store-bought stock. I'm definitely not up for the complexity of ferdinandcc's recipe but it'd be silly to heat up some canned stock and dress it up it like it's special when something from scratch is going to be just as easy and much yummier.

It'll be a casual seder with lots of goyim but I'd like to avoid legumes and corn just kinda because I wanna? If I make something extra yummy, next year I'll probably do half vegetable soup and half chicken soup so guests can choose their own matzoh ball adventure, and I'd love to have something that more observant guests could hypothetically enjoy.
posted by Mizu at 7:41 AM on March 28, 2018

I swear by THIS. It's health food store "grade" - only food ingredients, no chemicals or artificial flavors. Use it to enhance whatever stock you are making.

You will like it so much, you will start using it in every sauce and soup you make.
posted by jbenben at 7:51 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

2nding that it helps to add a sweet potato (we use a whole one and then remove it, but I am intrigued by carrioncomfort's suggestion to shred it).
posted by Mchelly at 8:54 AM on March 28, 2018

My family has been using the Mock Chicken Stock recipe from one of the Moosewood cookbooks for years now as our base for matzoh ball soup. I’ve made a lot of homemade veggie stocks and there’s something about this one that truly has the sweetness and flavor profiles of a good chicken broth. It uses a lot of ingredients, but you just have to throw everything in a pot and boil it so it’s quite simple. And I never bother with peeling the carrots! I found an online version of the recipe here.
posted by horses, of courses at 10:12 AM on March 28, 2018

Oh, for the finished soup we usually just add some finely chopped carrots, parsnips, and leeks, I think. It varies a bit. The stock is good enough that it doesn’t need much so some of the rainbow carrots from your chicken soup would probably be adequate.
posted by horses, of courses at 10:15 AM on March 28, 2018

Best answer: Huzzah, I get to invoke the cookbook I almost always recommend! :-)

The Moosewood books have a recipe for a "Mock Chicken Noodle Soup", which uses this as the stock:

14 cups water
7 cups chopped onions
4 cups chopped celery
4 cups peeled & chopped carrots
4 potatoes -- scrubbed & chopped
2 heads garlic -- broken apart (you don't need to peel, though)
5 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 bunch fresh parsley

Dump water and vegetables into stock pot, then stir in the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, turmeric, salt, and parsley. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Then cover the pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 hour. Set aside to cool and then strain.

This lasts in the fridge for up to 4 days in a sealed container, and can be frozen for up to 6 months.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:40 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not to put too fine a point on it, add MSG. By adding mushrooms or nutritional yeast as above, you're adding the natural glutamate found in those foods-- soy sauce usually another good source, so a splash of that instead of salt may be nice. If you're concerned about how receptive the eater is to mushrooms, or don't want splash out on an ingredient that you, a meat-eater, aren't likely to need a lot of, then go for MSG.

MSG is made from molasses and beets and whatnot, and does require Kosher certification if you're observing that. How do you buy kosher MSG this close to Passover? I don't know.

Whatever you do, get those glutamates in there; that's the flavor you're after, whether you go with the distilled MSG or the version still captive in various foods.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:58 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This doesn't answer your main question, but you mentioned that you are bringing chopped liver and I wanted to add that vegetarian chopped liver is superb
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 3:47 PM on March 28, 2018

Lemon grass is what makes a good mock chicken broth to me. I have some dried lemon grass that I've run through a coffee grinder to make a powder so you don't get any woody bits in your soup or you can just use fresh and fish it out. You can add whatever you normally use to make chicken broth but the main ingredients are lemon grass, garlic, parsley (gives it a yellow color) and more salt than is probably good for you.
To give it more flavor, you can add a little water to an egg, beat it with a fork until it's mixed and then stir the broth in the pan in a circular motion quickly while pouring in the egg mixture. It makes delicate threads that taste more like egg white, instead of having clumps of egg like in egg drop soup.
If you want to add onions, carrots, celery..., do it after pouring in the egg or strain them off to the side and add back end. Otherwise you end up with small clumps of egg.
posted by stray thoughts at 4:31 PM on March 28, 2018

Omnivores can eat meat and vegetarian dishes. Many of people who eat meat don't always prefer the meat option when there's a veg option available. When there's only a couple servings of a veg dish and a ton of the meat dish, this sometimes isn't taken into account.

If this is going to be a "serve yourself" sort of event, consider making more of the vegetable soup so there's enough for the vegetarian when they go back for seconds.
posted by aniola at 7:27 AM on March 29, 2018

You've got this. A rich vegetable broth as outlined above. Lots of onions, celery (better: celery root), carrots, parsley, dill at the end to make it smell like the chicken soup. Plenty of mushroom for glutamate.

Now. Say you've made this broth and somehow you are still not quite "there" with it. this soup mix is parve (ie neither dairy not meat, so suitable for both kinds of meals) and kosher for Passover. It is used primarily for exactly this situation, where you need to pump up the flavor of something to make it feel meaty. If you intend to use this, use it INSTEAD of salt, not in addition. It is very salty.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:48 AM on March 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Back from the seder and my soup was a hit. Ultimately I ended up making something up, but my broth did include some tumeric and thyme cribbed from the moosewood recipe, which I'd never put in the chicken stock, and kombu, which I think was the secret ingredient that really made it work.

i_am_a_fiesta, I had been thinking about making mock chopped liver for a while, I'd never had it before and was curious about it. I LOVE chopped liver so never felt the need for something else, usually. So I ended up making that with browned mushrooms instead of any kind of legume (I might make something like it with lentils another time) and because of the high mushroom content in that I wanted to avoid making a mushroom soup as well. So I used the stems for my stock but that was the only mushroom part.

I think the stock had like, the green parts of a big leek, a bunch of carrots, onions, celery, TONS AND TONS of garlic, mushroom stems, a couple big pieces of kombu, bay leaves, tumeric, dried thyme, a significant amount of parsley, dill, and a solid glug of olive oil. It took, I'd say, maybe an hour to get all the goodness out of that mess. Then I strained it and reduced it and in another pan I sauteed finely diced leeks in canola oil and ALMOST burnt them, which was a mistake but one I will be repeating because it really worked. I minced a garlic clove and a little celery and softened that up with the leeks and added my broth. After about another 45 minutes of simmering I popped in the carrots and some fresh dill and let it simmer until the carrots were tender. It made a warm brown soup that didn't look like chicken soup - which is what I wanted, since I hate vegetarian versions of meat things, I just want to make really good food that happens to not have meat in it.

Turns out the veggie kugel that was to be the vegetarian's entree was unspeakably grotty so he had my soup and walnutty mushroom spread and was very very happy. He said "I don't think of soup as satisfying but I get it now", which was so sweet of him. Thanks folks for your advice and pushing me towards using the mock chicken soup recipes as a starting point even though I didn't want to, and reminding me about MSG which led me to kombu.
posted by Mizu at 11:30 PM on March 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

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