Chicken and Duck Soup

You will need one whole duck for this preparation. Have your butcher separate the breasts and legs from the bird and de-bone the legs. All the leg and breast meat should still have its skin on. Ask your butcher to grind all the meat for you. You will have approximately 1 3/4 pounds of ground duck. Make sure you collect all the bones from the duck for the broth.

Duck Dumplings

2 boneless duck legs with their skins (approximately 3/4 lb.), put through a meat grinder

2 duck breasts with their skins (approximately 1 lb.), put through a meat grinder

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 medium-sized Spanish onion, minced

1 tsp. ground cardamom

1/2 cup matzah cake flour

3 tsp. salt


3 lbs. of chicken back bones

The bones of one de-boned duck with its wings

2 tbs. olive oil

2 large onions, peeled and quartered

3 ribs of celery, whole

1 carrot, 1/2-inch-thick pieces

1 head of garlic sliced in half, separating the top from the bottom

1 tbs. turmeric

4 dried Persian limes (lemon omani*), put in a towel and crush the limes open.

1/2 tbs. dried mint

Sea salt to taste

1 cup chopped fresh spinach

Juice from 1 fresh lime

Fresh herbs such as mint, dill and parsley, chopped

Rinse bones with cold water and set aside. In a large stock pot heat olive oil and add the onions, celery, garlic and carrots, and stir while cooking for approximately five minutes until onions become translucent but not brown. Adjust the flame in order to not brown vegetables. Add the turmeric, crushed dried limes and the mint, and continue to sauté for an additional two minutes. Add the chicken backbones, duck bones and enough water to cover the bones by approximately six inches. Bring to a boil and ladle off the coagulated albumin and fat that will rise to the top. Reduce to a low flame and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.

In the meantime, to make the dumplings, mix the ground duck meat with the garlic, onion, cardamom, matzah cake flour and salt. Roll into 1-inch diameter meatballs. Refrigerate until the broth is ready.

When the broth is ready, carefully pour broth through a strainer and into a clean pot. Bring the broth back to a simmer and add the chicken dumplings. Place a lid on to the pot, and let cook for ten minutes or until the dumplings have cooked all the way through.

To serve, place a couple of dumplings into each soup bowl along with some freshly chopped spinach, herbs and, if using, the blanched fava beans. Taste the remaining broth and adjust the saltiness. Add the juice of the fresh lime and ladle the soup into bowls.

To find lemon omani visit these Web sites: and

Thinking Outside the Matzah Ball Box

When the Israelites rushed out of Egypt, Pharaoh’s men on their heels, they hurriedly bundled their belongings, food included, to carry as much as they could on their backs and donkeys. Seeking to nourish themselves throughout their desert journey to the Promised Land, they rolled together unleavened bread crumbs, eggs and oil to create a round, nutritious finger food. They heated these in water jugs, along with chicken bone scraps, to preserve them and give them flavor. And that’s how matzah ball soup was born.

At least that’s how the matzah ball legend should read. The round dumpling traditionally made of matzah meal, eggs, and some kind of fat is so entrenched in Jewish tradition that its history seems to date back to the Torah itself. The icon of Jewish pop culture, the staple of deli menus, the culinary gem of bubbies worldwide, matzah ball soup is the unofficial symbol of Jewish cuisine, the soup of the one God.

But like many dishes generally regarded as “Jewish foods,” like gefilte fish and cholent, matzah ball soup originated in Eastern Europe. The Yiddish word for matzah balls, “knaidelach,” comes from the German word for dumpling, “knödel.” The matzah ball may very well have been the vanguard Jewish food of its time, an adaptation of the gentile dumpling suited to Passover restrictions and pantries, invented by the Martha Stewart of the shtetl, her (or his?) name now lost in obscurity.

Since then few Jewish chefs, professional and amateur, have dared to tamper with the matzah ball. In that sense, the matzah ball is the “ultra-Orthodox” Jewish food. The most popular recipe for many home cooks today may very well be the one on the matzah meal box. But with the growing sophistication and cross-fertilization of many types of cuisines, that’s changing.

“I think traditional cooks are breaking out; they’re more sophisticated,” said Adeena Sussman, a recipe developer, food writer and cooking instructor based in New York. “Everyone is traveling more and interested in ethnic cuisine. There are a lot of kosher Web sites where you can get kosher gourmet products. Actually, I think Jews who keep Passover strictly are those who are seeking the most innovative ideas because they are those who follow the laws for eight days and are trying to keep their families well-fed and interested for eight days.”

One of the most popular maverick matzah ball soup recipes has been Susie Fishbein’s tri-color matzah ball soup, as featured years ago in her popular “Kosher by Design Entertains” cookbook (Mesorah Publications, 2005) and on “The Today Show” with Katie Couric. The recipe calls for a green maztah ball made with pureed spinach, a yellow matzah ball made with turmeric and a red matzah ball made with tomato paste. 

“It was a funky spin on something traditional, and that’s what I do,” said Fishbein from her home in New Jersey. She sought a matzah ball soup that wasn’t only flavorful, but visually appealing and healthful, especially for the children. “I’ve had mothers come up to me in shul and say ‘I only make the green ones, and they’re called ‘Shrek matzah balls,’ and my boys love them.’”

Matzah balls are like a “blank canvas,” ripe with possibilities for adding flavor and color. Last year Sussman developed a “dill-infused chicken soup with herbed matzah ball gnocchi” recipe featuring matzah balls shaped like the Italian potato dumpling and rolled with spinach, parsley and dill. Green herbs are intuitive additives, because they often compliment the flavor of the chicken soup and also reflect the spirit of spring. Sussman recommends ground chicken, ground beef and horseradish as other nontraditional additives.

But not every ingredient works. “There were definitely things that were not winners,” said Fishbein, recalling her own experimentation. “Blueberry matzah balls are hideous. Carrot matzah balls covered with carrot juice were hideous.”

Like the Torah, matzah balls are open to a variety of interpretations and subject to intense debate. Surprisingly, some of Southern California’s top chefs believe the matzah ball is sacred. 

“I don’t want to recreate the matzah ball; I think it tastes fine how it is, as long as it has a light texture,” said Suzanne Tracht, executive chef at LA’s Jar chophouse on Beverly Boulevard. “They shouldn’t be too hard. You shouldn’t use them for weapons….The most important part of the matzah ball, since it’s basically a dumpling, is the broth — that’s where it comes out.”

Every year, Tracht holds a Passover seder at her restaurant, and this year she’s making a consommé with lemongrass, galangal and ginger. “We make it so intense that we clarify the broth, as well, so that it has a more rich and intense flavor.”

Todd Aarons, executive chef at the gourmet kosher restaurant Tierra Sur at the Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard puts his “stock” in the broth, as well. “I’m a purist. I would play around with the broth first, and I’d probably keep the matzah ball intact.” For his own matzah ball soup, Aarons likes to use duck and chicken bones for a deeper flavor. “When I eat it, though, it doesn’t remind me of my mom’s, which is okay.”

He became convinced of the powerful absorption properties of the matzah ball after his Yemenite wife served regular matzah balls with her Yemenite soup, traditionally made with chicken, beef and exotic herbs, including hawaij, a Yemenite spice mix consisting of cumin, coriander, pepper, cardamom, cloves and turmeric. He likens matzah balls to bread used for dipping. “Every culture has a chicken soup. You can explore all different kinds of chicken soup and throw a matzah ball in, and it would work.”

In fact, the matzah ball is the only Ashkenazi food that has been warmly embraced by Sephardic traditions, especially in Israel. “Sephardic cooking is much more popular in Israel now than Ashkenazi cooking — Israel is a warm country, the ingredients are more suitable for Middle Eastern food,” said Janna Gur, editor-in-chief of Israel’s leading gastronomic magazine, Al HaShulchan, and author of “The Book of New Israeli Food” (Schocken, 2008). “Many recipes make the crossover to Ashkenazi households, but not vice versa, except for matzah ball soup.”

Another (chicken or beef?) bone of contention among chefs and cooks relates to texture: dense or light and fluffy?

Cookbook author and food writer Judy Zeidler, also a bubbe of seven, prefers fluffy matzah balls, hands down. “When I got married, my mother-in-law always made sinkers — matzah balls so hard they sink to the bottom of the pot. I grew up with my mother’s matzah balls. Like clouds, they floated to the top of the soup. My husband thought they were ridiculous, but he thought they were so much easier to eat and so much more flavorful.”

To make matzah balls as fluffy as her mother’s, she recommends separating the yolk and whites and then folding the yolk and matzah meal into egg whites beaten into soft peaks. Seltzer is recommended instead of water to increase fluffiness, and chilling matzah balls plays an important part in determining texture.

“Chilling will make it much easier to roll so you can manipulate them,” said Fishbein. “If you can roll them right at the outset you have a lot of matzah meal in them, and they probably won’t be very fluffy.”

Sussman is the only one interviewed for this article who prefers dense matzah balls, or, as she likes to call them, “matzah balls al dente”, an Italian term to describe pasta that is firm but not overcooked.

But home cooks shouldn’t feel discouraged if they can’t think out of the matzah meal box. “My mother used to make matzah balls from scratch,” said Sussman, “but one year we actually tried the mix and found that it worked quite well and started making them from the mix, not because we couldn’t make it from scratch, but because we liked them.”

Feathers fly as fugitive fowl frustrates Pico-Robertson

For most of last week, a fugitive chicken mystified and delighted residentsof the traditionally Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood.
Rumors of its provenance flitted about for days, then came to perch on anespecially good story:
The chicken, according to neighborhood resident Rabbi Joel Rembaum, belongedto a local mashgiach, or kosher supervisor. Every year around Yom Kippur,the mashgiach, like many traditional Jews, buys a chicken in order toperform the ritual of kaparos, which means atonements. This year, it flewthe coop. 
If true, that’s one smart chicken. 
Early in the morning on the day before Yom Kippur, groups of Jews gather tohold squawking chickens by the feet and twirl them over their heads whilechanting a prayer. After the twirling, the chickens are ritually slaughteredand given to the poor. 
The ritual dates back to the Middle Ages.
 The idea was that since the Hebrew word for man (gever) and rooster were thesame, a man’s sins — and his punishments — could be symbolicallytransferred to the rooster, in the same way that during the times of theTemple, people brought animal sacrifices as penance for their sins. 

Therefore, while slinging the chicken during kaparos, the person chants,”This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. Thischicken shall go to its death, and I shall proceed to a good, long life andpeace.” 
For several reasons — not the least of which is its obvious cruelty — thecustom has fallen out of fashion. Some people perform kaparos by swinging abag of money over their head and then donate that money to charity. 
The fugitive chicken — black and white with a rust-colored spot and abright red cockscomb — roams from lawn to sidewalk, from rooftop todriveway. 
“I think one family is feeding it,” a resident said. 
But the story of the chicken’s provenance proved as flighty as the chickenitself. Calls to local stores with and without mashgiach’s met with denials. 
Speculation centered on Eilat Market, where giant Farsi-language postersadvertise for kaparos on behalf of Natan Eli Hebrew Academy. A marketemployee said all chickens were accounted for. 
“Everyone has seen it,” a local rebbetzin said, “but no one knows who’s itis.”
In the meantime, local animal rights groups and vegetarian activists havegeared up an annual campaign to protest traditional kapparos rites. In apress release entitled, “Jewish chicken-killing ritual Kapparot is illegal,inhumane and unnecessary. It is animal cruelty,” the activists call for animmediate end to the practice. The press release citesJewish as well as other sources as opposing the ritual.
It quotes General Manager of LA Animal Services and ex-pastor Ed Boks asstating, “Some of our nation’s healthiest animal husbandry practices andlaws originated in the ancient traditions of the Torah. Nowhere is thepractice of Kapparot even mentioned in the Torah. It is a pagan traditionthat has been muddled into the religious practices of a small Jewish sect.Kapparot should have no place in the 21st Century Los Angeles community.”
Via the Internet, activists are circulating notice of a protest againstkapparot to be held Sunday, Oct. 1 in front of Ohel Moshe temple at 8644Pico Blvd from 10-12:30 p.m. “begging people not to kill the chickens.” 
As for the fugitive chicken, as of press time, no one had claimed it, and noone had rescued it either — leaving the bird to fend for itself in a cityof speeding cars and hungry cats. 
Now that’s a sin worth atoning for. 
— Staff Report

But Is It Kosher?

In September 2003, Whole Foods quietly removed one brand of kosher chicken from its shelves and replaced it with a different brand.

The switch received little notice — outside of a Jewish Journal article — but it caught my eye. A representative for Whole Foods claimed the previous chicken brand didn’t meet the chain’s standard; its feed was not organic, and the chickens weren’t raised and slaughtered in the most humane way possible.

Up until then I’d assumed that kosher meant, well, kosher. It surprised me that a company well-known for its concern for animal well-being and food safety would deem anything kosher treif, or unfit. Long before Whole Foods was even a glimmer in the eye of the Prius-tocracy, hadn’t we Jews been telling ourselves and others that we were practicing humane slaughter and thoughtful animal husbandry — embodied in the very laws of kashrut? What did Whole Foods know that I didn’t?

It turns out Whole Foods was on to something seriously wrong with the kosher food industry, and the industry is due for a change.

I grew up eating meat of all kinds. One afternoon during my sophomore year at college, I found myself on an idyllic Maine isle, plunging a live lobster into a pot of boiling water. By dusk I was a vegetarian, and I stayed that way for the next 14 years. I wasn’t squeamish: I’d fished my whole life, and even hunted. As a cook in various restaurants, I’d gutted shoals of fish, whacked through sides of beef and deconstructed flocks of poultry. But at that moment I figured, if I could survive without taking another life, so much the better.

Then I met my wife, Naomi Levy, rabbi and carnivore.

I loved the woman very much, so I had to come to terms with two of her seemingly contradictory traits: She loved meat, and she didn’t cook. I still love her; she still loves meat, and she still doesn’t cook.

The thought of cooking two entrees a night for the rest of our lives didn’t appeal to me. I compromised and began eating fish. Then came the first of many Friday night meals together. I put a piece of grilled salmon on the Sabbath table, and Naomi put on her best game face: What’s Sabbath without roasted chicken? So I started eating chicken. And then came her pregnancies, when she expressed numerous times that a) she would kill for a big juicy grilled steak and b) she was carrying our baby.

So there was the occasional steak.

All along, I rationalized the meat on our table by its kosher pedigree. In my mind, and in the minds of most Jews, the meaning of “kosher” had long swelled beyond its strict Levitical denotation of permitted and forbidden animals and their prescribed method of slaughter. I believed that “kosher” meant a higher concern for cleanliness, for the health and welfare of the animals, for the sanctity of Creation.

And it wasn’t just me. The dictionary definition of “kosher” includes “genuine and legitimate.” If I had to kill to eat, at least the meat was kosher.

But the alarm bell that Whole Food rang was soon followed by a cacophony of criticism and investigation.

In December 2004, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released an undercover video taken at the AgriProcessors Inc. plant, a kosher beef abattoir in Postville, Iowa. The plant supplies kosher beef for the Aaron’s Best/Rubashkin brand. The tape showed practices that were obviously cruel and created a firestorm of criticism and countercharges. The Orthodox Union, which overseas the kashrut of the plant, said the offending practices would be corrected — they have been — and accused PETA of launching an assault on the institution of shechitah (kosher slaughter) itself.

The made-for-media PETA fracas birthed a larger, more thoughtful crossdenominational concern over current kosher slaughter practices. Earlier this year, Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the best-selling novel “Everything Is Illuminated” (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) and last year’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (Houghton Mifflin), released a PETA-produced video over the Internet that condemned modern kosher slaughter practices, calling them anathema to the spirit of the kosher laws.

The author’s calm, well-reasoned arguments are buttressed by on-camera interviews with Rabbi David Wolpe of the Conservative Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, the Orthodox founder of CLAL — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

The video, titled “If This Is Kosher …,” is available for download at It interweaves Foer’s and the rabbis’ comments with footage from the AgriProccessors plant and from kosher egg and meat suppliers in Israel. In one scene, egg industry workers fill a plastic-lined, 55-gallon garbage can with live male chicks, superfluous to the process. In another shot, the bags are sealed and dumped.

“To be Jewish,” Foer says in the video, “is to strive to make the world less cruel and more just — not only for oneself and not only for one’s people but for everyone. One doesn’t have to consider animals as equal to humans — I don’t — to give them a place in this inspiring idea.”

Wolpe and Greenberg — both vegetarians — signed on to a letter, along with dozens of rabbis, calling on the Orthodox Union to do more to promote humane treatment of animals in the kosher facilities it oversees.

In the midst of these criticisms came the results of another investigation by The Forward newspaper last month charging the Rubashkin factory with unfair labor practices, unsafe working conditions and labor intimidation. “AgriProcessors’ final product — sold under the nationally popular Aaron’s Best brand — is priced significantly higher than standard meat,” reporter Nathaniel Popper wrote. “Its kosher seal gives it a seeming moral imprimatur in an industry known for harsh working conditions. But even in the unhappy world of meatpacking, people with comparative knowledge of AgriProcessors and other plants — including local religious leaders, professors, and union organizers — say that AgriProcessors stands out for its poor treatment of workers.”

The manager of the plant, Sholom Rubashkin, denied the charges, but the plant has been subject to half the violations in all Iowa meatpacking plants so far this year, according to The Forward’s analysis of OSHA statistics.

“The bottom line here is that I’m not sure these devout Jews are using Jewish ethics to treat their workers,” one critic said.

I don’t know if Rubashkin is the exception or the rule in an industry that is increasingly concentrated in a few large hands, and whose imprimatur of kashrut comes from a handful of rabbinic authorities.

But I do know my definition of kosher is now much more narrow. In marketing terms, the brand has been tarnished. Kosher is not necessarily clean, or humane, or just. Long synonymous in our hearts and minds with good and pure, kosher is in danger of meaning just one small group’s interpretation of what’s legal.

What happened?

The purveyors of kosher goods became prey to the same market forces that have undermined the integrity of the entire American food chain. The food industry has fed America’s insatiable appetite by disregarding health concerns and riding roughshod over animal welfare and environmental welfare.

The demand for meat has led to the industrialization of farming, to feedlots holding up to 100,000 cattle, to the rapid and often sloppy dispatch of thousands of animals per day.

Kosher slaughterers piggyback — so to speak — on this industry by sending rabbis into nonkosher slaughterhouses to kill selected animals. Rubashkin itself noted that it slaughtered 18,000 cows in a seven-week period, which it said inevitably leads to error.

Kosher food, which we had always taken to stand apart from and above from the larger culture, has acquiesced to some of the industry’s worst practices.

Strictly speaking, the laws of kashrut do not address issues of responsible, ethical food production and healthful eating.

“The nature of kashrut is thus at once mysterious and obvious,” scholar Meir Soloveichik wrote in a penetrating essay in the journal Azure’s winter issue. “While God does not explain the importance of cud-chewing or leaping, of split hooves or scales, the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.”

The exact meaning of these laws may remain obscure, but they are clearly meant to set us apart and elevate our souls.

For someone who loves both to pet animals and to eat them, the laws of kashrut speak to the tension between our higher and lower impulses, between the hunter Esau and the shepherd Jacob; between the carnivore wife and the conflicted husband.

Perhaps no religion better understands this eternal and inherent contradiction than Judaism. The laws of kashrut help us shuttle between our hungry selves and our compassionate ones, between the sanctity of all God’s creatures and their deliciousness.

If the kosher food industry is interested in retaining the deeper meaning of the label it bestows, its manufacturers and rabbis must figure out how to restore the spirit of kashrut to kashrut. The Jewish teaching of tza’ar ba’alei chayim — forbidding cruelty to animals because they are part of God’s creation — is the obvious place to start.

Kosher certifiers should cooperate with organizations like Animal Compassion Foundation, founded with a grant from Whole Foods, which are in the vanguard of conscientious animal husbandry and slaughter. The kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.


The Forbidden Food

I was casually walking through the meat aisle at the local supermarket yesterday morning looking for kosher chicken when I saw her holding a package of frozen shrimp.

Her hair was long and sun-bleached blonde, and her eyes were blue like the sky. I knew she wasn’t Jewish. My heart was racing like a klezmer band on speed, and I wondered what the kosher chickens might have said if they knew how badly I wanted her. The son of a rabbi, they’d probably quip. It figures.

A few months ago the story would have probably ended there. I’d have picked up my kosher chicken, a few 12-packs of Diet Coke, some Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and been on my way. I’d have forgotten her by nightfall and remembered her the next morning when I sat down to write. How many shrimp could fit between those glossy pink lips? I might have wondered.

Okay, truthfully, I’m still thinking about it now. Four? Maybe five? Not since the bar mitzvah incident with Debbie have I been able to fully get shrimp out of my mind.

Debbie was one of the popular girls in my Hebrew School, and I had a big-time crush on her. Although we rarely talked, she accepted an invitation to my bar mitzvah party. As the night waned, I did the unthinkable: I asked her to dance. She agreed, and I did my best to hold her tight. I was a man, I imagined, and my luck with girls was sure to change.

So I looked into her eyes and said, Do you think, maybe, probably, a girl like you, I mean not you, would ever think about going out with a guy like me, I mean not me?

She batted her eyelashes and said, Of course not. You’re too shrimpy. A moment later she realized the potentially lasting effects of her words and added, I didn’t mean that in a bad way.

I was devastated. I remember crying on my mother’s lap later that day. Am I really too shrimpy? I asked her.

She smiled and said the same thing millions of mother’s have said to their less-than-perfect sons: Just be yourself Danny. That’s all girls really want.

Pish posh, I thought. No girl wants a shrimp. But I was wrong. The hot blonde apparently liked shrimp just fine.

Even a few months ago, I was afraid to indiscriminately approach beautiful women. I imagined that even the pitter-patter of my heart and my distinctly Jewish sex drive didn’t give me license to say hello. And if I did say hello, I was sure she’d look at my scrawny frame and say something like, Scram.

So late one Shabbat night in early June, I took fate into my own hands. I called my father — the rabbi — and told him my plans. I’ve decided to make a movie. It’ll be called: ‘A Sensitive Guy on the Road: Fifty Dates Across the States.’ I’ll date one woman in each of 48 states and Washington, D.C., and hopefully find true love.

That’s a bad idea, he said.

It gets better, I promised. I won’t kiss any of them for 49 dates.

Then I will ask one of them on a 50th and final date, and hopefully, you know, give her the big smootcheroo.

A reality show without sex, he said. That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard.

It’s not a reality show, I promised. It’s a critique of reality shows. I want to find out if women are willing to give a nice, sensitive, albeit short guy like me a try.

It’s still a terrible idea, he said.

The hot supermarket woman walked towards me. Closer. Closer. Eyes squinting. Still closer. Shrimp in hand. Inspecting me, judging me, making my heart flutter. Touching me with a treif hand. Sure, she touched just my shoulder. But her hand was treif nonetheless. And I liked it!

Excuse me, she said. Weren’t you on the front cover of the newspaper last week? You’re that sensitive guy, right?

I blushed. She smiled. My heart melted. Yep, I responded. I knew I should have said something funny or profound like: I’m sensitive, but I swear, I’m no shrimp cocktail, Or maybe: Sensitivity can mean so many things. Instead, I just stared at her smile. I was at a loss for words.

Yep, I said again.

That’s so cool, she said.

Wow, I thought. She thinks I’m cool.

And in that moment of pure stress and elation, I forgot about all the heartache that girls, mostly ones at Jewish sleepover camp, had caused me. I put aside my ego and my insecurities, put down my kosher chicken, swallowed hard and went for it: I really like your thighs …I mean, I mean your eyes. I like your eyes. They’re blue like the sky.

She smiled. Do you want my phone number? she asked.

I was speechless. But before I knew it, she had copied her number onto a gas station receipt and handed it to me. It was that easy. I had spent 22 years thinking I had to be tall and Scandinavian to get a goddess like her. Twenty-two years believing that short Jewish guys just couldn’t do crazy things like that unless their names are Woody Allen or Philip Roth. And all this time, it was simple: let them know I’m sensitive. Just throw it out there.

Dan Jacobs currently resides in Western Massachusetts. He will soon return to Los Angeles to live. You can learn more about his journey on his Web site: