As seasons change so do our tastes for what we like to eat. When spring arrives, tender baby vegetables, peas and asparagus lure us. Summer invites us to fire up the grill, because a hot indoor oven can resemble an instrument of torture on a sweltering day. Fall is synonymous with pumpkins, butternut squash and the warm scent of apple and cinnamon. On a cold, dreary winter evening, nothing feels more comforting than a slowly braised soup or stew with its wafting aroma wrapping around us like a cozy blanket.
When asked what I love to cook, my answer is usually anything that is created slowly to bring out all the wonderful flavor of a particular dish. Although you might think that demands a long, slow cooking time, it can also be the result of marinating, brining or even pickling. Coq au vin, a French delicacy of braised chicken, red wine, mushrooms and lardoons, actually cooks for only about an hour, but it requires marinating the chicken and vegetables in rich red wine and herbs for at least 24 hours to result in the most classic version of this dish. Most of us don’t think that far ahead, but once mastered these slowly thought-out dishes are usually well worth the effort.
When making a soup stock, for example, care must be given to allow the bones, vegetables and herbs to slowly simmer – without boiling – for 4 to 5 hours to create the perfect elixir. Once prepared, packaged and stored in the freezer, you hold the magic for your weeknight meal to taste like it took all day. Creating great meals can mean different things for all of us, ranging from head-scratching drudgery to feeling like a talented artist being handed a blank canvas. Food has a way of bringing us together, conjuring memories and creating traditions. Whether it’s a five-course feast or an impromptu pizza party, the most important value lies in coming together to share a meal. Traditions and recipes that are handed down through generations are invaluable, but adding a little creativity can result in a brand new version of a well-known favorite. I put my own spin to this traditional matzah ball soup by replacing the chicken with duck and combining the warm spices and flavorings of the Far East into the broth. Aromatic Asian ingredients including star anise, cilantro, sesame oil and soy sauce are combined to slowly braise the duck. The stock is strained and ladled over the tender shredded meat, and carrot coins are added to make it resemble the original. The matzah balls are scented with ginger and a touch of five-spice, creating this Bubbe/Asian fusion version of a comfort food classic.
Asian duck soup and ginger-scented matzah balls
FOR THE BROTH:
4 duck legs with thighs attached
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
6 slices of fresh ginger root,
about ¼-inch thick
3 cloves of garlic
½ bunch fresh cilantro
2 whole star anise
1 tablespoon garlic chile sauce
such as sriracha
½ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 bay leaf
8 cups water
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
FOR THE MATZAH BALLS:
3 tablespoons rendered duck fat
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
¾ cup matzah meal
3 tablespoons duck stock
(taken from your pot on the stove)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon five-spice powder
Heat a 4-quart Dutch oven to medium-low heat and add the duck legs. Sear duck legs on all sides to render out some of the fat. Continue to brown the legs until about 1 inch of duck fat has accumulated at the bottom of your pot; this should take 30 to 40 minutes. Remove legs and strain duck fat into a glass measuring cup. You should have over a cup of duck fat. Find a jar with a tight-sealing lid to store duck fat – you will want to use this schmaltz later.* Add onion, ginger, garlic, cilantro, anise, chile sauce, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and bay leaf to the pot. Brown ingredients until slightly softened, about 5-10 minutes. Add water and return duck legs to the pot. Bring to just a slight boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer stock uncovered for 2-3 hours, without allowing the stock to boil, until duck legs are very tender. While stock is cooking, combine all the listed ingredients for matzah balls and mix together lightly with a fork; cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before forming the balls. When ready to form the balls, heat 2 quarts of salted water to a boil and then turn heat down to medium. Shape matzah balls and drop into simmering water. Cover pot and allow matzah balls to cook for 30-40 minutes without lifting the lid. When matzah balls are cooked through, turn off heat and set balls aside until ready to serve. Remove duck legs from stock and cover with foil to keep warm. Strain stock into a bowl and allow stock to cool slightly. Skim additional fat from the top of the soup and pour into another soup pot. Add carrot coins to soup and heat to medium. Continue to cook soup until carrot coins are tender. When ready to serve, shred duck meat, discarding the skin, and place in soup bowl. Add matzah balls and ladle soup over all. Garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired, and serve immediately.
*Duck fat is delicious for sautéing everything from vegetables and potatoes to scrambled eggs. Save for when you need some schmaltz in any recipe.
Lisa Glickman is a private chef and teacher who lives in Bend. She has made TV appearances on COTV in Central Oregon and appeared on the Cooking Channel’s “The Perfect Three.” She can be reached at email@example.com.