More Shabbat Mainstays – Chicken Soup, Kugel, Tzimmes

One of the foods that usually grace the Friday night Shabbat table is chicken soup, in one form or another. In the Eastern European Jewish world, this mainstay is made with a fat boiling chicken, so fat that globules of fat float on top. It is known as goldene yoich (golden broth) for the lovely hue given off by that rich fat. It is often served with matzah balls or with noodles, lokshen. A proverb states: “Love is grand, but love with lokshen is even better.” In the Sephardic world, chicken soup for Shabbat and other times if usually made with a tasty egg-lemon mixture. I have never mastered my mother’s egg-lemon sauce; you have to temper it with some hot broth before introducing it to the pot to prevent the egg from cooking. I have always failed with this step.

And don’t forget, every Jewish mother considers chicken soup to be Jewish penicillin. Joan Nathan has written that Moses Maimonides wrote that “chicken soup [can] be used as a cure for whatever might ail you,” especially the common cold.

I love making a pot of chicken soup anytime, not just for Shabbat. These days, I only use 8 cups of water – we are only 2 in the house. What are my normal ingredients – chicken, of course, onions, celery, carrots, and parsnips. Parsnip is a cream-colored root vegetable related to parsley and carrot. It gives a nice tangy flavor to the soup.

Parsnip, peeled and sliced

I add parsley and basil to my cooking soup (yes, dried if I don’t have fresh), some cooks swear by dill.

I start my soup by boiling the chicken alone. As the water reaches the boiling point, a scum rises to the top of the pot. To reach the desired clear “golden” hue, this scum must be removed (simply use a tablespoon). Once that’s done (it’s a multi-step process), I then add the vegetables and herbs, and salt and pepper to taste, of course. It simmers for at least an hour, when I remove the chicken (and bones). This chicken, if not returned to the soup, traditionally would be served as the main course of the Shabbat dinner with a variety of side dishes to make a festive meal. Sometimes, I add noodles, sometimes orzo or bigoules as the Jews of Ioannina, Greece, call this now popular rice-shaped pasta.

Bubbly, scum before removal

The base of my chicken soup from time to time is the now frequent carcass of the supermarket rotisserie chicken. Sometimes I carve the store-bought chicken and freeze the bones anticipating a nice chicken soup. This time, I had 3 sets of bones and soup it was for this evening’s dinner! I only used 2 from the pound package of parsnips I bought. What to do with the remaining parsnips? You can find a number of recipes for kugel (baked casseroles, see below, too) using parsnip and carrot or sweet potato or other vegetable, all delicious.

And that takes me to kugel, another Shabbat mainstay for many families. In Eastern European homes, the traditional noodle kugel or noodle pudding is served, called pudding because early kugels were steamed not baked. Henriech Heine, the German Jewish poet called kugel “this holy natural dish.” In Sephardic homes, rice pilaf is the carb on the table.

Noodles were probably introduced to German kitchens during the 14th century by Italian Jews. They appeared first in Jewish German kitchens, long before non-Jewish German kitchens. It’s thought that noodles came to Poland from Central Asia. “Lokshen” in Yiddish came from the Polish “lokszyn.”

A few years ago I was watching Ree Drummond, “The Pioneer Woman” of PBS TV network. I met and married my husband in Oklahoma. My work took me up to her part of the state a number of times. The open tall grass prairie is really beautiful in a peaceful way. Although her style of cooking is not mine, I watch the show to remind me of part of my history (14 years in Oklahoma). I was surprised one day to watch her make Peach Noodle Kugel – Wow! I remembered Nancy Sherman, wife of Charles Sherman, the rabbi who married us and named our daughter in Tulsa’s Temple Israel. One of her signature dishes was peach noodle kugel. Had she crossed paths with Ree?

Pioneer Woman’s Peach Noodle Kugel

One more side dish on the Ashkenazi Shabbat table is tzimmes a mixture of carrot, sweet potato, dried fruits, sometimes with meat, cooked over a slow, low heat. This naturally sweet dish is often sweetened even more with golden honey. It also lives in popular culture as one of the Yiddish words that entered American vocabulary. Tzimmes used to frequently refer to a prolonged procedure, an involved and troubling business, as in the phrase, “don’t make a tzimmes out of it.” I rarely cook tzimmes, following my mother’s preference for Greek and Mediterranean flavors.

Sweet and yummy tzimmes, not cooked by me.

I know today’s contribution is long, but, here’s a joke for your pleasure –

For several years, a man was having an affair with a Jewish woman. One night, she confided in him that she was pregnant. Not wanting to ruin his reputation or his marriage, he said he would pay her a large sum of money if she would go to Israel to secretly have the child. If she stayed in Israel to raise the child, he would also provide child support until the child turned 18. She agreed, but asked how he would know when the baby was born.. To keep it discreet, he told her to simply mail him a post card, and write ‘Lokshen‘ on the back. He would then arrange for the child support to begin. One day, about 9 months later, he came home to his confused wife. ‘Honey, she said, ‘you received a very strange post card today.’ ‘Oh, just give it to me and I’ll explain it later,’ he said. The wife obeyed and watched as her husband read the card, turned white, and fainted. On the card was written: Lokshen, Lokshen, Lokshen One with kneidlach, two without. Send extra soup.

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