Mom’s Soup: A Mother’s Day Special

hero image
08 May 2008
.Please note: fresh fruit and vegetables need to be inspected for insect infestation. Please consult our guide
From “Cooking Jewish” by Judy Bart Kancigor, courtesy Workman Publishing

My mother’s name is Lillian, but everyone calls her Honey. When I was expecting her first grandchild, Mom wanted to be called “Grandma Honey.” Mom had high hopes. My children called her “Honey” and it stuck. Even their friends think that that’s her name.

My mother is the most reliable person I know. When I was in high school, she knew the names of all my classmates, which came in handy in case of party crashers. If she didn’t recognize your name, you didn’t get in. She read every paper I ever wrote. Now she reads every column and story – she even read every word of my cookbook before any editor saw it. But her comments are hardly “critiques.” (It sure has been hard for me, hanging that moon every night.)

Like most women raising children in the fifties, Mom had a limited, albeit delicious repertoire, but presentation is where she shined. Her table was gorgeous – gleaming silver, the finest cut linen cloths, gorgeous fruit platters and accessories she made herself, such as a bridal gown for the doll that graced the buffet for every machatunim dinner. As a chubby little girl in ballet class, I could barely bring my foot to the barre, but I learned as soon as I could walk how to set a table, which way the knife faced and how to fold a napkin.

If I had to name one dish that has sealed forever her culinary reputation, it would be her chicken soup. I know. You all think your mom’s chicken soup is the best. Sorry. It’s not.

You want an unbiased testimonial? Here is an actual message on my answering machine from my friend Diane Weiss in New Jersey after she received my cookbook: “Judy? I just made your mother’s chicken soup, and my whole family is standing around the pot slurping with a straw!”

Mom’s soup is dark golden in color, intensely flavorful, and, in short, a heavenly elixir. I hoard the leftovers to use on special occasions in recipes calling for chicken stock (the real secret of my stuffing and gravy).

You see, my mother adheres to the “if some is good, more is better” school of cooking. While this theory usually spells disaster in the kitchen (notably in her meat loaf!), it is the method of choice in making chicken soup. And this is one case where the method is as important as the ingredients.

What’s the secret? When it comes to vegetables, Mom really packs it in! Oh, does she laugh when she sees recipes for chicken soup calling for three carrots and two ribs of celery. She puts the whole produce market into that soup!

While other recipes for chicken soup instruct you to add water to cover, don’t do that, says Mom. You want a heavenly elixir or weak tea? Two-thirds of the way up the pot is plenty. As the soup cooks, the vegetables will sink and will be covered soon enough. Eight to ten cups of water total is plenty for this highly flavorful brew. Use as much chicken and vegetables as you can pack into your pot, or conversely, use as little water as possible, to produce the most intense flavor. Resist the temptation, says Mom, to get a little more soup by adding a little more water.

Mom’s soup is the dillliest. She uses fresh baby dill and lots of it. And when we’re reheating the soup to serve, she sneaks in another bunch.

After cooking the soup, she reserves the carrots to be sliced into the soup later. Then she squeezes the remaining vegetables well through a strainer for extra flavor. Of course, if we are freezing the soup, we discard (who am I kidding – we eat!) the carrots and cook fresh sliced carrots later for serving.

Mom is ninety now and still making that soup. This year we really had to think ahead, because I was on a book tour right before Passover. We cooked and froze as much as we could for the Seder, but somehow we left the soup for the last day before my trip.

We had already cleaned the chickens and bought all the vegetables – we planned on making 1½ times the recipe, requiring two pots, by the way – so I brought everything to her house and told her, “I’m running to the beauty parlor. You start cleaning the carrots, and when I get back we’ll make the soup.” When I returned it was done. All of it! I don’t know how she did it. I know I couldn’t clean that mountain of produce in such a short time.

This year’s soup was the best…but then we say that every year! Thank you Mom, for your soup, for your love, and for your encouragement each and every day. Happy Mother’s Day! I love you.

Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of COOKING JEWISH: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family (Workman) and can be found on the web at

Lillian Bart’s Chicken Soup

Makes about 3 quarts

While her exact ingredients vary as the mood hits her, here is Mom’s recipe from a typical day. Serve the soup with matzah balls and lukshen (thin noodles), or on Passover with mandlen (soup nuts).



  1. Place the chicken in a 12- to 16-quart stockpot and add water to barely cover. Bring just to the boiling point. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and skim off the foam that rises to the top.
  2. Add all the remaining ingredients (except the optional chopped dill) and only enough water to come within about two thirds of the height of the vegetables in the pot.) Simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 ½ hours.
  3. Remove the chicken and about half the carrots from the pot, and set them aside.
  4. Strain the soup through a fine-mesh strainer into another pot or container, pressing on the vegetables to extract all the flavor. Scrape the underside of the strainer with a rubber spatula and add the pulp to the soup. Discard the fibrous vegetable membranes that remain in the strainer.
    If you’re fussy about clarity (and we’re not), you can strain it again through a fine tea strainer, but there goes some of the flavor. Cover the soup and refrigerate overnight.
  5. When you are ready to serve the soup, scoop the congealed fat off the surface and discard it. Reheat, adding more dill if desired (and we do). Slice the reserved carrots and add them to the soup.

Serve the soup with matzah balls and lukshen (thin noodles) or on Passover with mandlen (soup nuts).

Source: COOKING JEWISH: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family (Workman) by Judy Bart Kancigor

Shiitake Mushroom Matzah Balls

Makes 24 to 30 golf-ball-size balls

Here’s my new twist on an old tradition. You will find that after cooking these matzah balls, the cooking liquid is so flavorful, it is almost a soup in itself, particularly if you have used chicken fat. I use this broth instead of water in soups and stews and for cooking rice.



  1. Heat the chicken fat in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the scallions and mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Combine the matzah ball mix with the matzah meal in a medium-size bowl. Add the eggs and mix well. Stir in the mushroom mixture, parsley salt, white pepper, and baking powder. Add the club soda and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and lightly salt it.
  4. Form the mixture into balls that are a little larger than a marble, wetting your hands if necessary to keep them from sticking. Drop the balls into the boiling water and cook, covered, at a slow, steady boil (not a hard boil) until tender, 30 minutes (depending on the size of the balls).
  5. Carefully remove the matzah balls with a slotted spoon, and serve in soup.

Note: For Passover use kosher-for-Passover baking powder, or if unavailable, it may be omitted.

Source: COOKING JEWISH: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family (Workman) by Judy Bart Kancigor

My Mom’s Killer Brisket with Tzimmes

8 to 10 servings

The Yiddish word tzimmes means “a big fuss,” so little wonder this dish took that name. Tsimmes is my mother’s favorite childhood dish, and every time she makes it, she makes more of a tzimmes out of it. It’s never the same way twice, of course. Her latest twist is briefly broiling the sweet potatoes and carrots to crisp them up. Sometimes she adds pineapple chunks, sometimes parsnips. But always she’s real heavy on the prunes, not only because she loves them but because she claims she can still hear Aunt Estelle complaining that Mama Hinda never added enough of them. Apricots or any other dried fruit can be substituted if you feel no similar compunction to make things up to Aunt Estelle.



  1. The day before serving: heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the meat (fat side down first), and brown it well on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to a plate.
  2. Add the onions to the pot and cook, stirring often, until they are soft and brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Then stir in 3 cups water and the wine, juice, onion soup mix, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and ¼ teaspoon of the pepper.
  3. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, return the meat to the pot, cover, and simmer until a fork can pierce the meat but it is not quite done, 1¾ to 2¼ hours, depending on the thickness of the meat.
  4. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool somewhat. Then remove the meat and slice off all visible fat. Transfer the meat, with the gravy, to a large bowl or container and refrigerate it, covered, overnight.
  5. The next day: preheat the oven to 350°F, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and skim off the congealed fat. Remove the meat and cut it into ¼- to 3/8-inch-thick slices. Set it aside.
  6. Transfer the gravy to a Dutch oven or other large, heavy, ovenproof pot and bring it to a boil. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the honey, brown sugar, lemon juice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon of the salt, or more to taste, and remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper. Return the sliced meat to the pot. Add the prunes and raisins. Arrange the sweet potatoes and carrots on top. Baste the meat and vegetables with the sauce, and bring back to a boil
  7. Transfer the pot to the oven and bake, covered, for 30 minutes, basting every 15 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle the potatoes and carrots lightly with paprika, and continue baking, uncovered this time, basting every 15 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes. If you like (and if your oven has a broiling mode), turn the oven setting to broil, place the pot on the lowest rack, and broil the potatoes and carrots briefly until crisp. Serve hot.

Source: COOKING JEWISH: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family (Workman) by Judy Bart Kancigor

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.