The Secret To Flavorful Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup

For those who grew up with bowls of comforting homemade matzo ball soup, it might be hard to imagine how the dish would taste without chicken. The soup usually gets a triple dose of it in the form of a flavorful base of chicken stock, matzo balls laced with rich schmaltz, and pieces of chicken on every spoonful. Vegetarian renditions of matzo ball soup might risk blandness, but an expert clued Mashed in on a foolproof way to capture the delicious flavor of the traditional Jewish soup using only vegetables.

Chef Mark Strausman, who owns Mark's Off Madison (aka M.O.M. and formerly Fred's at Barneys New York), is no stranger to Jewish cuisine. His restaurant blends his passion for some of his native New York City's most popular Jewish and Italian comfort foods — bakery classics included. Strausman knows his way around a bagel, and even offered us his wisdom on babka baking secrets, too.

When Strausman spoke with Mashed about some ways to create a flavorful vegetarian take on matzo ball soup, he shared that the first secret to avoiding a bland soup is (unsurprisingly) lots of salt, but it's also important to choose the right veggies. "Add plenty of salt, and use flavorful vegetables like mushrooms and onions," Strausman said. "Mushrooms can substitute chicken for flavor. Use dried mushrooms, as well as fresh, because the flavor of dried mushrooms is more intense."

An expert says a certain veggie can substitute for chicken flavor

Mushrooms might seem like an out-of-place addition to matzo ball soup, but they're actually a known substitute for complex, savory meat or fish flavors. They're used to make vegan dashi, or even sub for beef in a stew. While they probably won't appear in your run-of-the-mill vegetarian matzo ball soup recipe — which typically goes all-in on carrots and onions in the absence of chicken — using them in your broth might be one of the best ways to cook with mushrooms there is. As Chef Mark Strausman shared, dividing between fresh and dried mushrooms is the key to maximizing the flavor of the broth without compromising on the texture of fresh mushrooms. If you add the fresh mushrooms to the broth, it's better to cook them separately and add them towards the end, so they don't get too mushy. Onions are still important for adding natural sweetness to your soup — so don't skimp on them.

If you're looking for other ways to enhance your vegetarian matzo ball soup, the expert didn't stop there. Mark Strausman adds another unexpected veggie to matzo ball soup, too: artichoke, which brings a rustic Italian twist to the recipe as well as a bit of interesting texture and flavor. Thinking creatively when it comes to your ingredients could turn your vegetarian matzo ball from a bland imitation into a warm, nourishing soup that gives the original chicken version a run for its money.