Friday, February 6, 2009

Mandlen - Mexican Style

Background: Commonly referred to as soup nuts, mandlen is a tasty cracker bread that is often served with soups. Considered part of traditional Jewish cuisine, mandlen is also a favorite on special occasions and religious holidays. The serving of mandlen during the Passover season has earned it the nickname of Passover crackers.

Along with being an excellent cracker to serve with soups, mandlen is also considered to be an excellent addition to party trays, or even as a quick snack to tide one over until mealtime. The ingredients for mandlen are common elements found in many kitchens. A basic recipe for mandlen includes wheat flour, eggs, vegetable shortening, and potato starch. Salt and pepper to taste are added to the dough. Once the dough is thoroughly blended, it is rolled into small round balls and placed on a baking sheet. The mandlen is baked until the exterior is golden brown in color.

The basic recipe for mandlen is sometimes enhanced with various blends of herbs and spices. Persons who are attempting to limit salt intake may choose to utilize garlic powder or cayenne as a means of giving the mandlen a little extra flavor. The addition of other herbs and spices in the mandlen recipe can provide a little extra flavor, which may be especially advantageous when the crackers are consumed as a snack.

Mandlen is actually a Yiddish word that means almond. While the mandlen cracker does not actually contain almonds, the final product does bear a resemblance in both color and shape to an almond. As a popular element of a matzo meal, the mandlen is considered an ideal addition or garnish.

While many families prefer to prepare mandlen from scratch, there are currently pre-measured mixes available that can cut the preparation time significantly. In addition, packaged versions of mandlen are available in many supermarkets and boutique grocery stores that carry ethnic cuisine. As packaged brands of mandlen have become more readily available, the cracker has gained popularity with a number of soup lovers.

Variation: My grandmother used to make a kind of mandlen that was square and flat and fried and very crunchy. I don’t know if it was a very common recipe, it certainly didn’t produce the puffy round ones they sell in the supermarkets.

Mexico: Just like in the US, lots of restaurants lay a basket of tortilla chips on the table along with two or three salsas. Unlike the US, these chips are dense and hard, often fried rather than baked.

The last time I had chicken soup down here, the tortilla chips were especially crunchy. Remembering my grandmother’s mandlen, I crumbled a handful into the soup. Extremely good, added a nutlike flavor. Try it if you get a chance

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