Masa Ball Soup (Corn Dumplings in Chicken Soup) Recipe (2024)

Why It Works

  • Baking powder helps aerate the dumplings, while optional seltzer offers the chance to create an even lighter texture.
  • Using lard in place of schmaltz and adding jalapeño peppers, cilantro, and lime to the finished dish adds even more Mexican flavors to this soup.

Can I share the greatest pun of my life with you? It was a few years ago while I was talking with friends, and one of them asked why a male medical student would ever decide to become a gynecologist—of all things—in this day and age.

"Maybe it's medical-school pee pressure," I spat out. "Urethra urine, or you're out."

That, right there, is triple-word-play, and as you can see by my quoting myself years later, I'm fairly pleased with it. But I know there are many who would see it differently—lots of people will tell you that puns are one of the lowest forms of humor. I used to be one of them, until I spent two and a half years working at a magazine where I was forced to come up with puns for every single headline we ran. Eventually my brain became so pun-drunk, it couldn't stop. (See what I mean?)

Today I believe more than ever that puns are not only a perfectly acceptable form of humor, but also the fodder for other great ideas. This recipe is my proof. It started as a pun that my girlfriend, Kate, came up with recently while I was doingmatzo ball soup recipe tests. We were searching for something to whip up for dinner when she glanced at a bag of Mexicanmasa harina, the nixtamalized corn flour used to make tortillas and tamales. Then she looked at me with sly, bright eyes and said, "How aboutmasaball soup?"

While she was half joking, her other half was totally serious—about 30 minutes later she served me a bowl of broth with leaden little masa dumplings in it. She made them by simply mixing the masa with water, as you would for tortillas...not something I recommend. However, I was pretty sure that with a little tinkering, it might actually be a great idea.

Some days later I decided to find out. As a starting point, I thought it made sense to use mymatzo ball recipe, substituting masa harina for the matzo meal. It worked so well that I declared it a success right away.

Masa Ball Soup (Corn Dumplings in Chicken Soup) Recipe (1)

The components are incredibly simple: First, there's the masa harina itself. I used masapara tamales, which has a slightly coarser grind than the masa harina typically used for tortillas; I thought that more coarse texture might be the best choice for this application, though regular masa harina for tortillas will work, too.

Then I mix it with eggs and fat (more on that below). For leavening, I add baking powder and seltzer water. In my matzo ball recipe, I listed the baking powder as optional, since seltzer alone is able to create a pleasantly light texture. Here, I think the baking powder is more important, since masa harina makes a denser dough than matzo meal does (in fact, with the addition of baking powder, the recipe even works with plain water instead of seltzer).

Masa Ball Soup (Corn Dumplings in Chicken Soup) Recipe (2)

For the fat, you have a few choices. Just like with matzo balls, you can use oil, which will give a neutral flavor, or you can use an animal fat. For matzo balls, that fat is traditionallyschmaltz, the Yiddish word for rendered chicken fat, which is an acceptable choice according to kosher rules. For masa balls, you can also use schmaltz, but, freed from the religious prescriptions that govern kosher-for-Passover matzo balls, you can also use lard. I think lard is the best choice for adding more of a Mexican flavor to this dish.

For those of you familiar with Mexican cooking, you may notice that the mixture for these masa balls is not all too different from the dough used to maketamales(the only real difference is the addition of eggs). In fact, this soup could just as easily be called "Mexican Chicken Soup With Poached Tamales," but that doesn't sound quite as playful, does it?

Once the masa mixture is ready, it follows all the same steps as the matzo balls: refrigerate the mixture long enough for the masa to fully hydrate (about 30 minutes), then roll it into balls and boil it, covered, in a pot of broth. The masa mixture may seem a little on the soft side when rolling it, but I found that I was still able to make nicely spherical balls without too much trouble.

Masa Ball Soup (Corn Dumplings in Chicken Soup) Recipe (3)

As for the soup, it's justa good, rich chicken broththat I jazzed up with some Mexican flourishes like thinly sliced jalapeño peppers, cilantro, and lime wedges to squeeze into each bowl at the table.

Whether you like puns or not, one thing's for sure: This is a bowl of soup that lovers of both Mexican and Jewish cooking will not want topass over.

April 2015

Recipe Details

Masa Ball Soup (Corn Dumplings in Chicken Soup) Recipe

Active25 mins

Total2 hrs

Serves4 servings


  • 4 large eggs, beaten

  • 1/4 cup seltzer orwater

  • 1/4 cup lard, schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) or neutral oil like vegetable or canola oil (see note)

  • 1 cup masa harina para tamales (see note)

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 3 quartshomemadeor store-bought low-sodium chicken stock

  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice

  • 1 rib celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice

  • 3/4 cup1/4-inch diced butternut squash

  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems

  • 1 jalapeño or Serrano pepper, thinly sliced

  • 1 lime cut into wedges, for serving


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs with seltzer and schmaltz or oil. In a small bowl, stir together masa harina with baking powder, salt, and pepper. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir to combine thoroughly. Refrigerate uncovered for 30 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, divide stock evenly between two pots, season both to taste with salt, and bring to a simmer. Add diced carrots, celery, and squash to one pot and simmer until just tender. Set aside.

  3. Using wet hands, and re-wetting hands as necessary, form masa mixture into 1- to 1 1/2-inch balls, and add to simmering pot of stock that doesn't have the vegetables (the mixture may feel a little soft, but should form balls easily enough). When all masa balls are added, cover and simmer until cooked through, 30 to 45 minutes. Cooked masa balls can be kept warm in their broth until ready to serve.

  4. Reheat both the vegetable pot and the masa-ball pot. Using a slotted spoon, transfer masa balls to serving bowls (you should have at least 3 per bowl); strain masa ball cooking broth with a fine-mesh strainer into the pot with the remaining broth and vegetables. Ladle hot broth with vegetables into each bowl and garnish with cilantro and jalapeño or Serrano peppers. Serve, passing lime wedges at the table.

Special Equipment

Fine-mesh strainer


Masa harina para tamales is a corn-based flour used for making tamales that can be found in most Latin markets or well-stocked supermarkets. If you can't find it, regular masa harina can be used in its place.

Lard will deliver the most Mexican flavor, while schmaltz keeps things more in line with traditional matzo balls; canola or vegetable oil will yield the most neutral results.

Read More

  • Chicken-Stuffed Matzo Balls
  • Basic Chicken Stock
  • Soups
  • Mexican
  • Stovetop
  • Cinco de Mayo
Masa Ball Soup (Corn Dumplings in Chicken Soup) Recipe (2024)
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