Okay, so I’m reading the news and ynet has articles about cooking matzah brei replete with recipes and fond nostalgic memories.
That’s the best they can do?
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Ynet and read them regularly, but this is it? The height of gastronomic Jewish tradition? Matzah brei? What’s so great about some wet matza cooked with eggs? This is the Passover equivalent of Bagel Judaism.
Now folks, let’s be clear about this, god did not intend us to use stoves to cook matza brei. Since using a stove on Passover is inimical to the whole Pesach they-had-to-hurry-and-had-no-time-to-let-their-dough-leaven idea, if you’re going to use one, do it seriously.
Also, don’t futz around with matza brei. Sure, my kid loves it and I make it for him, but let’s be honest about the fact that in the mornings god intended matzah to be eaten with butter and jam. Period. It’s faster than brei, it’s easier than brei, one can eat endless quantities because it’s like ice cream in the sense that it just fills all the empty spaces, and it forces you to both bless and curse your dentist as you do the de rigeur flossing that follows.
Another thing is that if you are reading this and not planning to have 7 days of matzah, you should reconsider. Stop bitching and moaning about this particular delicacy. Every time you bite into a matzah at Passover, you are connecting to millenia of Jewish tradition. This is it, baby, as close as you can get to the past and to a custom that touched virtually every Jewish community everywhere around the world since the birth of Judaism and, in fact, since the time the Israelites and Judeans were, well, still in the Land of Judea and Israel. Eat your matzah for 7 days. Just do it.
Alright, so what are some serious alternatives to matza brei Passover cookery? I’m glad you asked.
First of all, allow me to warmly recommend Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York. This terrific cookbook is much more than that. Roden covers the history and traditions of a variety of Jewish cultures in some depth, and then provides easy to follow recipes that allow one to recreate those dishes with great success. Seriously, buy it for yourself and start giving your friends copies as gifts.
Anyway, Roden had a terrific Italian charoset recipe:
3 apples, sweet or tart
2 pears (we replaced the pears with apples)
500 ml/ 18 fl oz sweet wine
50g/ 2 oz pine nuts
50g/ 2 oz ground almonds
250g/90 oz dates, pitted and chopped
100g/ 4 oz yellow raisins
100g/4 oz prunes, pitted and chopped
100g/ 4 oz sugar or honey (do me a favor and use the honey)
Peel and core the apples, chop into small pieces.
Put all of the ingredients into a pan, and cook on low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally, until the charoset is soft. Add water if it becomes too dry. It’s also nice to add a little lemon juice.
Yeah, yeah, I know, you only have charoset during the seder and you won’t be doing it again for another year. Throw that ugly thought away and try this recipe. Your friends, lovers and family will thank you. And then you will thank me.
I made the fish. I focused on two recipes and ended up improvising on both. I used halibut but you can use any firm white fish.
Bukharan Fried Fish with Garlic & Coriander Sauce, sans chametz
Sufficient fish to feed a small army (I served this as an appetizer so 1 lb per 5 people was plenty)
5 garlic cloves
bunch of coriander
250 ml/9 fl oz water
oil for frying
The bukharans typically make this for shabbat dinner. They deep fry the fish after it is dusted with flour and then pour the sauce on top of it and grilled bread. Since this is Passover, I gently sauteed the fish without any flour, and left the bread out. Make sure the fish is cooked through but not overcooked. Flaking is a good way to check.
Take your coriander (cilantro), your garlic, your salt and throw in a blender. Chop until fine (if you were a true Bukharan, you’d be beating this with mortar and pestle). Add the water to your mixture and let it sit to absorb the flavors. Serve fish with sauce on top…notice how we mix the karpas with salt water…
2. Judeo Spanish spicy tomato fish
Take crushed tomatoes – about a can’s worth – throw them in a pan. Chop an onion fine, throw it in. Add harissa (we buy homemade kosher stuff at a nearby Israeli store) or some other form of spicy chile, crushed or whole such as cayenne or pasilla, salt and lemon juice. Bring the sauce to a simmer and place the fish steaks (similar quantity to the Bukharan fish – if you make more, just increase amount of sauce to cover the fish) into your pan so that they’re covered. Simmer for 15 minutes, check to see if the fish flakes. Et voila! This is a bastardized version of a Libyan, North African, Judeo-Spanish dish that is frequently eaten cold on shabbat.
Okay, now what is Passover without lamb? It’s a damn shame, that’s what it is. So stop serving $150 brisket to your guests and go get some lamb since this is what we’re celebrating, dammit! Here is a traditional Moroccan recipe that Roden tells us comes from Fez and Meknes.
500g (1.2 lb) small pickling onions, peeled
5 tbsp peanut or light veg oil
1 kg (2.5 lb) shoulder of lamb cubed and trimmed of excess but not all fat
salt and pepper
1/4 tspn saffron
3/4 tspn ginger (use fresh, you wuss)
250 gr/ 90 oz seedless raisins
1 tspn cinammon
1-3 tbsp honey
100g/4 oz blanched almonds
Take 3 tbsp oil, and brown meat with onions.
Add salt, pepper, saffron and ginger. Cover with water and simmer for 1.5 hours or until meat is tender.
Add raisins and cinammon and cook another 15 minutes.
Add honey (optional) and cook another 15.
Sautee almonds in remaining oil (I prefer browning them with no oil) and sprinkle atop the lamb when it is served.
And finally, allow me to recommend another book:
Cucina Ebraica by Joyce Goldstein. Another book with terrific recipes and a chance to see another Jewish culture through its cooking. Unlike Roden’s book, Cucina doesn’t have the historical and cultural information organized in the same way. Rather, the info is there but hidden within the recipe descriptions. Goldstein successfully converts traditional Italian Jewish recipes into modern ones.
One really shouldn’t go through Passover without at least trying Scacchi, also known as the Passover Meat and Matzoh Pie. Your kids will thank you, and so will your significant other. If you don’t have kids yet, this dish is like a blessing from the Baba Sali, or a drink from the Negev tap water he used to bless, and will be almost certain to introduce love, and little ones into your life.
Here it is:
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts
1.5 lbs ground beef
1/2 cup raisins plumped in hot water and drained
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1.5 tspn salt
0.5 tspn black pepper
4 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
1/5 cup beef broth
Take 3 tbsp oil and saute onions and pine nuts in saute pan until soft over med heat. Increase temp and add beef, raisins and cinammon. Saute, stirring often until meat browns. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Stir in parsley.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Brush baking pan with remaining oil. Soak matzahs in water to soften, then drain. Place 2 matzahs at bottom of baking pan, cover with meat mixture, and then cover that with other 2 matzahs.
In a bowl, whisk eggs and broth and pour evenly over matzah combo in pan. Shake pan to distribute the egg mixture evenly. Make sure the combination is covered, even if you have to add some broth. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden. Let stand a few minutes before serving.
In Sephardic cooking, a layered matzah pie is called mina or megina. Needless to say, you can add appropriate other ingredients like tomatoes or celery and carrots to the blend between the matzahs.