Ever since I was little, Passover has always been my favorite Jewish holiday.
I loved the opportunity to visit my family, sing and discuss my traditions. The only thing about Passover that I ever dreaded was the food. The holiday, which lasts eight days, has a very stringent set of dietary restrictions derived from the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt: Supposedly, when the Hebrews were leaving Egypt after the Pharaoh freed them from slavery, their dough didn’t have enough time to rise, so the result was a flat cracker-like substance called matzah. For this reason, during Passover, the consumption of any “leavened” bread is not allowed. These restrictions extend to bagels, pasta, waffles, etc.
I’ll be blunt: I hate matzah. It tastes a bit like cardboard, and it’s extremely dry. I always dread having to eat it for the eight days of Passover. But there are things you can do to improve (or disguise) the flavor, so for my fellow Jews who are stuck eating it till Saturday, and for the non-Jews out there who would like a taste of Passover, here are some ways to palatably cook with matzah.
For breakfast, a good option is matzah brie, which I often cook with my family. Matzah is broken up into pieces and soaked in water, mixed with egg and then pan-fried with butter or oil at high heat for three minutes. It can be topped with applesauce, salsa or other savory toppings, but I always love to eat matzah brie with syrup and jam – the combination of the savory egg and matzah with the sweetness of the jam is a nice contrast. A quicker option for breakfast is to quickly spread some butter and jam on, or make an apple and peanut butter matzah sandwich.
A perennial favorite among Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews, even outside of Passover, is matzah balls. A good recipe for these is to combine one cup of matzah meal, four eggs, four tablespoons of oil, two teaspoons of baking powder and a teaspoon of salt. The dry ingredients are mixed first and then the wet ingredients are added slowly. It’s important to not over-mix. The mixture is placed in the fridge for an hour, and then comes the fun part: rolling them into balls, making sure your hands are wet the mixture will not stick to your hands. The matzah balls are then dropped into simmering water for 40 minutes and then transferred into a chicken broth with carrots. Alternatively, for vegetarians, veggie broth with carrots, peppers and celery is also great.
A simple, fast matzah recipe is “matzah pizza,” which simply involves throwing some tomato sauce, cheese and whatever other pizza toppings you prefer onto a piece of matzah and then putting it into the toaster for a few minutes. You could also try making matzah flatbread: Spread some olive oil or butter on the matzah, and sprinkle on some rosemary, sundried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and minced garlic, along with salt and pepper to taste.
The pièce de résistance of my family’s Passover seder is my Aunt Laura’s chocolate caramel matzah crunch – a kind of matzah that is not only something I like to eat but also one of my favorite desserts. Each year when she brings it out, it disappears in a matter of minutes. This year, I decided to help her make it. It’s an involved recipe, but it’s worth it.
We first preheated the oven to 375 degrees. Then we lined a cookie sheet with foil, put parchment paper on top of the foil and then placed the matzah evenly over the surface of the cookie sheet. We then combined three sticks of butter (margarine is also okay) with one-and-a-half cups of brown sugar. Over medium heat, we stirred the sweet mixture until it came to a boil and then for another three minutes after that. We then poured the mixture over the matzah, making sure to cover it all. (A side note: Watch out for stray spillage – it’s hot!)
We put the sheet in the oven and reduced the heat to 350 degrees, leaving it in there for 15 minutes. The smell was unearthly. While it sits in the oven, check every few minutes to make sure it’s not burning – we had one batch that didn’t come out very well. We then took the pan out and sprinkled it with a cup of chocolate chips, let it stand for five minutes and spread the melted chocolate around. Then we broke it into pieces while it was still warm (obviously stealing bites the whole time) and stuck it in the freezer.
In terms of food, Passover isn’t the best – but it doesn’t have to be terrible, either. Matzah can never satisfy your bread craving, but hopefully getting a little creative with this plain, unassuming cracker can help you make it through to the end.