I miss Papa. Pesach is the holiday that most reminds me of him. Beyond images of my father at our family seders, I most vividly recall the taste and texture his matzah brei, which I continue to prepare myself and enjoy annually at home (salted this year with my tears).– Me, ‘The Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #41, Apr. 22, 2019
In Israel, Passover has ended this year, although one more day of the holiday remains for diaspora Jewry. Now that it is over, I no longer have to abstain from leavened products. If I wanted to, I could now make toast for myself tomorrow morning, as I often do for breakfast. However, I will not be doing that.
Tomorrow morning, I plan to make matzah brei for breakfast, just as I have done every morning since the beginning of Passover this year; and I will continue preparing matzah brei for myself for breakfast until we have no more matzah remaining.
Not a food blog
The Skeptic’s Kaddish is not a food blog.
That is not something that has ever interested me; but I have, nevertheless, been inspired to write this particular post by Dolly Aizenman, whose acquaintance I am honored to have made through our respective blogs. Her warm, fascinating, and deeply personal blog, ‘Kool Kosher Kitchen’, has led me to reevaluate my preconceptions about cooking blogs. I never imagined that I would so enjoy reading a food blog!
I’m sure this blog post of mine will not do justice to the ‘food blog’ genre, but, still, making matzah brie has become a very powerful experience for me because it reminds me of Papa, and I’d like to share that with you.
What is matzah?
Matzah is an unleavened flatbread that is part of Jewish cuisine and is the primary symbol of the Passover festival, during which leavened products are forbidden.
In the story of Passover, the Egyptian Pharaoh refused to let the Israelite slaves go when Moses and his brother Aaron demanded on God’s behalf that he do so. Pharaoh refused them ten times, and Egypt was struck by ten plagues (one plague following every refusal). Finally, after the 10th plague, Pharaoh relented.
Since the Israelites knew Pharaoh to be reluctant to release them, they left Egypt in such haste that they could not wait for their bread dough to rise. Thus, their bread, when baked hurriedly atop rocks in the desert sun, became matzah.
Matzah symbolizes redemption and freedom, but it also serves as a reminder of humility, for us to not forget what life was like in bondage. Leavened products symbolize pride, for leaven is “puffed up”.
Papa in the kitchen
My father did not cook much at all, nor did he eat healthy food unless it was served to him. Everything that he ever prepared in the kitchen was of the utmost simplicity, but I loved all of it.
In truth, I have no idea whether or not my father ate matzah in soviet Moscow, but he learned to make matzah brie from my mother who first learned to fry matzah when she moved to Israel from the USSR in the mid-70’s. Mama generally prepared matzah brie as a side dish for dinner with vegetables; Papa kept his simple – a touch of salt, perhaps, and that was it. And he always ate it with mayonnaise.
Mama says that the strong impression I retain of my father making matzah brie for me was due to the fact that Papa loved this dish, and he would usually wake up earlier in the morning than she did. As they say, the early Jew gets the matzah 🙃
Before getting into the instructions below, I’d like to note that this is a very simple dish to make; the quality of the matzah brie has much more to do with technique and timing than with the ingredients.
- Matzah (2 or 3 sheets)
- Salt (all spices optional)
- One egg
- Break your sheets of matzah into small pieces and put them in a bowl;
- Pour boiling water over the broken matzah;
- You would be surprised at how much water matzah (which is very dry) can absorb. You don’t want to make a matzah soup, but don’t be afraid to pour a lot of water over the matzah either;
- Let the matzah soak for several minutes; you’ll see that it absorbs the water fairly quickly;
- When the matzah is soft, you’re ready for:
- Mix the egg and spices into the matzah.
- Cover the bottom of your frying pan with oil;
- Matzah brie is not a healthy dish – be liberal with the quantity of oil;
- Heat up the oil at the maximum temperature possible on your stove;
- When the oil is hot, reduce the temperature to medium heat;
- Pour the matzah and egg into the frying pan;
- Mix the oil into the matzah;
- The matzah should absorb the oil, just as it did the water;
- Pat the matzah down flat onto the bottom of the frying pan and let it sit for several minutes on the medium heat;
- The matzah brie will not burn right away because of the high water content, so don’t worry;
- When the bottom of the matzah brie is brown and crispy, break it up with your spatula and stir it in the frying pan;
- Give the matzah brie some more time on medium heat;
- Ideally, there will be some parts of the matzah brie that are still soft, and others that are crispy; the real skill in making matzah brie is getting the right level of crispiness without burning it.
Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.– Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)