Salted with my tears (Matzah Brie recipe)

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 πŸ™ƒ

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 brie

Ingredients

  • Matzah (2 or 3 sheets)
  • Water
  • Oil
  • Salt (all spices optional)
  • One egg

Instructions

Prep work

  • 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.

Frying

  • 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)

75 thoughts on “Salted with my tears (Matzah Brie recipe)”

  1. What a blessing you have to love your father. I miss mine, also, but time has gone by and I have become more and more in love with the memories of them (my mother remarried after the first one left this mortal life) and the hard grief slowly transforms into sweet sadness. πŸ™‚

  2. I’ve never been a fan of matzah brie. Matzah gets used up in my house with the tons of extra charoset that I make.

    Pesach is the time I feel the greatest connection to my grandparents and aunt and uncle. This is the first time I have had Passover with none of them here on this mortal planet. I understand the tears.

    1. πŸ’” Lauren πŸ’”

      Passover is also the holiday that is hardest for my mother in my father’s absence. It was really the holiday that we all associated with him…

      -David

      1. Passover was my first real connection to Judaism. When my grandparents passed away I boycotted celebrating for a year or two. Even though my aunt had taken over the holiday my grief was too strong. I realized that I needed my connection, so I continued to have Passover as the most meaningful part of my family connection.

  3. I’ve had matzah brei many times. The first time was when I took a vaca to see a Jewish friend in Boca Raton. He made it for us for breakfast. Yum!

  4. My parents have been gone for quite a few years, but I still have a hole in my world.
    I enjoyed reading about your dad, the history behind unleavened bread, and the recipe. No matter one’s religionβ€”or lack of itβ€”we humans have more similarities than differences, and basically, want the same things: peace, love, and the right to live our lives the way we see fit.

  5. This is a favorite dish in my household all year long, not just as a holiday dish. You’re right about the technique. We all use the same ingredients but it comes out in our own unique way. I keep it healthy by cutting back on the oil, and frying it lightly and quickly in a nonstick pan. I like it with apple sauce and was surprised to read about it being paired with mayonnaise – have never heard that before. We eat it for breakfast and never considered it as a side dish. Interesting to hear these variations.

    1. Well, Gail, in Eastern Europe, where both sides of my family come from, mayo is staple and a common ingredient in many dishes – and my Dad was not very health-conscious when it came to food πŸ˜€

      Sincerely,
      David

  6. That sounds REALLY yummy!!

    8pm and night here in SoCal so seders are probably… ending? I can’t recall how long passover seder lasts – only been to one.

    1. Leenda – it’s super yummy!

      As for the seders, that’s not quite right… you see, Passover is a holiday that lasts one week, but the seders are only at the beginning of that week, and since Passover began one week ago, that means that the night of the first seders was on Saturday night last week (i.e. the night of March 27th).

      ❀
      David

        1. Leenda,

          It’s true that the last two days of Passover in the diaspora (and the last one day of Passover in Israel) are considered a special holiday, but seders are only held at the beginning of the Passover… the rest of the holiday doesn’t have much special ritual attached to it, per se.

          ❀
          David

  7. Family, Food, Love, Death and the Memories.
    The longings and the yearnings
    Excavating, planting and creating
    What a wonderful way to come through the holidays.

      1. David you have an eye and ear for the forms of poetry, so you are the better judge. I summed up my feelings which go deep over Easter, so id say it is a poetic response.
        Happy Sunday
        here winter is coming.

  8. Very interesting read David, about winning liberation from the pharaoh of Egypt, and the cooking of unleavened bread on the occassion, and how the Passover originated. The concept of dough raised leavened puffiness as pride is also interesting.
    Matzah Brei sounds very appetizing, would have loved to try it, but not sure if matzah can be sourced, maybe I will find a recipe to make matzah itself to be used.

      1. Any combination of bread and eggs is irresistable to me David, I possibly would. Shall let you know on the outcome πŸ˜ƒ

  9. Hi David. My family has very strong food traditions, especially around holidays, so I understand this.πŸ’™ Passover just did not seem like Passover this year. Younger daughter made matzah brei for herself this week. We always called it fried matzah, and she said she was thinking about my mom because one year I was away over Passover, and my mom taught her how to make it.
    I’m making matzah brei for brunch today in a little bit. I use more eggs to matzah. I’ve never heard of it with mayonnaise. Now, sour cream, that’s different! πŸ˜€

      1. I wonder when that popularity developed?
        My grandparents, etc. all came from Eastern Europe too (mainly Gomel area and Kiev).
        I think I usually use 2 eggs to 1-2 sheets of matzah. Do you know the term “shitarein”? All of our family recipes are add a little bit of this and that and cook till it’s done. 🀣

        1. Merril, I didn’t know that word until you introduced me to it (I don’t know Yiddish), but it describes the way I cook perfectly!

          ❀
          David

  10. I associate potato kugel with my father. It was his favorite dish. His mother always made it for every holiday and every celebration. I learned to make it at her elbow and I would make it after she passed. My father was surprised and pleased when I served it to him. Now that he’s gone I don’t make it anymore. It makes me just too sad…

  11. Food is so evocative. I have a similarly unhealthy dish I make with cous cous–I love the crispness of it–so I am sure I would find this delicious. (K)

    1. You know, it sounds obvious, I guess, but it’s really the simple things that are often the most meaningful… Just some unleavened bread, water, eggs…

  12. It’s funny that you mention matzah brie. Whenever I would sleep over my grandparents home, my grandma (my mom’s mom) would make me matzah brie for breakfast. I would put pancake syrup on top. I was small then, maybe around 5 or 6, but I remember it so well. I don’t know how she made it, but it was always wonderful and I have fond memories of that.

  13. My dad uses matza brei for pizza crust! He puts the sauce, cheese, veggies and pizza seasonings on top of the matza brei base. I think it’s amazing, but I should note that we’re usually having matza brei pizza towards the end of Pesach so our standards are probably not that high.

      1. Pro-tip: Don’t make the matza brei pizza base too thick. Get some nice browning on the matza brei pizza base before you start putting on the sauce and toppings. If you want your toppings a bit crisped, you can actually put the pizza in the oven for a bit.

        Or you could just eat regular pizza now that Pesach is over. But keep it in mind for next year!

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