If you’ve ever eaten matzo, you probably don’t think there’s much to love about it, but I hope to change your mind about it. If you haven’t eaten it, keep reading, because it’s actually more interesting than it is tasty.
One of my favorite things about matzo is that to me it looks like a piece of ancient parchment. It feels like I’m eating a piece of history and heritage with each bite. It’s a symbol of a long history that Jews around the world share, even if they celebrate in different ways.
Tuesday is the last night of Passover, one of the most important holidays for Jews around the world. This year, Passover coincides with Easter. If you remember your Old Testament or Sunday school, you’ll recall that the Jews fled Egypt in a big hurry and that Moses looked like Charlton Heston.
Matzo became a symbol of that hasty trip, since there wasn’t time for the bread to rise before they had to bake it and run. Now, matzo isn’t just for Passover anymore, but it is a large part of the celebration.
Do you have a favorite religious food tradition? Some foods become part of a holiday, while others, like mazto are an integral part of celebrating the holiday.
Fun matzo facts:
- Matzo has to be mixed and baked within 18 minutes for it to be considered kosher for Passover. Any longer and fermentation might occur.
- Matzo is made from special wheat which has been observed continuously from harvest to packaging to make sure it never comes into contact with heat or water, also to prevent any fermentation. (This probably explains why flat flour and water is so expensive!)
- In the old days, matzo was round, but once they started baking it commercially, they started making it square: easier to cut and box up. You can still buy round matzo in Israel, but I don’t think any US companies make round ones.
- Sephardic Jews make a different type of matzo: round and soft, like a tortilla.
- In the Soviet Union, it was forbidden to openly practice Judaism. Jews would smuggle matzo from the rabbi’s house so they could celebrate Passover in their own homes. I heard a wonderful story on NPR about this. Give it a listen. Even if you hate matzo and Passover, the stories will bring tears to your eyes.
- During the seder, the traditional Passover meal, we talk a lot about matzo, but we also eat it. A favorite is called the “Hillel sandwich” after Rabbi Hillel who spread a layer of charoset (dried fruits) between pieces of matzo, to symbolize the mortar that binds the bricks ancient Jews made during their time in Egypt.
Matzo ball soup is probably the most famous use of these square crackers, but my favorite way to eat matzo is matzo brei (rhymes with “fry”), which is kind of a matzo omelet. Here’s my favorite recipe, which is 3 sheets of square matzo to 2 eggs. Families argue about the best ratio of egg to matzo. It’s a Passover tradition! Arguing is just a Jewish tradition.
Shira Anthony and I shared this recipe in our book Lighting the Way Home. It’s actually a Chanukah story, but the recipe works all year long.
- 3 sheets of matzo (available year-round at most grocery stores)
- 2 eggs
- Vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Note: The correct ratio of egg to matzo is a time-honored topic of argument among every family. One egg per sheet of matzo is fairly standard, with some recipes calling for two eggs per sheet, or two sheets of matzo per egg (in communities where eggs were scarce). We like it somewhere in between, so two eggs for three sheets. Not too eggy or too dry.
1. Heat oil in a nonstick pan on medium-high heat.
2. Break matzo in 1-2 inch pieces and place in a medium bowl. Cover with water while beating eggs in a separate bowl. You just want to moisten the matzo in the water for a minute or two.
3. Drain matzo. Add the beaten eggs into the bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Stir carefully to coat matzo with egg.
4. Pour matzo mixture into hot pan and spread out evenly. Lower the heat to medium and let it cook until the egg firms up.
5. Break into several pieces so you can easily turn the matzo brei. Flip and continue to cook until the edges brown. The more pieces you break it into, the crispier it will be. Turn a few times until the egg is cooked to your liking and serve.