Kitchen Shrink: Matzo's gone mainstream!

KITCHEN SHRINK:

On the evening of April 10, millions of Jewish families around the world will be sitting at the Seder table celebrating Passover or Pesach, an eight-day holiday that centers around the retelling — and through symbolic foods and imagination — reliving the historic Exodus of the Hebrew slaves from the fleshpots of Egypt more than 3,400 years ago.

In haste, as the Israelites fled from Pharaoh, they packed dough that didn't have time to rise and baked in the desert sun forming a flat cracker. Matzo, the special unleavened Passover "bread" (perforated and baked to a perfect crispy char, while probably the butt of as many jokes as Christmas' fruitcake), commemorates freedom and liberation.

If Moses were alive today, he would be impressed by the array of modern matzo choices to suit a range of taste buds and dietary restrictions. Perusing the many Passover supermarket displays around town, I found organic matzos in both plain and whole wheat varieties. I also found several GMO-free and gluten-free ones, along with spelt, bran and egg matzos (even yolk-free), and an "everything" version flavored with onion, garlic, poppy seeds and salt.

Further, I came across round, handmade Shmura matzos following strict Orthodox standards so that fermentation, which is part of the leavening process, does not occur at any stage of the preparation — even the harvesting of the grain. Finally, the divine selection of scrumptious chocolate-covered matzos would satisfy even the most discriminating sweet tooths.

While scoping out the offerings, I met an old acquaintance of Irish descent, who does not celebrate Passover, but nevertheless was stocking up on a variety of matzos. She told me that she uses them throughout the year as a bread substitute. She tops them with everything from chopped heirloom tomatoes, fresh garlic and a drizzle of virgin olive oil for a zesty bruschetta — to almond butter and bananas as an afterschool treat for the kids.

That made me think outside the matzo box for these concoctions to enjoy year 'round:

1. Bridging Passover with Easter, which follows six days later, construct an open-faced sandwich on whole wheat or onion matzos topped with chopped eggs (a symbol of rebirth and resurrection) or shredded spring lamb with a creamy horseradish dressing.

2. Bake a bubbly matzo pizza or lasagna with fresh mozzarella and basil leaves, and zippy marinara sauce.

3. For elegant hors d'oeuvres, top thin tea matzos with olive or eggplant tapenades, or a layer of thick sour cream, chopped red onions, and red or black caviar.

4. Concoct a vegetable, chestnut or sausage and matzo stuffing for a capon, turkey, chicken and duck.

5. For a savory breakfast, whip up a wild mushroom and red pepper matzo frittata, or slather cracker of choice with cream cheese and top with lox or smoked salmon, capers and thinly sliced red onion.

6. For a sweet breakfast, make fluffy vanilla bean pancakes called "bubaleh" with ground matzo meal.

7. Break into bite-size pieces, drizzle with olive oil, sea salt, and assorted herbs for crispy chips for hummus, guacamole or other favorite dips.

8. For a quick lunch, pan-fry a matzo grilled cheese with fresh sliced tomatoes, or quesadilla with shredded chicken and chunky salsa.

9. Sweet treats include matzo tiramisu soaked in strong coffee or espresso, matzo almond brittle, toasted hazelnut matzo biscotti, or dip strips into a fondue pot of melted bittersweet chocolate.

10. Or, simply spread a layer of organic butter and a sprinkle of sea salt, and munch straight up.

An easy, classic pancake-style recipe called "matzo brie" has been said to have more variations than Jewish grandmas. Sweet versions served with fruit preserves or maple syrup (like the recipe featured) are a traditional breakfast dish, while savory ones blended with onions, mushrooms, herbs and spices accompanied by hot sauce or ketchup make a satisfying lunch or dinner.

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•••• Recipe: Classic Matzo Brei

An easy, classic pancake-style recipe called 'matzo brie' has been said to have more variations than Jewish grandmas. Sweet versions served with fruit preserves or maple syrup (like the recipe featured) are a traditional breakfast dish, while savory ones blended with onions, mushrooms, herbs and spices accompanied by hot sauce or ketchup make a satisfying lunch or dinner.

Ingredients:

• 4 sheets of plain matzo (organic preferred)

• 4 large eggs, beaten

• 1 cup hot water

• 1/4 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract (optional)

• 2-3 tablespoons of unsalted butter or olive, grapeseed or sunflower oil

Method: In a large mixing bowl, break matzo into bite-size pieces. Cover with hot water and soak for about one minute until soft. Drain. Add eggs and seasonings, and mix well. Next: Add butter or oil to a large skillet and heat on medium. Add matzo mixture, and cook till bubbling and edges become crisp. Flip either whole or in wedges. Cook for another three minutes, and transfer to a serving platter. Serves 4.

Recipe courtesy of Kitchen Shrink's grandma.

For more matzo recipes, e-mail kitchenshrink@san.rr.com

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