Matzah Brei by the Forward

Four Questions about matzo brei, starting with why don’t we eat it year-round

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On Sunday morning, as the eighth day of Passover dawns, I will undoubtedly make a batch of matzo brei. I will get creative with the mix-ins but also make some plain for the husband. I will insist that he and the kids be seated at the table, ready to devour the deliciousness as soon as it comes off the stove. I will season it aggressively, yet some will add a bit more salt at the table.

And I can all but guarantee that I will be asked, “Why don’t we eat this all year round?”

Why, indeed. We could — we should!

I may just make matzo brei again the very next Sunday. For there will, just as undoubtedly, be an open box or two of matzah needing to be finished up. That special chew of perfectly-timed brei will still be lingering in our mouths, or at least our minds. I might, actually, make it two or three times more this spring, maybe even have some friends in the backyard for a special brei brunch.

And then….matzo brei will inevitably recede into our collective food-memory banks until next Passover; though Jewish law only prohibits the eating of matzah for 30 days before the spring holiday, this simple, sublime dish stubbornly refuses to become a year-round staple.

In the spirit of the seder, I’m pondering four pressing questions about matzo brei.

The first, perhaps posed by the simpleton: Sweet or savory? The second, let’s call it wicked, how can something so yummy emerge from an ingredient so …not? The wise question, of course, is why do we eat certain foods only at certain times?

And the wise-ass: Why use different spellings for matzah alone vs. matzo brei?


Sweet or savory?

As with so many foods, the best is the one you grew up with. We’re a savory matzo-brei family, on both sides, going back generations. It wasn’t until sleep-away camp that I even heard of slathering maple syrup on the stuff. I’ll grudgingly acknowledge that syrup — or cinnamon sugar — can wake up a lukewarm plate of matzo brei, though the original sin is having not eaten said plate piping hot, as God intended. 

This perennial debate is really about whether one imagines matzo brei as a Passover version of French toast (bread/matzah soaked in egg) or strata (egg casserole with bread/matzah bits). Same ingredients, completely different concepts.

It’s only in the last decade or so that I understood  matzo brei as a canvas, not unlike an omelet, ready to embrace all manner of veggies, herbs and other ingredients. Lox, scallion and cream cheese is a favorite. Yesterday, I tried caramelized onions, spinach and roasted cherry tomatoes, topped with a sprinkling of feta. (Yum!)

It also occurred to me this week that matzo brei is a cousin of chilaquiles, the classic Mexican scrambled eggs with tortilla strips — and then I found out that the imitable Joan Nathan had, of course, already thought of that.


Why so yummy?

So you take something that tastes like cardboard, combine it with eggs, and a little heat, and suddenly you deserve a Michelin star? I cannot actually explain this phenomenon, it may well be a Passover miracle, but I will share my foolproof method (for plain):

  • Use equal ratio of eggs and matzah.

  • Break matzah into large pieces in a colander, and run piping hot water over it, ideally with a spray nozzle — do not soak.

  • Plunge wet (but not soggy!) matzah into pre-scrambled eggs. Season aggressively.

  • Dump into hot pan prepped with butter or cooking spray.

  • Use a wooden spoon to break it up a bit more as it cooks but don’t move it around too much — you want some crust to contrast with the chew.

  • Serve in heaping, steaming mounds to people with forks a-ready.


Why not all year?
This is the unanswerable question, and it seems especially pertinent after this pandemic year.

We are in our 13th month of Groundhog Days, routines verging into ruts. A few weeks ago, when we had a burst of warm weather after the heavy late-winter snows, I found myself genuinely surprised at the sunshine — it was as though my insides had forgotten spring would come.

I spent this week in Washington, and felt truly energized by the cherry blossoms as I went on morning walks. I keep thinking about Ecclesiastes — “for everything there is a season.” Maybe we just need to eat certain foods at certain times to mark our own progress through time.


Does spelling count?

In journalism, absolutely. But there is no “correct” English spelling for the transliteration of Hebrew or Yiddish words. We try to at least be consistent, and a few weeks ago declared that m-a-t-z-a-h would be the Forward’s preferred spelling henceforth. Then I sat down to write this newsletter, and “matzah brei” felt as wrong as adding maple syrup.

In other words, in transliteration as in cooking, make it your own. 

If you’ve got a special matzo brei story or recipe, please share: rudoren@forward.com.


Your Weekend Reads

(You can download and print a PDF of these stories by clicking here.)

Four Questions about matzo brei, starting with why we don’t eat it year-round

Four Questions about matzo brei, starting with why we don’t eat it year-round

Four Questions about matzo brei, starting with why we don’t eat it year-round

Four Questions about matzo brei, starting with why we don’t eat it year-round

Four Questions about matzo brei, starting with why we don’t eat it year-round

Four Questions about matzo brei, starting with why we don’t eat it year-round

Four Questions about matzo brei, starting with why we don’t eat it year-round

Author

Jodi Rudoren

Jodi Rudoren

Jodi Rudoren became Editor-in-Chief of The Forward, the nation’s oldest independent Jewish news organization, in September 2019 after more than two decades as a reporter and editor at The New York Times. She is helping lead a transformation of the storied 123-year-old institution, a nonprofit that went digital-only in early 2019.

Four Questions about matzo brei, starting with why don’t we eat it year-round

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