Passover. It's all about the Seder, right? Complete with a plate of matzoh, a Seder plate holding traditional symbolic foods, and a Haggadah at every plate to read the account of the Jews’ experience in Egypt and their liberation from the bonds of slavery.
Well, yes, Passover is focused on the Seder. But what happens after that when there’s an entire week in which we’re expected to refrain from eating leavened breads along with a variety of grains? Fortunately, Passover coincides with the beginning of spring and with spring comes spring produce—asparagus, strawberries, artichokes, fava beans, and the like. So, why not create a Passover brunch that celebrates a new season?
Growing up, my parents would treat us kids—and themselves, of course—to matzoh brei, or fried matzoh. My orientation is toward the savory so I have always loved the plump, crispy pieces of matzoh that emerge from the pan sprinkled with salt. To be honest, it doesn't look like much and there's just no dressing it up, but it's delicious. And this is what I've long liked to serve for my Passover brunches with cold poached asparagus and horseradish dressing.
Now I’ve seen a lot of versions of matzoh brei that tend to be more of a matzoh omelet than what I make and it’s simply a matter of changing the ratio of eggs to matzoh. I like the matzoh pieces simply coated with egg so the ratio I use is one egg to two pieces of matzoh. All you do is break up the matzoh into bite-sized pieces, put them in a large bowl and cover with hot water. Let the matzoh pieces soak in the water for a few minutes to soften and before they get too soggy, drain the water. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add them to the matzoh, then gently stir the mixture together so each piece of matzo is coated with egg. Heat a large skillet (cast iron skillets are great for this), add vegetable oil to about ¼ of an inch and when a little piece of the mixture sizzles when it’s added to the oil, pour the rest of the mixture in. Stir and break up the pieces as they cook. The matzoh brei is ready when the pieces of matzoh puff up and are golden and crispy.
Then comes some decision making. Do you serve the matzoh brei with sugar and/or applesauce or salt and pepper and/or sour cream? It’s the classic Jewish conundrum (think potato pancakes at Chanukah). Resolve it according to taste or be a mensch and put it all out for your guests.
Now, this year, I’m expanding my repertoire. I asked two chefs in town, Matt Gordon of Urban Solace and Jeff Rossman of Terra, what they’d suggest for a Passover brunch and they gave me recipes that really elevate the occasion. Matt's cured arctic char or salmon is gives us bagels, lox, and cream cheese sans the bagels--and is really easy to make. And Jeff takes matzoh brei to a new dimension with sweet matzoh fritters. Serve with a little whipped cream to complement the sweetness or creme fraiche to offset it, depending on what else you're serving.
These fritters were a fun surprise. I hadn't used matzoh like this before. Let it soak and soak and the matzoh collapses into a dough-like substance. I didn't have a bag of raisins but I had a Trader Joe's medley of raisins, dried cranberries, and blueberries, and they worked just as well. Once I made them and had made up some whipped cream for strawberries, I tried them together and oh my...
Sweet Matzo Fritters
Jeff Rossman, Terra
Yield 30, ½-inch fritters.
4 ½ standard sized matzot, plain or whole wheat
3 large eggs separated
¾ cup finely chopped almonds or your favorite nut
1 cup raisins or currants
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons matzo cake meal
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Vegetable oil for frying
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Mix sugar and cinnamon together for topping.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, break up the matzot into small pieces and cover with water. Let them soak until soft, about 15 minutes. Use your hands to squeeze the matzot dry of all excess water. Press the matzot with your fingers or with a fork and completely crush them. With a fork, mix in the egg yolks, almonds, raisins, oil, cinnamon, lemon juice, zest and cake meal.
In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating the whites until they form stiff white peaks. Fold the whites in the matzo mixture.
In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat enough frying oil so it comes up about ¼ to ½ inch up the sides. Drop generous spoonfuls of the batter into the oil. Fry the fritters until they are lightly browned on all sides, turning them once. Drain them on paper towels. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and serve.
I made Matt's cured salmon in about 10 minutes (good luck finding arctic char in San Diego right now; I tried.) Of course, then you have to wait--about 24 hours--for the salmon to soak in the flavors and "cook." But, it's worth the wait. Matt recommends adding Absolut Ruby Red to the curing mixture. I can't take in grapefruit so I used Absolut Citrus and it worked very well.
Cure for Arctic Char or Wild Salmon
Matt Gordon, Urban Solace
1 salmon fillet, about 2 pounds (remove bones, not skin)
2 cups kosher salt
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 ounce grapefruit-flavored vodka (like Absolut ruby red) **optional
Mix together all of these ingredients except the fish. In a container just big enough to hold the fish fillet, sprinkle a layer of the mixture about ¼ inch thick. Place the fillet in, skin side down. Cover with the remaining mixture.
For a small fish like arctic char, let sit for about 24 hours in refrigerator. For a larger fillet (salmon), two days may be required. To check, remove from salt and press gently on the thickest part of the fish, it should feel quite firm with just a bit of give under it. Rinse salt mixture off the fish and pat dry. Slice very thinly to serve with capers, slices of lemon, finely chopped onion, minced chives, grated hard-boiled egg, or crème fraiche.
All this goes well with a beautiful green salad or look for thick stalks of asparagus to make a shredded asparagus salad. Just use a vegetable peeler to create long strands of asparagus. It’s even prettier with a combination of green, white, and purple asparagus. Add shaved fennel if you like. I enjoy toasting pine nuts and adding them to the asparagus and then I toss it with my favorite homemade vinaigrette and top with shaved Parmesan cheese.
Dessert is simple. It's strawberry time and I like to take advantage of this and just serve them whole. My favorite accompaniment is a bowl of whipped cream spiked with cointreau. Keep the stems on the berries to serve as a handle for extreme dunking.
P.S. If you're looking for an fun celebration of Passover, check out Matt's second annual Urban Seder. This year, restaurant critic Steve Silverman and Sam "the Cooking Guy" Zien are leading the Seder, which will raise money for Jewish Family Services' "Project SARAH." Project SARAH offers a safe, confidential setting for adults and children who have survived domestic abuse.
Matt will be putting a contemporary spin on traditional Passover Seder dishes. For all the details go to the Urban Solace website.