Matzo, unleavened and quickly baked, recalls that the Jews fleeing Egypt under the Pharoahs had no time to leaven their bread. Matzo must be prepared without any yeast. Manually molded in circles and roughly hewn, the original matzo was thicker than the square crispy machine-made brands available today.
The unbleached flour is watched from the time the wheat is reaped (for shmurah or hand-made watched matzo) or from when it is brought to the mill (for regular Passover matzo). Even the water used must sit for 24 hours and no foreign elements are allowed to contaminate it.
Most of the Passover flour is ground during the July 4 weekend. Mills are reserved, carefully cleaned, and workers versed in the traditional rules, watch over the machines reciting "for the sake of the mitzvah (religious obligation) of malding matzo." The flour is then set aside until the time comes to make Passover products.
According to Jewish law the mixing of the flour and water, the kneading on one side lest rising take place, the piercing of holes and the baking must take no more than 18 minutes from start to the emergence of the finished product from the oven. Otherwise, the bread will have risen and no longer be fit for Passover.
Matzo is absolutely central to Passover. For weeks, prior to the festival, houses are thoroughly cleaned to remove any trace of leavening. The day before the Seder the family searches for crumbs. Something with flour is hidden so the search will be effective. Then, as tradition dictates, all the crumbs are searched with a candle and swept with a feather. The following morning the leavened product is burned so as to be thoroughly destroyed.
Pesach means "passing by or over" and the holiday was called Passover because God passed over the Jewish houses when he slew the firstborn of Egypt.
On the first and sometimes second nights of Passover a Seder, or organized meal, takes place with the reading of the Haggadah or narration of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.
The matzo of the Seder table consists of three sheets of matzo placed one above the other to symbolize the three classes of Jews: the Cohanim (priests), Levites and the Israelites . At the beginning of the Seder the central matzo is divided. The larger part or Afikoman (meaning dessert in Greek) is put aside and hidden. It should be the last item of food eaten at the Seder.
At the beginning of the recitation of the Haggadah the leader holds up the remaining half of the afikoman and recites a prayer. Today, many American Jews hold up a fourth matzo which they call the matzo of hope to remind them of the Jews of the Soviet Union who often cannot obtain Passover matzo and who cannot practice Judaism freely.
The first food eaten at the Seder is a piece of matzo. Later, maror or horseradish (recalling the bitterness of slavery) is eaten dipped in charosets, a sweet blend of fruit and nuts which recalls the mortar used in building the pyramids.
Then a symbolic sandwich is eaten of matzo and maror which has been dipped in the charosets and shaken off. About 2,000 years ago, Rabbi Hillel, often called the father of the sandwich, insisted that such a sandwich be eaten in order to fulfill the biblical commandment to eat bitter herbs and unleavened bread together.
The Afikoman , that hidden piece of matzo which keeps the children's attention throughout the long Seder meal, was once a good luck omen.
Even today the lucky person who finds the Afikoman wins a prize. In ancient times, a woman in childbirth would often bite into the Afikoman for good luck. By the Middle Ages Jews used it as an amulet to hang in the house throughout the year or carried it in the pouch or wallet as a sign of good luck.
Matzo is not only central to the Seder meal, it is also critical to the Passover cuisine. As a substitute for bread it is best spread with whipped butter and salt or honey. The charoset from the Seder is also an excellent topping. For breakfast matzo can be broken, soaked, mixed with eggs and fried to make matzo brei . It can also be made into a kugel or pudding a shalet or dessert mold, or as Turkish Jews do, into a meat and spinach pie. Deepfried with eggs and potatoes it becomes a burekas or turnover and with eggs and sugar a crispy crimsel . When cooking with matzo just remember first to soak well and then wring it dry. Otherwise, the result may be too soggy. Here are several favorite Passover recipes using matzo.
(6 to 8 servings) 3 matzot, soaked and squeezed very dry 2 tablespoons seeded chopped raisins 2 tablespoons chopped almonds 3 eggs separated 1 tablespoon matzo meal 3/4 cup sugar Grated rind of 1 lemon 1 tablespoon matzo meal 3/4 cup sugar Grated rind of 1 lemon 1 tablespoon lemon juice Vegetable oil for deep frying
Mix the matzo, raisins, almonds, egg yolks, matzo meal, sugar, lemon rind and lemon juice. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and fold into above mixture.
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy pot until 375 degrees. Drop the mixture by tablesppons into the deep fat and brown on both sides. Fry only 3 or 4 at once. Drain well.
Serve plain or with stewed prunes flavored with orange juice.
GERMAN APPLE MATZO SHALET
(6 to 8 servings) 4 matzot 2 large eggs, separated 3 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon Rind and juice of 1 lemon 1/2 cup raisins 3 McIntosh apples peeled, cored and diced 1/4 pound ground hazelnuts or almonds
Soak the matzot in cold water until soft. Then squeeze dry and break into small pieces.
In a large bowl mix the egg yolks, sugar cinnamon and lemon rind and juice. Then add the raisins, apples and nuts. Mix well. Combine with the matzot.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold in. Bake in a 9-inch, greased spring form in 450-degree oven for 1 hour or until golden. Cool and serve at room tempertature.
Fried Matzot and Eggs
(3 or 4 servings) 3 matzot 2 large eggs Salt Freshly ground pepper to taste 2 tablespoons chicken fat, margarine, or butter Cinnamon, cinnamon-sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc.
Break the matzot into small pieces and soak in boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain and squeeze dry. Add the eggs and salt and pepper to taste.
Taking tablespoonsfuls of batter at a time, fry in the fat, pressing down the center of each patty a bit. (You may want larger pancakes, in which case just add more batter each time.) When brown on one side, turn and fry on the other.
Serve with cinnamon, cinnamon-sugar, honey, maple syrup or even catsup!TURKISH MINA DE ESPINGA
Matzo Spinach Meat Pie
(Serves 4 to 6) 4 matzot 1 pound fresh spinach or 1 package frozen chopped spinach which has been defrosted 1 medium chopped onion 6 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 pound lean chopped beef 2 tablespoons pine nuts (optional) 1 teaspoon salt or to taste Pinch of allspice 1 cup mashed potatoes 3 eggs
Soak the matzot in water until soft, about 2 minutes. Then drain very well on a cloth or paper towel. Squeeze out the water if necessary. This step is important; otherwise, the mina will be soggy, not crunchy.
Wash the fresh spinach, drain thoroughly and dry. The chop lightly. If using frozen, make sure it is well drained of water.
Saute the onion in 2 tablespoons of the oil, then add the meat and cook until the meat is brown. Just before it is done, add the pine nuts. Season with salt and allspice.
Mix the spinach with the meat and the potatoes. Beat 2 of the eggs very well, pour over the spinach-meat mixture and combine well.
Grease a 9-inch pie plate or square baking pan with 2 tablespoons oil. Then cover the bottom of the pan with 2 of the matzot.
Spread the spinach-meat mixture on top, cover with the remaining matzot. Brush the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Then cover the bottom of the pan with 2 of the matzot.
Spread the spinach-meat mixture on top, cover with the remaining matzot. Brush the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Beat the remaining egg and spread over all.
Bake 50 minutes in a 400-degree oven or until top is lightly browned.
BOREKAS DE MATZO
(Makes 24 pieces) 4 large potatoes 4 eggs Salt to taste 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 3/4 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese 4 matzot, moistened until soft enough to roll Matzo cake flour for dipping 2 tablespoons milk Vegetable oil for deep frying
Boil the potatoes and mash them well. Add 3 of the eggs, salt, 1 tablespoon oil and grated cheese; mix well. Cut each matzo into 6 pieces. Place a spoonful of the filling on one side of each piece of matzo. Fold over and press edges together. Add milk to the remaining egg and beat lightly. Carefully dip each turnover in the matzo cake flour and then the beaten egg.
Deep fry until golden brown. CAPTION: Picture 1, Passover table settings from the B'nai B'rth Museum Shop. Photo by Harry Naitchayan-The Washington post; Pictures 2 and 3, no caption