Make something off limits, and that’ll be exactly what you crave, right? We only started Passover on Friday evening, and I can’t stop thinking about wanting a big, fat sandwich. To be clear, my husband does not expect me to adhere strictly to this Jewish custom of his—heck, he’s the first to admit that he is not religious himself about this requirement when he is out and about—but he does not eat bread at home during the Passover week. His choice is not about strict religious mandates, but tradition that helps him feel connection with his ancestors, and especially his late father. I am not Jewish myself, but I respect the tradition and so I am making an effort to accommodate this food called matzo.
If you have never had the anti-joy of eating matzo, allow me to describe it for you— try to remember the driest, most bland, and perhaps even stalest, saltine cracker you’ve ever eaten. It may have been a cellophane-wrapped packet that a diner waitress fished out of her apron pocket for your bowl of chili in 1974. Maybe you got stuck in traffic on the interstate during a blizzard and had to resort to eating whatever random things you found in the glove compartment. Or perhaps you found some old takeout crackers in the back of your desk drawer when you finally made it back to the office after two years of COVID shutdown. Whatever memory you conjured, hang onto that for a moment and try to remember the taste. Yep, matzo is like that. But not as good. And without salt.
You could search the entire world and not find a less interesting cracker. Or is it considered bread? The Jewish people developed matzo as a reference to the unleavened bread their ancestors were forced to eat when they fled Egypt in a hurry. There was no time for the bread to rise, so they baked the dough as it was and took it on the run. Whatever category you put matzo in (bread or crackers), this stuff is undeniably boring, but a common sight in my home now—at least during Passover. My goal, as the primary meal maker, is to find ways to make matzo more palatable because eating it from the box can only be described as “choking it down.” And I won’t even mention what it does to the digestive system (it ain’t pretty).
Thank goodness for the New York Times Cooking e-letter, which is always brimming with menu ideas, including a classic, basic version of this dish, called matzo brei. According to Melissa Clark, the author of the recipe, brei rhymes with “fry,” which is exactly what you do with the matzo before scrambling it into eggs. As written, the recipe sounded dull, but as I started working at the stove, I asked Les if there was any reason that I couldn’t jazz up this humble dish just a bit—maybe with addition of onions and some spinach? Sure, was his response, and this was the result.
I liked this dish! Spinach is nothing new with eggs at our house, as I incorporate it often into omelets. Onions were a no-brainer, and some matzo is even onion-flavored, though that variety is not usually considered kosher for Passover. And the matzo pieces, fried in butter and mingled throughout the scrambled egg mixture, reminded me a little bit of a baked pasta, especially for the crispy, buttered edges. I don’t know what prompted me to top the dish with sour cream, but it was a good call, and the fresh dill I had picked up at the market was a perfect finish for this savory, ready-in-15-minutes breakfast. As Les and I scarfed down our matzo brei with spinach (Florentine, if you will), we began brainstorming other flavor combinations— maybe peppers and mushrooms, or feta and asparagus. Wait, how many days of Passover do we have left?
The recipe was not without challenges, despite its simplicity. I messed up the beginning of the recipe by commencing to fry the matzo in butter straight from the box, and it wasn’t until my common sense began to question the technique that I noticed in the recipe’s steps that I was supposed to rinse and soak the matzo first. Why it was not listed as such in the ingredients, I’ll never know, but I’ll add the oversight to my list of what I call the problem with recipes. The ingredients of the NYT Cooking recipe did not include water, so it didn’t occur to me until it was (almost) too late.
All’s well that ends well, and I’ll describe in my recipe notes how I recovered from my mistake (it was easy). Regardless of whether I ever make matzo brei again, I discovered for sure that I always want to have sour cream and fresh dill on my scrambled eggs now. And with five days of Passover left to go, we are least down two more sheets of matzo.
Ingredients (serves 2)
2 sheets plain matzo, rinsed under warm water and set aside to soften* (see notes)
3 Tbsp. salted butter
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
Good handful fresh baby spinach, rough-chopped
Kosher salt and ground black pepper (to taste)
3 eggs*, room temperature, beaten with a splash of water or milk
A hefty dollop of sour cream (for serving)
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill (for garnish)
My mistake led me to an alternate method of softening the matzo. Since I had missed the step of rinsing and resting the matzo ahead of time, I simply poured about 1/4 cup warm water from my tea kettle right into the skillet with the butter and matzo pieces. The dry matzo soaked up the water and fried in the butter with no issues. This may truly be a better method than the original because I didn’t have to wash an extra “soaking” dish or clean up a soggy matzo mess from the counter. Do what works for you!
The original recipe that inspired me suggested using four eggs, but I followed my instinct and used three, as I always do for an omelet-for-two. If you have an extra hearty appetite, go with four eggs.
I’ll walk you through it in pictures, and keep scrolling to find it ready to print or save for your recipe files!