Matzoh brei enthusiasts tend to fall into two camps: Those who insist that the golden scramble be topped with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt, and those who feel equally passionate about a dusting of cinnamon sugar. Despite the sweet vs. savory divide, both groups agree that a no-frills approach to matzoh brei is key — even compulsory. But those of us who view culinary traditions as a starting point rather than a mandate see nothing but possibility in matzoh brei’s simplicity.
As early as the mid 19th-century, Ashkenazi Jewish cooks who had tired of eating plain matzoh day after day, began to fry it — first without eggs, and later with them. To make it today, a jumble of shattered matzoh sheets get softened in water, mixed with beaten egg, and fried in butter or oil (or occasionally chicken schmaltz), until plush in the center with crispy edges. Why not expand upon this culinary ingenuity and reimagine matzoh brei as the jumping off point for creativity?
Start by spooning raspberry jam or blueberry compote over your matzoh brei, or top it with pan-sauteed apples or caramelized bananas and pecans. Or stir a little grated orange zest and vanilla extract into the eggs, and dollop on honey-sweetened ricotta after the brei comes out of the frying pan. Try giving the dish the latke treatment with dabs of sour cream and applesauce, or mimic the decadence of crepes with sliced fresh strawberries and a drizzle of melted chocolate. Just about anything that works on pancakes or French toast is fair game.
Similarly, savory matzoh brei fans could channel their favorite omelet mix-ins — bell pepper, spinach, scallions and the like — to achieve a next-level brei. For a delicatessen vibe, fold caramelized onions and briny lox into the mix, and top it with snipped chives. Or shower the matzoh brei with your favorite cheese — grated pecorino romano is good, and even better with several generous turns of the pepper grinder. Think cacio e pepe with a Yiddish accent.
Since Passover arrives in the early spring, I especially like to accentuate matzoh brei’s verdant potential. I lean on sauteed onions and cremini mushrooms (though any fresh mushroom will work) to flavor my matzoh brei, and fry in butter for the added richness, though a neutral, Passover-friendly oil such as safflower or grapeseed works well, too.
Next, I blitz up a quick, herbaceous sauce made from fresh parsley, chives, garlic and lots of lemon zest for drizzling at the table. The resulting dish serves up all of the comfort of traditional matzoh brei but with an added burst of sunny flavor, reminding me that Passover cooking can be joyful.
Can you continue to serve your matzoh brei with nothing more than a little salt or sugar? Yes, of course. But when you begin to think about it as a blank canvas for flavor, truly spectacular Passover (or anytime) meals await.
Serve the matzoh brei by itself or add lox, a popular side, to your plate.
Storage: The lemon-herb sauce can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
Mushroom Matzoh Brei With Lemon-Herb Sauce
Total time: 25 minutes
Servings: 2 to 4
For the sauce
1 large bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, tough stems removed and roughly chopped
1 bunch fresh chives (about 1 ounce), roughly chopped
1 medium garlic clove, roughly chopped
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the Matzoh Brei
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, or a neutral oil such as safflower or grapeseed (see NOTE)
1 small yellow onion (about 4 ounces), finely chopped
4 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, stems removed and finely chopped (about 1 cup)
4 sheets matzoh, crumbled into 2-inch pieces
1 cup room-temperature water
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Make the sauce: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the parsley, chives, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes, if using, and pulse until finely chopped. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, pulsing the mixture a few more times to just combine. Taste, and season with more lemon juice and salt, if desired. Set aside or refrigerate until needed.
Make the matzoh brei: In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring often, until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
While the mushrooms cook, add the matzoh pieces to a medium bowl and pour the water over. Gently stir and let sit until the matzoh softens slightly, 1 to 2 minutes, then pour off any excess water. Add the eggs and salt and gently stir to combine.
Pour the egg and matzoh mixture over the onions and mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until scrambled and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve, drizzled with the lemon-herb sauce.
Note: During the week of Passover, observant Ashkenazi Jews avoid canola, soybean, sunflower, peanut and corn among other oils that are considered kitniyot — a category of foods restricted during the holiday. Neutral oils such as safflower and grapeseed can be used. Olive oil is also permitted on Passover, but has too strong of a flavor for this dish.