Passover Lasagna

Matzo Lasagna

This recipe will serve around 9 people, depending on how you slice it!

Ingredients:

6-8 sheets of Matzo
2 cups tomato sauce
2 cups ricotta cheese (or low fat creamed cottage cheese)
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded hard cheese, like mozzarella
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the ricotta (or cottage) cheese, along with the parmesan, eggs, salt and pepper. Then layer the lasagna as follows: sauce, Matzo, cheese mixture, grated cheese. Repeat, making as many layers as you can, ending with a sheet of Matzo, sauce and grated cheese on top. Bake for45 minutes or until brown and bubbly. Let sit for 15 minutes before cutting into. Enjoy!

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No Matzo Balls?! All About Gebrokts (One Day to Go!)

GebroktsOkay, so for this first time that I can remember, in my entire life, we will not be having Matzo Balls in our chicken soup at the Seder. Let me explain to you the seriousness of this… it’s like an 11th plague has hit. Why you ask? Well, last year (around this time actually), my baby sister married an amazing, wonderful man, who comes from a likewise amazing, wonderful family. The downside to this obvious blessing? My new brother-in-law does not eat Gebrokts. What are/is Gebrokts? Gebrokts is a Yiddish word that refers to Matzo that has come in contact with water. It literally means “broken,” and it has come to mean “wet Matzo” because Matzo is usually ground or broken up into crumbs before it is mixed with water.

Those who refrain from eating Gebrokts (not everyone has this custom, it is mainly certain sects of Ashkenazi Jews, specifically what are known as Chassidim) on Passover do so for fear that during the baking process there may have been a minute amount of flour that did not get kneaded properly into the dough. Upon contact with water, that flour would become Chametz.

The custom of not eating Gebrokts gained prominence around the end of the eighteenth century. At that time, people began to bake Matzos much faster than mandated by the Rabbis, in order to be absolutely sure that the dough had no chance to rise before being baked. The flip side of this stringency is that the Matzo we eat today is not as well kneaded as Matzo used to be, and it is very possible that it contains pockets of flour.

Those who are careful with Gebrokts don’t eat Matzo balls, Matzo Brei (an egg and Matzo bake), or Matzo anything; in short, they do not cook with Matzo at all. Also, when there is Matzo on the table, they are very careful to keep it covered and away from any food that may have water in it. Drinks, soups, and vegetables that have been washed and not thoroughly dried, are all kept far away from the Matzo.

On the eighth day of Passover, which exists only outside the Land of Israel, the Gebrokts stringency doesn’t apply, and all feast on Matzo balls and Matzo Brei, and dip their Matzo into soups and salads. In fact, many have the custom to try to eat their Matzo with as many liquids and wet foods as possible. The simple reason for this is that the celebration of the eighth day is of rabbinic origin, rather than Biblical origin. Chabad, where I got the above information has a great article on the spiritual reasons for Gebrokts that I definitely suggest checking out! Click here to read it.

So, to sum this all up, since my mother, the hostess of our Seder, is kind and wonder cook, and doesn’t want to exclude people from parts of the meal, we will refraining from Matzo Balls this year, along with Matzo Farfel, Matzo Meal in various recipes… well, you get the idea. It’s a good thing my new brother-in-law is worth it!

Matzo – Was it Always a Dry Cracker? (2 Days to Go!)

MatzoSo, as you know, during the holiday of Passover, no leavened products, especially items like bread, can be eaten. Instead we eat Matzo, and A LOT of it! Modern day Matzo is a dry, cracker like item, made of flour and water. Machine processed matzo is square in shape, with lined perforations running about half a centimeter apart, and is about a quarter of a centimeter thick, or less. I’ve heard rumour however of a time when Matzo was soft, flexible and more like a pita or laffa, rather than the dry cracker (read: cardboard) that we eat now. So what’s the deal?

Here’s the deal: Once upon a time, yes, Matzo used to be thicker and softer, however…. here is the nitty gritty on how this has changed and become what we know now a days as a thin, dry, hard cracker-like food. For centuries, Jews have been debating the thickness of Matzo. In the Talmud, there is a record of a discussion between the students of Shamai and Hillel regarding the allowed thickness of Matzo, being as thick as a handbreadth (about 2 ½ to 4 inches or 6 to 10 centimetres). In the end, Jewish law follows the school of Hillel, which allows the thicker Matzo, however, all halachic authorities agree that a thickness of a handbreadth or more is not acceptable.

However, there are a few problems with a thick Matzo, even one less than a handbreadth:

  • Thick Matzo is susceptible to becoming Chametz because of the baking time needed to fully cook it (Matzo must be completed and out of the oven within 18 minutes of the flour and water first combining).
  • Conceptually, we are supposed to be eating “lechem oni” or “poor man’s bread”. A thick luscious bread is not considered that of a poor man.
  • Thicker Matzos use a higher ratio of water in the recipe, making them softer. This allows for the Matzo, left over time to become hardened and possibly moldy. There is even an incident discussed in the Talmud where a moldy loaf is found on Passover, and one can’t tell whether it’s bread or Matzo that has rotted. Was this a missed loaf of bread or a kosher Matzo that has spoiled? Our cracker-like Matzo would be easy to identify.

While some Jews of Middle Eastern descent still make their Matzos thick and soft, the overwhelming majority of Matzos today are hard and thick. Over the years, especially once Matzos started being made predominately by machines, rather than by hand, the Matzo has gotten thinner and thinner, until we get the cracker that we have today. Chabad has a great (but too lengthy for this blog post) article all about the thinning down over the years. You can read it by clicking here. I will also talk a little bit more about this in tomorrow’s post on Gebrokts or the custom of not allowing your Matzo to become wet. Tune in tomorrow to find out more!

Matzo Baklava

Matzo BaklavaThis dessert just gets better with time. I would always plan on serving it the next day, or even the day after that, as the longer it sits, the longer the matzo has a chance to soak up the sweet lemony syrup. This recipe will make 9 to 16 squares (depends how small you slice it).

Ingredients:

6 sheets matzo

For syrup:
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey

For assembly:
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup shelled raw unsalted natural pistachios, chopped
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted margarine or butter, melted

Directions:

Briefly pass each sheet of matzo under cold running water until wet on all sides. Layer sheets between damp paper towels and let stand until somewhat pliable but not soggy or falling apart, about 2 hours. While matzo is softening, make syrup.

In small saucepan over moderately high heat, stir together the water and sugar. Bring to boil, then lower heat to moderate and cook, uncovered, until syrupy and thick, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and honey and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool, then chill until ready to use.

To Assemble the Dessert:

Preheat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, stir together walnuts, pistachios, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom. Separate out ⅙ of nut mixture and reserve for topping cooked baklava.

Transfer 1 sheet of the prepared matzo to the counter. Press a rolling pin once over the sheet from one end to other to flatten. Rotate 90 degrees and repeat. Using a pastry brush, grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan with the melted butter/margarine. Lay one sheet of flattened matzo on the bottom of the pan, and then spread with more melted butter/margarine. Sprinkle the matzo with ⅕ of unreserved nut mixture. Roll out second sheet of matzo and transfer to pan. Brush with margarine and sprinkle with nut mixture. Repeat with remaining matzo sheets and remaining nut mixture, ending with matzo sheet brushed with margarine on top.

Bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Keeping the baklava in the pan, place the pan on a cooling rack so that it can cool all around, and immediately pour the chilled syrup over. It may seem like a lot of syrup, but the matzo will absorb it all. Sprinkle with reserved nut mixture. Let cool, then cover and let stand at least 8 hours and up to 3 days. (Do not chill.) Cut into small squares or diamonds and serve.