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MATZO, MATZO MAN
columnist cooks traditional Jewish fare

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Date published: 4/16/2008

I'M NOT SURE whether Karla, my younger sister, eats to com- pete or competes to eat.

But, like me, she likes to do both.

She competes at tennis. And--when she's not powering up on Gatorade and energy bars--she eats fresh-made oatmeal-raisin cookies, which she assures me are quite healthful.

But everything takes a back seat to the Jewish equivalent of French toast: fried matzo or matzo brei.

I caught up with Karla by phone in late March. She had just returned to D.C. from Miami, where she and her boyfriend and fellow tennis-lover, Randy, had gone to watch the Sony Ericsson Tennis Open.

When I asked about the tourney, Karla sounded strangely disinterested.

She seemed less intrigued by the Open than by her and Randy's daily foray to Jerry's Famous Deli on Collins Avenue in South Beach.

Several years ago, Karla and I vacationed in Florida with our younger brother, Ken. We had a glorious time reminiscing one afternoon at Jerry's while gorging on a smörgåsbord of Jewish soul food, including blintzes, knishes, latkes and chopped liver.

Now, filled with envy and longing, I asked Karla what she had to eat at the deli. "Fried matzo," she said. "I forgot how much I loved it! That's all I had!"

Some Jewish restaurants, such as the Parkway Deli in Wheaton, Md., keep matzo brei on the menu year-round for people like my sister and me who can't get enough of the stuff during the starch-starved Passover holiday.

Matzo is thin, crisp, cracker-like bread, which Jews eat in many inventive ways during the eight days of Passover.

Passover commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their deliverance from slavery. It's the holiday of unleavened bread, the bread that didn't have time to rise--hence the restrictions on eating flour.

Non-Jews often find no use for matzo, likening its taste to that of corrugated cardboard, to which it bears an uncanny resemblance.


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CLASSIC MATZO BREI

Prep time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 10 minutes Makes 4 servings

5 matzo boards 5 large eggs to teaspoon salt 3-4 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil Cook's note: You can vary the recipe by using egg, whole wheat or onion matzos.

Procedure: Soak matzos in cold water for about 10 minutes and then drain. Break into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl. Beat eggs with salt and pour over matzos. Stir until matzos are coated. Melt butter in a heavy skillet. Add the matzo mixture. Cook over low heat, stirring until the eggs are scrambled and done to your taste. Serve at once. Top, if you like, with jam, preserves, sour cream or fresh ground pepper. Recipe from: "1,000 Jewish Recipes" by Faye Levy (Hungry Minds Inc.)

ANNE ROSENZWEIG'S MATZO BREI

Prep time: 60 minutes Cooking time: 10 minutes Makes 4 servings 3 matzo boards 6 large eggs Salt and pepper 2 large onions diced (about 1 pound)4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Cook's note: Anne Rosenzweig is the chef/owner of Arcadia restaurant in New York City. She recommends adding seasonal ingredients to matzo brei: In fall and winter, add 4 tablespoons of sauteed wild mushrooms; in the spring, smoked salmon and dill; and in the summer, wild lilies. Procedure: Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large frying pan over low heat. Add onions and cook very slowly for about 45-50 minutes until they turn a rich caramel color. Cool the onions. Dip unbroken matzo boards in hot water. Remove and squeeze out excess water. Put eggs in medium bowl and whisk with a fork. Break up matzos into the egg and season with salt and pepper. Let matzo soak up the eggs almost completely. Add the cooled onions. Heat the remaining butter in a medium skillet. Add egg and matzo mixture and cook over medium heat. Let set about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately. Recipe from: "Jewish Cooking in America" by Joan Nathan (Knopf)