As the old adage goes, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and supper like a pauper. But on Passover, which begins at sundown on Wednesday, April 8, with bread and flour forbidden for eight days, you’ve got to get creative.
Shakshuka, simmering eggs enveloped in a tomato stew, has become an Israeli staple and makes a hearty, satisfying choice for Pesach mornings. Starting out as a breakfast dish for labourers, “now there’s hardly a restaurant in Israel that doesn’t have shakshuka on the menu, or a home cook without a highly personalized version,” writes Adeena Sussman in her hot new cookbook Sababa. “Shakshuka is a dish designed to make a cook look good. There’s a forgiving, hard-to-mess-up sauce and a single-skillet presentation that’s festive, yet overridingly casual. In our house, we often have a skillet of ‘shak’ sauce cooked and ready to rumble.”
Sussman was nine years old when she first visited Israel. “At that time my idea of Israeli food was very basic,” she told attendees at a luncheon/cookbook launch held last month at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County in Irvine, Calif. “When you would come back from Israel people would say, ‘How was the food?’ and you would say, ‘The hummus was excellent.’ There was a lot of hummus, a lot of falafel, a lot of shawarma. That’s really where Israeli food stopped for a long time. To say that Israeli food is having a moment is an understatement. This food has become really a part of the way we love to cook.”
The transformation of Israeli food to the world-class cuisine it is today was gradual. “When I moved to Israel in the 1990s, I realized that Israelis cook seasonally, as we all do now, that produce is something you don’t get in the supermarket in a clamshell or a plastic bag. It’s something you touch and feel and talk to someone about. At that time the world was changing. Israel was becoming a wealthier country. People were traveling more and could explore every culture and every food. Israeli chefs were traveling all over the world and working in Michelin star restaurants in France and Germany and Italy. It used to be that the mark of a great Israeli chef was that he could cook a great French or Italian meal. But in California they were cooking seasonally – what grows together goes together. Israeli chefs said, ‘We live in this tiny place. We have the best produce in the world, incredible cheeses, incredible olive oil, great wine. I’m going back to Israel to my own culture, my own cuisine.’ That is how modern Israeli food developed.”
“We are told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” writes Paula Shoyer, in The New Passover Menu. “But on Passover, some would rather just sleep through it, as my kids often do. No toast, no bagels, no decent cereals and no oatmeal can add up to a grumpy family.”
Not to worry. Shoyer has devised some tempting breakfast options in The New Passover Menu, including frittata with broccoli and leeks, gluten-free waffles or pancakes, fruit and nut granola and crumb cake muffins. “I have always viewed the holiday’s dietary restrictions as challenges that can be overcome,” she writes, “if you focus on the ingredients that you can use.”
In our house, Passover breakfasts have always been the reason to wake up early for matzah brei, a Passover cross between pancakes and French toast. Mix crumbled matzah with eggs, and the variations are endless. My husband likes nothing but salt in his, but my sweet tooth craves the addition of berries or banana slices or chopped baked apple. And here’s an idea. Leftover haroset (the dried fruit and nut mixture symbolizing the mortar used by ancient Jews when they were slaves in Egypt) from the seder makes a tasty (and crunchy) addition to your matzah brei. In fact, I make extra haroset just to save for breakfast.
Susie Fishbein, author of Passover by Design, told me by phone from her home in New Jersey about what she calls “the matzah brei wars” at her house. “With my husband behind one frying pan, my mom behind the other, they go head to head with soft matzah brei versus crunchy,” she said. “It’s always a deliciously hilarious battle.”
For savoury matzah brei, Fishbein suggests adding grated onion, mushroom, and fresh herbs. Add cinnamon to a sweet version and serve with syrup, sugar or jam. “Whichever you choose, enjoy, and realize you are part of a culinary experience dating back generations.”
Frittata with broccoli and leeks
o 45 ml (3 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
o 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into 1-cm (1/3-inch) thick slices
o 2 cloves garlic, crushed
o 1 head broccoli, chopped into 2.5-cm (1-inch) pieces; about 500 ml (2 cups)
o 30 ml (2 tbsp) water
o 10 large eggs
o 125 ml (½ cup) milk (any kind)
o Salt and black pepper
o 125 ml (½ cup) shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F). Heat 15 ml (2 tbsp) of the oil in large frying pan with 5-cm (2-inch) sides over medium-low heat. Add leeks and garlic; cook for 5 minutes, or until leeks are translucent. Add broccoli and cook for 5 minutes. Add water, stir and cover and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until broccoli is almost fork-tender. Add remaining 15 ml (1 tbsp) oil and stir.
In large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper to taste. Pour into pan and cook without stirring over medium-low heat until edges start to set, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle cheese on top. Place pan in oven, uncovered, and bake 15 to 17 minutes, or until set. Run a silicone spatula around edges of pan and flip frittata onto a plate, or scoop out slices. Serve warm.
o 6 whole matzah peices
o 5 large eggs
o 30 ml (2 tbsp) milk
o 1 ml (¼ tsp) coarse sea salt or kosher salt
o 1 ml (¼ tsp) freshly ground black pepper
o 30 ml (2 tbsp) butter
o Confectioners sugar
o Raspberry jelly (or pancake syrup, applesauce or ketchup)
To make: Break matzah into 5-cm (2-inch) pieces (or smaller for a different texture). Place into large bowl. Pour very hot water over matzah; soak for 1 minute. Drain very well in colander, pressing out water. Return matzah to bowl.
In separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Pour over drained matzah.
Melt butter in large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add matzah-egg mixture and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes on first side, 2 minutes on second side. Either flip in one piece by using a plate to turn it out or cut into pieces and turn separately.
Sprinkle with sugar and serve with jelly.
Zucchini, dill, and feta shakshuka
o 50 ml (¼ cup) extra virgin olive oil, plus more
o 1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds
o Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
o 1 medium onion, finely diced
o 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
o 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
o 45 ml (3 tbsp) tomato paste
o 5 ml (1 tsp) ground cumin
o 5 ml (1 tsp) sweet paprika
o 5 ml (1 tsp) ground coriander
o 1 ml (¼ tsp) cayenne pepper, or more to taste
o 6 medium very ripe fresh tomatoes, finely chopped by hand, or puréed in bowl of food
processor if you like smoother shakshuka
o 1 can 411 g (14.5 oz) crushed tomatoes
o 1 small, fresh, finely diced red jalapeño, plus more to taste and for serving
o 1 ml (1/4 cup) chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
o 6 large eggs
o 250 ml (1 cup) crumbled feta cheese
To prepare: Heat 30 ml (2 tbsp) of the olive oil in large oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini, salt and black pepper, and cook, not stirring too much, until the zucchini has released its water and is golden and slightly charred around edges, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
Add remaining 30 ml (2 tbsp) oil to skillet, then add onion and bell pepper, and cook, stirring, until onion is lightly golden and softened but not too dark, 9 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add tomato paste, cumin, paprika, coriander and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until mixture is fragrant and tomato paste is slightly caramelized, 2 minutes. Add fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes and jalapeño. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until sauce has darkened and thickened slightly, 20 to 25 minutes; season with additional salt and black pepper to taste. During last five minutes of cooking, set rack in top third of oven, and preheat broiler.
Stir in dill and return zucchini to pan, stirring gently. With a spoon, form 6 wells in sauce, then crack an egg into each well. Sprinkle feta around skillet and cook 3 minutes.
Transfer pan to oven; broil until top of sauce is slightly caramelized and whites of eggs are just opaque but yolks are still runny, 2 to 3 minutes. With oven mitt, remove from oven, top with fresh chopped dill and more jalapeño, and serve immediately. After Passover, cool to room temperature and serve, sandwich style, stuffed into pitas or piled on top of bread.
Makes 4 servings.