When it comes to matzo, Chicago chef Laura Frankel says hers is a love-hate relationship.
“Matzo and I are frenemies,” she says of the unleavened cracker-like bread traditionally eaten during Jewish Passover celebrations. “On one hand, matzo is a food you want to be proud of – it’s part of who we are as Jews. But frankly, it usually tastes like cardboard.”
During Passover, leavened breads and most grains are prohibited. The tradition is intended to recall the flight of the Jews from Egypt after being freed by the pharaoh. As the story goes, they had no time to let their bread rise before baking it. So today, matzo – the production of which is a highly regulated process – is central to Passover meals.
It can be eaten as is, or ground into coarse crumbs or even a fine cake meal and used similar to traditional flours.
“Every year, people will tell me they made brownies with matzo cake flour and they were even better than the real thing,” said Frankel, author of the cookbook “Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes.” When she hears this, she usually thinks, “No, they’re not,” but keeps that to herself.
Leah Schapira, an Israeli-born kosher cook, has a more comfortable relationship with matzo. Schapira – who co-authored the recent cookbook, “Passover Made Easy” – is happy to munch matzo plain, but when cooking with it tends to treat it as a blank canvas upon which to build dishes.
The matzo toffee bar crunch from her book is a great example of using matzo creatively. It’s reminiscent of the popular confection usually coated with chopped nuts, but her version melds similar flavors together with the toasty, crunchy qualities of the matzo.
She and writing partner Victoria Dwek also developed a recipe for tortillas with tomato-mint salsa and guacamole because they know how much families like having a taco night and wanted a Passover-suitable option.
Still, both Frankel and Schapira say it’s essential not to be fooled into thinking using matzo crumbs and meal is the same as using flour or breadcrumbs, and they recommend not going out of your way to try to use matzo products to recreate dishes you might make at other times of the year.
One of Frankel’s favorites during Passover is fried green tomatoes made with a seasoned matzo crumb coating. But she also regularly makes stews and soups thickened with a roux made by browning matzo meal and either olive oil or chicken fat. And as much as Frankel has her love-hate relationship with matzo, she ends up embracing it with plenty of culinary flair.
“The key thing,” she said, “is you’ve got to strive to not have your cake and eat it too.”
Tomato-Mint Salsa And Guacamole
Start to finish: 1 hour
For the tortillas:
1 cup matzo cake meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups water
For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 pound lean ground beef
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
For the tomato-mint salsa:
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 jalapeņo pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 small red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the guacamole:
1 ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon white wine or cider vinegar
Garlic powder, to taste
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup prepared coleslaw, to serve
To prepare the tortillas: In a small bowl, whisk together the matzo meal, salt, egg, olive oil and water. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes.
Coat a nonstick skillet with cooking spray, then heat over medium. Scoop 1/2 cup of the batter and drop it into the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, then flip and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove the tortilla from the pan and set aside. Repeat with remaining batter.
To prepare the meat filling: In a large saute pan over medium, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the meat and cook, stirring constantly, until completely browned. Season with chili powder, garlic powder and salt. Set aside.
To prepare the tomato-mint salsa: In a small bowl, stir together the tomatoes, mint, jalapeņo, onion, vinegar, salt and pepper. Set aside.
To prepare the guacamole: In a small bowl, combine the avocado, lime juice, red onion, olive oil, vinegar, garlic powder and salt. Mash until the guacamole reaches the desired texture.
To serve: Spread guacamole in the center of each tortilla. Top with meat and tomato-mint salsa. Top each tortilla with 2 tablespoons coleslaw and fold.
Nutrition information per serving: 620 calories; 330 calories from fat (53 percent of total calories); 37 g fat (14 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 125 mg cholesterol; 45 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 30 g protein; 1080 mg sodium.