I wanted to make Egg Foo Yung.
It was cooking class in 6th grade; mid-Passover. The teacher announced that those of us who observed Passover would be making Matzo Brei, and everyone else would be making Egg Foo Yung.
“Can I have a show of hands of those who observe Passover, please?” she asked with what appeared to be an evil glint in her eye.
Yes, evil, to me..because, seriously, Matzo Brei versus Egg Foo Yung? Not even remotely fair! Plus, I’d already had my fair share of matzo brei at home for three days straight. She knew some of us were going to get the shaft. Egg Foo Yung > Matzo Brei; no contest.
I kept my hands clasped under the desk, hoping I could sneak into one of the Egg Foo Yung groups.
Suddenly, a raspy voice interrupted the teacher, just as she assigned me to one of the Foo Yung kitchens.
“Lisa!! Why didn’t you raise your hand? You observe Passover!”
Grrr…Susan Filner (names have been fictionalized), a loud, bossy girl with thick, coarse, straw-colored hair and braces. We had attended a JCC camp together the summer before.
The teacher looked at me sweetly, pity lurking beneath the sweetness. She felt sorry for me because I was going to be stuck with bland, boring matzo brei, while she and most of the class would be chowing down on delicious Egg Foo Yung.
“Is that true, Lisa? Does your family observe Passover?” she asked in a tone that would suggest a condolence of some sort.
I looked up and replied through gritted teeth..”Well, sort of..ummm, yeah.”
I couldn’t come up with an explanation of ‘sort of’ that would punch my ticket to Foo Yung.
“OK, then, you’re in kitchen #3 with Susan, Shelley and Danielle!” she exclaimed with a warm smile.
I slowly, and indignantly, shuffled my feet to the kitchen of gloom, making sure the teacher could see how unhappy I was and maybe change her mind.
5..4..3…2…nope, it wasn’t going to happen.
When I reached the kitchen, Susan took charge immediately, the tiny rubber bands attached to her braces stretching up and down as she barked orders at us. It was like someone was operating her mouth through a lever in her back.
“Lisa, you beat the eggs. Danielle, you crumble the matzos. Shelley, you soak the matzo.” she demanded, then, “..and I’ll do the cooking”. No one dared protest since she was kind of scary, in a parental sort of way. Plus, she was bigger than all of us.
I begrudgingly beat the eggs with a fork while watching the Egg Foo Yung kitchens across from us. They were chopping vegetables and measuring stuff from exotic bottles with Chinese characters on the labels. Soon, the sound of sizzling oil, and the smell of stir-fry, permeated the air.
I wanted to cry.
When the Matzo Brei components were ready, Susan mixed it all together and dumped the whole batch into simmering oil in a skillet. Oil? We always used buttery margarine at home. I couldn’t imagine Matzo Brei without a slightly buttery or butter-flavored, crust. To make matters worse, she cooked it like you would scrambled eggs, my least favorite way to eat it.
Then the coup-de-grace, and far from a merciful one at that. She plated it for all of us and slammed down a salt shaker. This is how she grew up eating Matzo Brei, as did her kitchen comrades..with salt. In my home, we ate it with maple syrup or jam. I asked for one or the other.
“Ewww, Lisa; that’s not the way you eat Matzo Brei! It’s supposed to be savory!” she wailed with disgust, as she shook some salt on top of my dry, crumbly matzo curds.
I knew what she said couldn’t be true, but in that moment, I actually believed her, thinking that maybe that was just my family’s weird way of eating matzo brei, sort of like this special chopped liver, coleslaw, and fried bologna sandwich my father invented, in which I knew for sure no one else outside our family was partaking in.
Somehow I managed to choke it down, drinking copious amounts of water to counteract this salty, overcooked, flavorless mess of scrambled matzo. I stared longingly at everyone else eating their delicious looking Egg Foo Yung in a rich, brown sauce, wishing I could sneak a taste.
To this day, I have yet to make Egg Foo Yung.
Growing up, the first weekend of every Passover we looked forward to a breakfast treat that was considered a treat because it was made during Passover. Don’t get me wrong, there were times we enjoyed this treat outside of Passover, but it was rare because Passover was what made it so special. The aforementioned Matzo (Matzah, Matzoh) Brei, made the right way, well, the better way, in my opinion.
My father was in charge of the Matzo Brei, the Matzo Brei head chef , so to speak, and no one ever challenged that or complained. He made, and continues to make, a mean Matzo Brei. He would use a 12-inch skillet and cook the matzo mush into one big cake, which we sliced up and drenched in maple syrup. He learned how to make it from his mother, I think, but the gigantic pan cake was all his, and it never broke, even when he flipped it in the air instead of onto a plate to turn it. He also has this amazing technique to keep it creamy, but fully-cooked, on the inside, while perfectly crispy and buttery on the outside. I’ve tried to replicate it, but no dice; it’s all his and will remain that way. It’s a gift that can’t be replicated.
That being said, I can’t even begin to tell you how much we looked forward to his Matzo Brei cake on Passover Sundays. We would come running down the stairs, early, like it was a snow day; the sizzle/smell of melting margarine in the pan alerting us to its inception.
Last Passover, I made some Matzi Brei patties. I spread some jam on one patty. I looked at the other patty. Hmmm..it wouldn’t hurt to try…
Thus, the idea of Peanut Butter Matzo Brei was born.
Peanut butter Matzo Brei would be forbidden in strict Orthodox households because peanuts are kitniyot, which are foods that Sephardic Jews can eat during Passover, but Ashkenazi Jews cannot; eg: corn, rice, peas, and peanuts.
We were not a strict Orthodox household, so our Passover rule was No food that contains flour and/or leavening, and that’s it. Peanut butter does not contain flour or leavening so peanut butter and jelly matzo sandwiches were wrapped in foil and tucked into our lunch boxes.
I was a bad Passover observer. During the latter half of Passover, I’d start trading my peanut butter and jelly matzo sandwiches, or whatever matzo sandwich I had that day, with curious, non-Jewish classmates, for a tuna on rye or some kind of cold-cut concoction on white bread or a roll. After several days of dry, flavorless matzo, I desperately needed bread. I figured I was going to Hell, but after days and days of matzo, I decided that bread just might be worth the descent into flaming oblivion.
Unfortunately, not much has changed. I rarely make it all the way through without a few liaisons with chametz (the forbidden grains – wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye).
Since Jews don’t believe in Hell, well, no Hell past 11 months, but, some do believe in reincarnation, I figure I’ll be lucky to make it back as a chicken..or bowling ball.
If you keep kosher for Passover, there are kosher peanut butters out there. If you follow kitniyot, almond butter is a fantastic substitute. Although great with jam or jelly, we also love it with fresh fruit syrup. Our favorite is a fresh strawberry syrup, which I’ve provided a recipe for, below.
By the way, the matzo brei ‘rule of thumb’ is usually 1 egg per matzo. However, since I’m mixing peanut butter or almond butter in, I subtracted one egg.
- 4 whole matzos (I use egg matzos)
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup peanut butter (or almond butter)
- a pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine (parve for Passover)
- 2 pints of strawberries, stemmed and chopped
- ½ to ¾ cup sugar, depending on how sweet you like your syrup
- ½ cup water
- Break matzos into 1-inch pieces in a bowl. Pour hot tap water over the crumbled matzos to cover and let soak until the matzos are moist and soft, no crispy parts left (you don't want matzo mush, the pieces should still be whole, but very flimsy), about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring them around to make sure every piece is wet and softened. Pour the matzo and water through a strainer, then press down on the wet matzo pieces to remove any excess water. Transfer the damp, softened matzo pieces to another large bowl. I actually put the matzo pieces in a strainer and run hot tap water over them..mixing the pieces around until they're wet enough and super soft. Either way is fine.
- In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the salt, then beat in peanut butter until uniform. Pour over the wet matzo pieces and mix thoroughly.
- Heat the butter or margarine in a 10-inch or 12-inch saute pan until foamy. Spoon ¼ cupfuls * of matzo mixture into the hot pan with melted butter or margarine..like you would potato latkes. Cook each side for about 1 minute. Serve hot with jam, jelly, or your favorite syrup. Forget those and sprinkle with salt, if Susan is around.
- In a large sauce pan, combine the chopped strawberries, sugar and water. Cook on medium heat until the strawberry chunks are floating in a lot of liquid. Strain the strawberry juice into a clean sauce pan and cook down (reduce) until thickened to pancake syrup consistency. Add cooked berry chunks back into syrup, if desired, and/or just cut up fresh strawberries and top matzo brei and syrup with them.