June 17, 2019

Matzo Mezze for Passover Brunch

When people complain about not eating bread or flour-based products during Passover week, I confess that I don’t know what they’re talking about. To me, Passover is a perfect opportunity to eat my favorite thing: finger food in the form of open-faced matzo sandwiches with Mediterranean toppings. What’s better than a crispy cracker loaded up with zingy condiments with interesting flavor combinations? And who doesn’t love a casual finger food celebration after all the formal sit-down structured meals? 

Traditions typically dictate Passover food. Most families tend to make the same thing every year — bubbe’s brisket, mom’s kugel or auntie’s tzimmes — so the rebel in me likes to get creative with the rest of the week’s meals. Each year, I try to outdo my toppings from the previous year, but this year I found a special touch: Manischewitz has come out with triangle-shaped matzo — small crackers that lend a more stable base for piling on the toppings.

It’s a perfect Passover brunch plate when there’s a house full of guests. The best part is you make all the toppings in advance and serve them on a large board or decorative plate after you’ve topped the matzo at the last moment. You can make it even easier on yourself and set out toppings in bowls and let guests make their own. It’s foolproof entertaining and a guaranteed win. I like to serve this dairy brunch with a leafy green salad dressed simply with a vinaigrette to cut the richness of the toppings, but I often feel almost obligated to serve it with an Israeli chopped salad. Then for dessert, I make my Bulgarian version of matzo brei called Burmolikos. 

I haven’t gotten too fancy this year with my toppers but the flavor combinations are tried and true (we ate them after the photo shoot). No special equipment is needed to make them except a good blender or food processor. All of these recipes are good to have in your arsenal for parties at any time of the year to serve with bread or with crackers, but beware: It’s so good you might just start a new tradition with the matzo mezze, and your friends and family will urge you make it every year. The following four toppings will serve about 10 people for brunch with salad. Figure about one triangle of each type of matzo per person or, if using regular square matzo, then two matzos per person, cut in half.

It’s foolproof entertaining and a guaranteed win.

EGGPLANT JAM – FETA –BALSAMIC FIG REDUCTION
Eggplant jam:

2 large eggplants
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/8 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Crumbled feta cheese (garnish)

Fig-flavored balsamic reduction (optional)

Make this jam in advance if possible because it benefits from a day or two in the fridge.

Peel strips off eggplants lengthwise using a vegetable peeler, leaving 1-inch gaps of skin between strips. Slice eggplant crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Salt liberally and let stand in a colander over the sink for 1 hour to extract the bitter juices.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Dry the eggplant slices well with paper towels and coat both sides generously in olive oil and lay in a single layer on two baking trays. Bake for about 30 minutes, flipping the slices halfway through baking until soft and golden brown.

Transfer warm eggplant to a bowl and, using a wooden spoon (contact with metal turns eggplant black), mash the eggplant into chunks. This will be cooked again so don’t worry about the size of the pieces. Set aside.

In a large skillet, pour 4 tablespoons of olive oil and add the chopped garlic, onion and tomato. Stir in the spices and cook for another minute.

When the vegetables are soft, add the mashed eggplant and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture is very thick. Add water if it’s sticking to bottom of pan.

Remove from heat, add in lemon juice and chopped parsley and check for salt. Serve with crumbled feta and balsamic reduction drizzled over top.

SMOKED SALMON MOUSSE, SMOKED SALMON, SALMON ROE AND AVOCADO

5 ounces smoked salmon (Nova, Scottish orgravlax), chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons cream cheese, room temperature
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Rind of 1/2 lemon
5 ounces smoked salmon, thinly sliced, for draping
2 ounces salmon or trout roe, for garnish
Avocado, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped dill, for garnish

Tip 5 ounces of chopped smoked salmon into a high-speed blender or food processor and process until paste. Drizzle in the heavy cream and room-temperature cream cheese and process until cream is thick. Add the lemon juice, a grind of salt and pepper and lemon rind and process for another 10 seconds. 

Chill until serving. Alternate mousse, salmon slices, roe and avocado. Top with dill.

WARM SPINACH AND ARTICHOKE DIP

1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/3 cup mayonnaise
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup gruyere cheese, finely grated
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup chopped frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
8-ounce jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
Salt to taste (cheeses are salty)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine yogurt, mayo and cream cheese in a bowl. Add grated cheeses, lemon juice, spices, spinach and artichoke hearts and mix until thoroughly combined. Bake in a dish greased with olive oil or butter for 20 minutes until brown and bubbly on top. Taste to adjust salt.

Make in advance and then gently warm in the microwave for 1 minute before topping matzo. 

WHIPPED RICOTTA, DRIED ZA’ATAR TOMATOES, BASIL PESTO, PRESERVED LEMON AND JALAPENO

Whipped ricotta (recipe follows)
Za’atar tomatoes (recipe follows)
4 tablespoons of prepared basil pesto
1 tablespoon preserved lemon, chopped and more for serving
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
Drizzle of olive oil, for serving

For the whipped ricotta:
1 14-ounce tub Italian whole milk ricotta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon diced preserved lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Whip ingredients in a high-speed blender for 1 minute until light and fluffy. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Dried za’atar tomatoes:
2 cups cherry or baby tomatoes
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon za’atar
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 F. 

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise and set on a baking tray. Sprinkle with seasonings and then drizzle with olive oil. Place tray in oven and then immediately shut it off. Leave in oven overnight or at least 8 hours without opening oven door. Leftovers can be kept in olive oil and used like sun-dried tomatoes. 

Spread matzo with whipped ricotta, 1 teaspoon of basil pesto, top with dried tomatoes and a jalapeno slice and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.