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May 19, 2022

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Matzo pie rises to delicious challenge

Jewish unleavened bread is endlessly versatile

By , Columbian staff writer
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This layered, veggie- and cheese-filled matzo pie is inspired by Greek spanakopita but uses matzos instead of phyllo.
This layered, veggie- and cheese-filled matzo pie is inspired by Greek spanakopita but uses matzos instead of phyllo. (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Of all the problems you may have right now, figuring out what to do with extra matzos probably isn’t one of them. My husband and I grew up eating them for Passover and what our church called the Days of Unleavened Bread, or what Jewish people know as Chag HaMatzot.

We weren’t actually Jewish and in fact our church was more on the Protestant side (it’s complicated), so we did not have the rich culinary tradition that other Jewish families did. We did not make matzo ball soup, matzo kugel, matzo brei or matzo lasagna. We just pretended that they were giant slices of bread. We did harebrained things like making peanut butter and jelly matzo sandwiches. Have you ever taken a monolithic peanut butter and jelly matzo sandwich out of your lunchbox while a table full of fourth-graders looked at you like you’d sprouted another set of eyeballs? I have. Have you ever tried to eat a peanut butter and jelly matzo sandwich while it was crumbling into a million gooey, sticky pieces while a table full of fourth-graders watched you in open-mouthed silence? I have.

My favorite way to eat matzos is spread with butter and honey. It’s simple, it’s direct and it accomplishes the job of disguising the flavor of the matzo, which isn’t even a flavor unless you think that “paper” is a flavor. My husband absolutely loves matzos and will scarf down a matzo slathered with Nutella in a nanosecond. Being British, he also enjoys them with butter and Marmite, a salty brown goo made from fermented yeast extract. Perhaps our shared appreciation for matzos is more a product of nostalgia than anything else, but that’s fine. It’s a little taste of our weird and wonderful childhood.

We picked up a box of matzos recently and have been savoring each crunchy, crumbly, relatively flavorless bite for several days now. I had a matzo for lunch with peanut butter, banana slices, cinnamon, cardamom, pecan pieces and a drizzle of honey. No one looked at me like I had extra eyeballs. It was quite pleasant. Anyhow, it got me thinking: What are some other ways to enjoy this seasonal treat? I know about matzo ball soup, although I’ve only had it once. I’ve heard of matzo brei, which is matzo browned in butter and then scrambled with eggs, but I’ve never tried it. The Columbian published a recipe for matzo lasagna a few years ago and it seems like it would be pretty tasty. What really beguiled me is matzo pie or mina, a baked dish of layered matzos, spinach and cheese inspired by Greek spanakopita. I love spanakopita so I thought I’d give it a whirl. This recipe also features leeks. It’s appropriate because in the Book of Numbers, the children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness after leaving Egypt, complained bitterly about the lack of leeks. Fair enough. Leeks are delicious and a state of leeklessness is indeed something to regret.

A note on matzos (also called matzoh, matzah or matza): I couldn’t find them at my local market, but they are available in the International Foods section of Fred Meyer and QFC. Actually, I was quite glad I made the trip to QFC because while searching for matzos I met a lady who said her family was Greek and she’d made spanakopita loads of times. She suggested that I add mozzarella to the cheese layer and that I include a little fresh mint. Thank you, nice lady! You helped me make a great matzo pie! Here it is:

Matzo Pie

7-9 whole matzos, softened in water

¼ cup butter (½ stick)

3 large leeks (about 4 cups), sliced thin

1 medium onion, diced

1 8-ounce package baby spinach

4 large garlic cloves, diced

½ teaspoon lemon pepper

Salt to taste

4 eggs

1 24-ounce container of cottage cheese (3 cups)

2 4-ounce containers of feta cheese (2 cups)

½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

½ cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon each fresh oregano and parsley

1 teaspoon each fresh mint and lemon zest

Set oven to 350 degrees.

Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Saute leeks, onion, spinach and lemon pepper in butter. Mix eggs, cottage cheese, feta, mozzarella, yogurt and herbs. Soften matzos in warm water, 2 or 3 at a time.

Fit matzos into bottom of baking dish. Add half of leek-spinach mixture then half of cheese mixture. Add second layer of matzos. Add remaining leek-spinach mixture and cheese mixture. Top with softened matzos. Brush with egg.

Bake for 50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Take a half-stick of butter and rub it along the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Melt the rest of the butter in a very large skillet over medium heat, then add 3 sliced leeks (just the white and light green parts), 1 chopped onion and 4 minced cloves of garlic along with a few dashes of salt. Stir everything around until it’s soft, maybe 10 minutes or so. Add the entire 8-ounce bag of spinach and cook until wilted. It will seem like way too much spinach but it will magically reduce and you’ll be fine. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Next, mix together 3 eggs, 3 cups cottage cheese, 2 cups feta cheese, ½ cup yogurt, ½ cup mozzarella, 1 tablespoon each fresh oregano and parsley and 1 teaspoon each fresh lemon zest and fresh mint. Set aside. (The very nice lady from QFC said that she blends her cottage cheese to make it smoother, but I lazily skipped this step and it still turned out fine, texture-wise.)

Fill a shallow dish with warm water. Put 2 matzos in the water and let them soften for 1 to 2 minutes, no more. You’ll see the crackers get wrinkly and you might hear a slight popping noise as they expand, like Rice Krispies. Remove them and shake off as much water as you can. They may break apart, but that’s OK — just arrange the pieces, puzzlelike, so that they cover the bottom of the baking pan. Cover the matzo layer with half the cheese-and-egg mixture and then half the leek-and-onion mixture. Repeat the matzo-softening process with 2 or 3 more matzos, followed by another layer of cheese-and-egg and a final layer of leek-and-onion. Soften your last 2 or 3 matzos and put them on top. Whisk the remaining egg and brush it over the top. Bake it for 50 minutes. Don’t do what I did and try to put extra mozzarella cheese on top because it will burn, and then you’ll have to cover it up with even more cheese, and then you’ll put it back in the oven and it will burn even more. This is not like the exasperating lasagna I tried to make last year and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) it doesn’t actually need another layer of cheese.

Let it cool for 10 to 15 minutes then cut it into squares and enjoy it while it’s still warm. If it’s more than your family can eat for dinner, no worries. It makes excellent leftovers and will keep nicely in the fridge for another three days.


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