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Breakfast without Matzah Overload

Last night we were very much in the spirit of Pesach–a total rush job at home, to the point where I realized I was supposed to have a boiled egg somewhere on the seder plate just as it was getting pretty far past sundown. Organization isn’t always our strong suit, especially on school nights. Last year I posted my Bart Simpson-style Passover Chalkboard Litany of kvetches and survival tips. This year: how to deal with matzah when they won’t sell you anything less than enough for 70 people for $2.99–such a deal! (well, okay, it is). You could feed nearly the whole Sanhedrin (because in our family, everyone argues about everything and I’m sure my 13-year-old is ready for law school as we speak. Good thing I can’t afford it yet!)

As with any style of food, too much of a good thing is still too much. I think I learn that the hard way every Passover. How to eat mostly vegetables and lean proteins and fresh fruit and yogurt…and not just sit there eating matzah like it’s going out of style? There’s more than enough matzah to go around–even in gefilte fish, especially in gefilte fish, which I’ve lost my taste for over the years since discovering how to cook regular fresh fish well, aka “not-gefilte”  (though I still buy a jar for my noncooking husband for lunches during the week.)

I don’t do matzah kugel, sweet or mushroom (a waste of mushrooms in my jaundiced opinion). I’m not a huge fan of matzah brei (exception: matzah brei “blintzes”), matzah lasagne, mina de espinaca, or any of the other matzah-plus-egg-heavy adaptations of regular food. Although I have seen one attractive-enough looking picture of a mina de espinaca, I’d still do it without the matzah sheets…

I try hard these days not to make matzah balls either, though this year I might make an exception–once–for my poor daughter who never gets any because she’s vegetarian and the “not-chicken” soup at Shabbaton this March didn’t have any flavor and there were no matzah balls in it like there were in the yes-chicken soup. Oy! Maybe it’ll be a weekend project to figure out a good from-scratch version–we have school and taxes this week. A lot of school and taxes.

My mother, who is famous for not cooking more than necessary, taught me how to make pretty-good fresh-tasting haroset Russian Jewish style (’cause that’s what we were). Apples, walnuts (though almond flakes are also just fine with me), cinnamon, sweet wine or grape juice, maybe or maybe not honey, chopped coarsely so it stays crunchy. But I’ve been to a couple of community seders out here in Pasadena where the haroset was mashed down like baby food and to add insult, had matzah meal in it. I know, matzah bits probably started out as a less expensive alternative to nuts, and I can’t blame anyone for that in their own homes. A professional caterer is quite another story. There’s really no excuse in California, where nuts are pretty plentiful (both the human and the arborial kind).

Well, anyway. Second seder is tonight, but what about the rest of the week–after taxes, as it were? Passover brings on a lot of nutritional challenges if you eat dairy or vegetarian. How not to eat too many eggs in a single week? How to stay away from the canned coconut macaroons and other assorted “Kosher for Passover” horror sweets my husband brings home because he thinks that the kashrut labeling makes up for the “nutrition” labeling (which really oughtta say, “WHAT nutrition?! This is pure sugar and potato starch, buddy! And palm oil! And artificial colors and flavors! Almost as good as Froot Loops!”) I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s because he’s a boy, and there’s nothing much to do about it except shudder, put the box of “goodies” in some inaccessible place on a low shelf, preferably behind the broccoli, which is merely green and mysterious or better yet, okra (which he fears more than taxes, and that’s saying something).

Note it down: ALL the packaged cake and cookie substitutes are a bad deal for anyone diabetic or even marginally thinking about becoming diabetic–very, very spiky, and almost never worth it. Also guaranteed to induce repetitive eating and the false sensation that you’re “starving” about three seconds after you eat them. And in the last 20 years, they’ve been faked-up further–even the kichel, a dry, stiff, barely-sweet puff halfway between an empty creampuff shell and a biscotti, has had artificial flavorings added recently–why bother?

Do we really even need such matzah-filled “delights”? Nowhere is this poverty of product more evident than in the kosher-for-Passover cake “mixes” (for which I always hear Julia Sweeney’s line “Where are yer mixes, hon?” from God said, Ha!). Last year’s example, which I’m not letting happen again: the Manischewitz Blueberry Pancake mix box my husband proudly brought home one day “on sale! it was 99 cents!” And naïvely suggested I could make for breakfast–this upon seeing that I’d just finished making cheese blintzes from scratch with real ingredients, and real raspberries. Don’t squint at me like that–he’s still breathing. I just decided his sudden brainfreeze in the wife department had been caused by jetlag, and contented myself with reading the ingredient box back to him.

The man is not a cook and is pretty happy not to be. Still, he does like to eat. And read. Somehow it never occurred to him to read in service of eating by checking what’s actually on and in that pancake mix box. It had 20 ingredients, no nutrition, and no blueberries. “Blueberry bits” contained–are you ready?–food coloring, sugar, artificial flavor, and sodium alginate. So suddenly you can’t tell the difference between berries and blue goo?

I had to go into extra innings with the cauliflower and broccoli and eggplant and asparagus and tomato/artichoke heart salads just to overcome the unusually high crap factor, even though I didn’t use the mix. Just reading it was enough to require emergency grapefruit. I was too ashamed to donate it to a food pantry, either.

So….real is definitely the best way to go with food for the week. Breakfasts can be tricky–matzah and jam, matzah and cream cheese, matzah and almond butter…it gets pretty tired pretty quick. And on the other hand, blintzes are for weekends only and frankly? I’m still annoyed about that pancake mix incident a year later! Nu…

Three relatively low-crap, moderately-low matzah alternative breakfasts that are (most important!) low-labor for those post-Seder mornings when you are Done and Off Duty to your nearest and dearest (except for coffee):

1. Matzah-nola, what it sounds like, ingredients straight from the cupboard or freezer. There is actually a product out commercially this year called “Matzahnola”; my version I invented a year or two ago out of desperation against the nutrition-free Passover version of Cheerios my husband brought home, but I didn’t think it was that good a name–who knew? Anyway, I’m not bitter (though the fresh-grated horseradish is still stinging my sinuses from last night).

2. The old-style Israeli breakfast, not the modern endless hotel breakfast buffets–more like the kibbutz specials where you’re expected to get out there and weed a cotton field right afterward. Which I have actually done in my less cynical youth.

3. The bonus “I can haz CAKE?” breakfast, a favorite of fridge-scrounging champions everywhere

Whole-Wheat Matzah-nola

This is not low-cal, but it’s balanced in carb, has some fiber and some protein from the nuts and makes a decently satisfying breakfast cereal with a little bit of nutritional worth (well, compared to the packaged Passover cereals, anyhow). If you’re a granola person, this might be your thing. And this is pretty decent. Plus it’s a grand total of 30 seconds to make on the spot, and crushing the matzah by hand is fun.

Per bowl:

  • 1 sheet whole-wheat matzah (21 g carb), broken up in quarters or so and then crushed to oatmeal-sized bits by hand
  • good handful, about 30 g (1 oz, or 1/4 c. packed), of almond meal, almond flakes or coarsely crushed (preferably toasted) almonds, or a mixture–probably even better (5 g carb)
  • 1-2 t dried unsweetened shredded coconut, optional (better if you can get the defatted kind–Whole Foods has this and it cuts about 40 percent of the saturated fat, though in this quantity it’s not a big deal.)
  • 2 t. brown sugar or honey or maple syrup (10 g carb)
  • pinch of cinnamon as desired

Mix this stuff together, pour in a cup of skim milk, and you’ve got 46 g carb, about 7 g fiber, about 20 g protein. You’ve also got about 16-18 g fat, mostly unsaturated, and about 400-450 calories. Not fabulous dietwise, which is why I’d go with something more in the Israeli vegetables-tomatoes-yogurt-cheese style, because you get more food for your calories, but not too terrible either, and very low sodium for the cereal mix.

Israeli-style breakfast:

Scavenged from the fridge: leftover hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, some kind of white fresh cheese (panela, queso fresco, NOT cottage–too salty), plain thick yogurt, jam, whole-wheat matzah, oranges

Plus the essential: gallons of hot coffee

If you wanna get fancy, and you’ve already made some for a dairy appetizer or lunch sometime earlier, and you’re too hungry to save it for later, dig out the container of roasted eggplant/pepper/onion salad or:

Whitefish Salad (with Tehina if you eat sesame seeds at Pesach)

This one’s a combination of my microwave-assisted “fake-smoked” whitefish salad and a recipe in Poopa Dweck’s Aromas of Aleppo for fish salad made like baba ghanouj–flaked like tuna but mixed with tehina, garlic, lemon juice and cumin. Dweck’s preparation is a huge party dish with the fish salad mounded in a large fish shape and covered with cucumber “scales”. My unglamorous version adds yogurt and a little liquid smoke to the tehina mix and although it’s not fancy-dress, it tastes good and takes about 5 minutes to make. If you don’t eat sesame seeds at Passover, skip the tehina and just use sour cream or plain or Greek yogurt with some grated onion or finely chopped scallion and some dill instead of the cumin and caraway. You could do that for baba ghanouj-type eggplant salads too (though mint or thyme might be better than the dill).

Approximate proportions for about 2 cups of fish salad–scale up to taste or your party service ambitions…

  • 1-2 fresh or frozen tilapia or other suitable white fish filets (snapper’s okay; wouldn’t recommend sole, too delicate and watery, and DEFINITELY NOT COD, way too tough–learn from my miserable experience!)
  • 1/3 c. tehina paste (large dollop)
  • enough plain nonfat yogurt to achieve a thick but stirrable texture–a large dollop or so for one filet
  • 1 large clove garlic, mashed/grated/minced
  • juice of 1/2 large lemon or to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 t. ground cumin
  • pinch of ground caraway, optional
  • few drops of liquid smoke, optional
  • pinch of salt or to taste

Rinse tilapia filets under cold water, microwave between two dinner plates for 2 minutes or until cooked through (NOTE: this doesn’t work at all for cod, which toughens up and loses a lot of liquid when you microwave, more’s the pity). The filets should flake easily with a fork when done. Meanwhile, mix the tehina paste with the yogurt and other ingredients, then flake the fish and mix the sauce in as though you were making tuna salad. You want it to hold together–not too soupy, not too dry, and it should be uniform, with a fairly smooth spreadable texture, not lumps of fish surrounded by the binder. Taste for tartness and add salt only if you think it needs it. Chill and serve–you can do the “attractive platter” thing with sliced cucumber decorations etc. if you scale up the recipe 3-fold or so (use a food processor to blend it well to a paste) to make enough for a big platter.

Bonus cake-based breakfast scheme: leftover torte, yogurt, fresh fruit of some kind, gallons of coffee.

If the matzah is looking dryly back at you from the plate, daring you to reach for the prune juice like your grandparents, and you’re feeling much too young for that just yet, cake is not too bad an idea for breakfast. But don’t make it the box-mix stuff with the ton of matzah meal and potato starch–that won’t last you and it’s very spiky for blood sugar. Instead, try a moderate slice of leftover apple-almond cake made with a spoonful or so of matzah meal instead of flour, a very similar style of Passover hazelnut torte (hazelnut meal instead of almond, and leave out the almond extract), or the following, which is also pretty easy and along the same lines. Both have a lot of protein from the eggs and nuts, and a fair amount of fiber from nuts and fruit, but not so much outrageous carb and sugar per portion, and not a ton of yolks. And they stay moist for days–not like standard “choke cake”.

Banana-Ginger Almond Torte (makes 1 9″ cake layer)

This is another a pretty good “real ingredients dessert” based on the apple-almond cake scheme. It’s smaller and makes 8 portions at what I calculated to be 22 g. carb each but which acted more like 15-18 when my diabetic daughter ate it two dinners in a row last time I made it–for what it’s worth. It might be that the richness of the almond meal slows the carb down a bit, which can only be good news for nondiabetics too.

Almond meal is a really good baking substitute for flour if you’re diabetic–it has a lot of unsaturated fat, so cut down any fats in any recipe where you use it, but it has only 20 g carb per 120 g, not 96 per cup or 120 g as for flour. It also seems to enhance the sweetening power of sugar a little. The ginger and clove are a great addition to the banana here, and this recipe tasted overtly sweet and good by itself, unlike some of my experiments that occasionally need “help” from berries or jam on the side. Though those would probably taste good with this too.

  • 1 large ripe-t0-overripe banana (about 30-35 g carb)
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1 c. almond meal loosely packed (i.e., 100 g, not 120 as on the package–about 20 g carb)
  • 1/2 c. sugar (100 g)
  • 1 heaping soup spoon matzah cake meal or regular matzah meal, ground fine (24 g carb–this is heavier than regular flour, come to think of it, so you could probably do with a plain tablespoon. The batter was pretty thick)
  • 1/3 c. orange juice (about 8 g carb)
  • 1 t. or so fresh grated ginger
  • pinch each of cloves and cinnamon
  • couple of drops almond extract or a teaspoon of amaretto, optional

Whiz the almond meal and sugar in the food processor to grind them finer. Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the food processor, saving the whites to a bowl for whipping separately. Add the banana and other ingredients to the food processor and blend well until smooth. If it’s completely solid, drizzle in a little more orange juice to loosen it up just to the consistency of medium-thick cake batter.  Whip the egg whites with a hand whisk or mixer in a large mixing bowl until they’re stiff and hold a peak. Scrape the batter into the bowl on top of them and fold in quickly until the whites just disappear. Quickly pour the batter into a microwaveable soufflé dish or high-sided baking dish/casserole (***NOT NEW PYREX). Bake either conventionally or by microwave as below.

CONVENTIONAL BAKING: Bake in a conventional oven at 350 F for about 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned and springy in the middle. You may need to cover the edges with foil partway through to prevent overbrowning.

MICROWAVE: Set a microwaveable soup bowl or saucer upside down in the middle of the microwave turntable, center the casserole on top, and cover with an inverted microwaveable plate. Microwave 5 minutes on HIGH (1100W oven). It won’t brown but it will do pretty nicely and it’s quick.

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