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The Miracle of Matzo

No food is more closely associated with the holiday of Passover than Matzo. Also spelled Matza, Matzoh, or Matsah, this cracker-type flatbread is a regular staple in observant Jewish households during the Passover season and begins appearing on grocery store shelves several weeks before the holiday begins.

Matzo is made simply of flour and water and is used during Passover because it is unleavened. Any kind of leavened bread – or chametz – is forbidden during Passover. Furthermore, eating matzo on the evening of the Seder dinner is considered to be a positive commandment or mitzvah.

Why Matzo?

The story of matzo and why it is eaten ties in with the Jewish exodus from Egypt. It is said that the Jews had to leave the country in such haste that there was no time for their bread to rise. Matzo was the result, as is described in the 2nd book of the Old Testament, appropriately named Exodus.

Some scholars also believe that matzo can be characterized as a poor and enslaved man’s food and, hence, eating it will remind members of the Jewish faith to be humble and to remember to be grateful for their freedom. Still, others believe that the bread is a symbol of salvation.

Regardless of why it is eaten, it is indeed an important symbol in the Seder meal and a common item in many Passover dishes.

Kinds of Matzo

Traditionally, matzo can be found in two varieties. The most common variety is the type you’ll find in most supermarkets. This matzo looks like crackers and tastes something like unsalted crackers as well. It comes in large sheets with perforations and can be broken up as needed. Some families also make their own. The commercial variety can sometimes be found in flavored varieties, including garlic, onion, or poppy seed Wheat matzo is also available and you can also purchase organic and gluten-free matzo these days.

Some Jewish sects enjoy a soft form of matzo that most closely resembles a tortilla or a pita. This form is especially popular with Latin/Hispanic, Ethiopian, and Yemenite Jews and those of Sephardic lineage. It is difficult to find in U.S. grocery stores but can be ordered online or found in some Jewish specialty bakeries in parts of the country with large Sephardic populations.

Uses for Matzo

When matzo is consumed at the Seder dinner, it is eaten with charoses, a fruit and nut mixture which symbolizes the mortar the Jews used when constructing brick buildings during their enslavement in Egypt.

In addition, some people merely enjoy eating it plain, straight out of the box. However, many people think this Jewish food tastes like cardboard, so they’re constantly looking for some way to enhance the flavor.

There are literally thousands of recipes that employ the use of matzo, like fried matzo (or matzo brei), generally coated in egg and sometimes cinnamon sugar and fried in butter for a tasty meal or snack. Many cooks also simply coat it in chocolate, a snack which is enjoyed by all ages.

Others use matzo for more elaborate dishes, like lasagna. In this dish, it’s a substitute for standard lasagna noodles and can be topped with all sorts of cheeses, meats, and vegetables. Many Jews make this recipe year round because it tends to be lighter than regular lasagna.

Others make the cracker-like bread into crumbs and use it to coat chicken or fish before frying or baking. It makes a tasty crust and is a good substitute for standard breadcrumbs.

Matzo can even be used in dessert recipes. Consider using sheets of matzo as a crust for cheesecake or cream pies or simply make toffee bars by spreading a butter and brown sugar mixture on the crackers, baking them, and then drizzling them with melted chocolate. Yum!