03/15/2012 01:56 EDT | Updated 05/15/2012 05:12 EDT

Recipes for matzo brei shepherd's pie, Passover sliders with caramelized onions

During Passover each year much of the culinary focus is on the seder, the celebratory meal that commemorates the Jewish liberation and exodus from ancient Egypt.

But the special dietary restrictions that go with the holiday last at least a week, which can challenge even the most creative of cooks to come up with interesting meals.

During the week of Passover, Jews are supposed to adhere to dietary restrictions intended to remind them that their ancestors were in such a hurry to get out of Egypt that they didn't even wait for their bread to rise, instead taking matzos, the unleavened flatbreads that still are eaten today.

This is why many Jews avoid foods made with wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats that have been mixed with water and allowed to stand in the open air for more than 18 minutes — the amount of time it takes for natural leavening to begin. Many Jews also avoid other small grain-like foods, such as rice, millet, corn and legumes like beans and lentils.

Which is to say, there's a whole lot of matzo sold during Passover. And a whole lot of label reading.

But for generations, Jewish cooks have turned these restrictions into a culinary challenge of sorts. Some people actually find the week devoid of these foods a refreshing change.

Laura Frankel, author of cookbooks such as "Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes," points out that many people treat Passover as a kind of second New Year celebration because of the historical new beginning the holiday represents. And since Passover occurs at the start of spring, Frankel sees the holiday as a chance to transition from heavy winter cooking to lighter fare.

Frankel also prefers to focus on the many foods Jews can eat — fish, vegetables, fruit, meats and dairy — rather than on those they can't.

For breakfast, which can be a difficult meal because it traditionally relies so heavily on cereals and breads, Frankel makes her family matzo meal-coated patties of ground turkey, dried cranberries and pistachios, which are pan-fried and served topped with a sunny-side-up egg.

When it comes to dinner, Frankel likes to make a light bourride, a bouillabaisse-like fish soup she prepares with fish stock left over from making gefilte fish for the seder. As a special dessert, she makes a light chocolate mousse prepared with eggs and a high-quality olive oil rather than cream.

Leah Koenig, author of "The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook," agrees with the philosophy of celebrating what you can eat rather than what you can't. And apart from a few favourites she makes with matzo — such as granola made with matzo farfel (tiny pieces of matzo) — she tends to stay away from trying to recreate dishes one might normally make with any of the forbidden grains, such as cakes and other baked goods.

It's kind of like vegetarians trying to make meat dishes without the meat, she explains. Why bother when there are so many other great foods out there that you can eat?

Besides, Koenig points out, though some people truly miss breads and grains, Passover is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the many things we can live without, as well as appreciate the bounty we have for the rest of the year.

For easy meals during Passover, however, we've created two dishes that are sure to please family and friends who might be feeling a little deprived.

Our matzo brei (kind of a matzo french toast) topped shepherd's pie is meant to be prepared with leftovers from your seder. We've used brisket and beef broth to make the filling, but if you have leftover turkey or chicken you can simply use chicken broth with equally tasty results.

For an even quicker meal, try our Passover sliders. These bun-less burgers are dipped in beaten eggs, coated with seasoned matzo meal and fried in either olive oil, Passover margarine or, for the absolute best flavour, chicken or duck fat. Serve with sweet potato fries or roasted potatoes to complete the meal.

Matzo Brei Shepherd's Pie

Start to finish: 1 hour 5 minutes (35 minutes active)


15 ml (1 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil

250 ml (1 cup) diced yellow onion (about 1 medium)

285 g (10 oz) cremini mushrooms, quartered

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) diced carrots (3 medium)

2 ml (1/2 tsp) dried thyme

50 ml (1/4 cup) matzo meal

125 ml (1/2 cup) dry red wine

750 ml (3 cups) diced cooked brisket

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) beef broth

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste


4 matzos

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

5 ml (1 tsp) kosher salt

Ground black pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 190 C (375 F). Coat a 20-by-20-cm (8-by-8-inch) glass baking dish with cooking spray.

Filling: In a large skillet over medium-high, heat oil. Add onion and saute until softened and translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until they begin to brown, about another 5 minutes. Add carrots and thyme, then cook, stirring often, for another 7 minutes.

Stir in matzo meal and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly and scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, for 2 minutes.

Stir in diced brisket and beef broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is simmering and has thickened slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.

Topping: Crumble matzos into a large colander placed over a bowl to catch crumbs, then hold colander under running cold water until matzos are moist and softened, but not completely disintegrated, 15 to 20 seconds. Transfer to bowl with crumbs. Add eggs and salt and mix gently with a fork.

Spread matzo mixture in an even layer over top of brisket mixture, then sprinkle with pepper. Bake until matzo brei topping is golden and brisket filling is bubbling.

Makes 6 servings.

Source: Recipe by Jim Romanoff.


Passover Sliders With Caramelized Onions

Start to finish: 35 minutes

Caramelized Onions

15 ml (1 tbsp) extra-virgin olive oil

1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 ml (1/4 tsp) kosher salt


625 g (1 1/4 lb) lean ground beef

5 ml (1 tsp) onion powder

175 ml (3/4 cup) matzo meal

5 ml (1 tsp) kosher salt

3 ml (3/4 tsp) ground black pepper

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

50 ml (1/4 cup) kosher chicken fat, duck fat or extra-virgin olive oil

Caramelized onions: In a medium saucepan over medium, heat oil. Add onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and quite golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and set aside.

Sliders: In a large bowl, gently mix ground beef and onion powder (be careful not to over-mix). Form beef mixture into 8 equal 5-by-2-cm (2-by-3/4-inch) patties. Transfer to a plate and set aside. In a wide, shallow bowl, mix together matzo meal, salt and pepper.

Dip each beef patty into beaten eggs, turning to coat, then transfer to dish with matzo meal. Turn gently to thoroughly coat. Return coated patties to plate.

In a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, heat fat over medium-high. Fry coated patties in hot fat, turning once, until crusty and golden brown, 3 minutes per side for medium rare or 5 minutes per side for well done. Serve topped with caramelized onions.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Recipe by Jim Romanoff.