Sunday, April 4, 2010

Matzo Brei, Sri-Lankan and Galitzianer style

I am not going to provide a standard matzo brei recipe -- most people have their favorites already, and anyone else can find one in a cookbook or on the internet. However most recipes fall squarely into the category of breakfast foods, a French-toast substitute made out of the bread of affliction and usually served sweet. (Personally, I like mine with salt, pepper, cinnamon sugar, and sometimes date honey.)

Here I offer two savory matzo breis:

Matzo Brei, Sri-Lankan style (Kotthu Roti)

Kotthu Roti (Litvak style)
Our Montreal cousins often go to a Sri Lankan restaurant in their neighborhood called Jolee, which serves a dish called kotthu roti which is made of leftover bread, chopped up, and fried on a griddle with seasonings, eggs, veggies and other ingredients. It is a great way of using up leftovers. This is popular street food and supposedly, in Tamil cities in Southern India and Sri Lanka, the night is permeated by the sound of bread being chopped on griddles for kotthu roti. It is so popular that a lot of bread never makes it to the leftover stage and is produced especially for this dish. My first reaction on tasting it was that it was like a South Asian matzo brei, and this year I finally tried it:

  • 6 matzos
  • 1-3 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin seed
  • 1/2 tablespoon mustard seed (if you swing that way, see below)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
  • 1-2 cups chopped oniony stuff (white parts of scallions, shallots, red or yellow onions)
  • 1-3 green chilies, chopped
  • 10-20 curry leaves (optional, if available)
  • 4 -8 oz. finely shredded cabbage
  • 1-2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped (you can also substitute a chopped sweet red pepper)
  • salt
  • 1-4 eggs, lightly scrambled and salted
  • handful of fresh coriander

  1. Break matzos into medium size pieces. Put in a large bowl and cover with cold water, and leave for about five minutes. You may need to weight the matzos down so that they are covered. Drain well, even if the matzos are still a little hard. Leave it in the bowl, covered, while you gather and chop the other ingredients, and it will continue to soften. (Matzo brei cooks better if the matzo is not oversoaked.
  2. Heat oil in a very large nonstick skillet until very hot.
  3. Add the mustard and cumin seeds, and heat until the cumin darkens slightly and the mustard pops.
  4. Add the curry leaves and stir.
  5. Add turmeric and stir.
  6. Add onions (sprinkle with salt) and chilies and stir until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add cabbage and cook until wilted. Brown it a bit if you want.
  8. Add tomatoes and stir fry a few minutes. Add a bit more salt.
  9. Add the matzos and let it sit for a few minutes, and then stir fry about 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned and no longer soggy. They will sort of swell and crisp lightly at the same time. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.
  10. Push the mixture over to one side of the skillet. Pour a bit of oil onto the exposed part of the skillet, and add the eggs. Let it cook undisturbed for about a minute, and then scramble and cook until done. Stir to incorporate into the other ingredients.
  11. Add fresh coriander, stir and serve to the relief of people who are getting very bored with their diet as Passover starts to drag.

Serves 3-4 for lunch with a salad.

Why don't you soak the matzos with the eggs? Most recipes call for soaking the matzos in egg after the water soak, but that leaves you with a texture too similar to regular matzo brei and not enough like kotthu roti. The matzo will steam and soften in the skillet and doesn't need to be soaked in egg for this dish.

Mustard seeds: (You may skip this section if you eat kitniyot. You may also skip this if you don't know what kitniyot are and therefore don't care whether you eat mustard seeds on Passover or not.) I personally follow David Golinkin ( ) on the issue of the prohibition of kitniyot and consider it a "foolish custom." I have never been much for stringency, and if Ovadiah Yosef eats it, why can't we? (Not that he would ever eat in my house anyway.) Besides, my grandfather said that our last name, Divack may have been derived from Dweck, a common Syrian name and that we might have some Middle Eastern ancestry. For grains like rice I can almost understand holding to the stringency, but mustard seeds? Would anyone every mistake ground mustard with flour from one of the forbidden grains? Adding prohibition to prohibition is contrary to the joy of the holiday which already has enough restrictions to keep us all busy. That having been said, you can skip the mustard seeds, use only cumin and it will be fine.

Other ingredients: You can really make this with what you want -- these are the vegetables that I had on hand. I used mostly scallions, since every year, we have a plate of scallions that we intend to use to whip each other while singing dayenu, and always forget to do it, so it was a good way to use up the scallions. Shallots are probably the most authentic, but use what you have. The same goes for the other veggies. I liked the cabbage and tomato combination (don't overdo the tomatoes) but you could add other greens, shredded zucchini (I would salt this lightly first and then rinse to eliminate the extra moisture), and chopped green beans, if you consider them acceptable during the holiday. If you want, instead of the eggs, it would also be good with some leftover shredded roast chicken. In any case, you need to use plenty of oil.

Galitzianer-style savory Matzo Brei:

Over 30 years ago, Celia, the mother of my mother's friend Susan, made this matzo brei. She said that the got the recipe "From a Galitzianer woman." In retrospect, I wonder if the original inspiration was Tamil. I can't believe that people who put sugar in their gefilte fish would think a such a wonderful, savory thing to do with matzo brei.

To make it, make matzo brei the ordinary way: soak and drain the matzo, and then add one beaten egg per board. For about 4-6 pieces, grate in one medium to large onion and season with plenty of salt an pepper. Cook in vegetable oil or schmaltz (chicken fat) in a non-stick skillet. This should be scrambled and not pancake-style. I like it best somewhat long cooked until at least some of the pieces are browned, crisp and chewy. This is a perfect side dish with any dish with gravy. like a brisket, or even with a plain roasted chicken if you are sicker of potatoes than you are of matzo.


  1. I grew up eating a variation on your Galitzianer (my family was also from Galicia) matzoh brie but we first fried finely sliced onion rather than grated. Since I only serve non-meat I make it with butter. I also do make it like a pancake but like you let it cook till slightly browned and crisper (and the onions are very well cooked.) It takes lots of salt and pepper and I then serve it with cottage cheese...

  2. On a completely un-pesach related note, I have tragic news about Jolee. My dad took his lab out to dinner there not long ago and the next morning 5 of them (father dearest included) had food poisoning in varying degrees of severity. We may need to launch an expedition for a new MTL source of kotu roti, dosas and stringhoppers, preferably without e-coli and salmonella mixed in. Sigh.

  3. Very sad and painful. All the more reason to try this recipe w leftover matzah. Also weren't there lots of other similar places on the same street.

  4. Alan, thank you for the honorable mention as well as the Kotthu Roti recipe. In addition to the Israelites, matzoh is redeemed!