Visiting local kitchens for several takes on Passover staple — Matzah Brei

Michael Eastman making his Matzah Brei in his home. Photo: Kristi Foster

By Margi Lenga Kahn, Special to the Jewish Light

When it comes to Matzah Brei, that perennial Passover favorite, there seem to be as many versions of this treat as there are Jewish families in St. Louis.  There is something about the combination of matzah and eggs that brings out the creative muse in all of us. Meet four members of our community whose unique Matzah Brei creations deliciously riff on tradition.

Michael Eastman is an internationally acclaimed fine art photographer whose artwork is displayed in museums throughout the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum, and at exhibits around the world. He is also a dear friend, and, by any measure, a true character.  And, I might add, very proud of his Matzah Brei.  When I told him the topic of my Passover column, he invited me to his home to witness and sample the creation of his culinary masterpiece.

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“Matzah Brei was the first thing I learned to cook,” Michael told me.  “I loved to watch my grandmother, Fay Londe, cook. I can still remember her amazing gefilte fish, chopped liver, honey cake, and, of course, the best Matzah Brei. She believed, as I do, that schmaltz makes everything taste better. She rendered her own and used it to cook everything.

“In preparation for his demonstration, Michael bought a container of schmaltz. Just one sniff told him that the schmaltz lacked the strong, oniony smell of his grandmother’s special version.

“So I double-rendered it,” he said. “I sautéed one finely chopped onion in the schmaltz for 30 minutes over low heat and then strained the fat back into the container.”

“Here,” he said, holding the schmaltz container toward me, “take a whiff.”

Michael’s schmaltz could win awards. But the schmaltz is only the beginning of the preparation that goes into his Matzah Brei.

“My theory of cooking is simple,” he said. “If two chickens are good for chicken soup, four chickens are better! Furthermore, there’s nothing quite like great chicken soup, which is why I use it to soak my Matzahs for Matzah Brei.”

Yes, Michael’s chicken soup was rich and delicious, as was his Matzah Brei.

Michael sometimes uses Matzah Brei as a base for other foods as one might use a pizza crust, and suggests topping it with strips of lox, turkey bacon, or pastrami.

Ken Levine is the Executive Chef of Gourmet Guru on the Go, a catering company.  He spent 12 years as an executive chef in southern California before moving to St. Louis with his family nine years ago. He caters for private home dinner parties of 5-10 people. About seven years ago, Ken got involved in cooking for the annual Matzah Brei Breakfasts at Congregation Shaare Emeth, where 30 to 40 fortunate participants feast on his traditional version.

When cooking Matzah Brei at home, however, Ken’s approach is anything but traditional. Ken applied his culinary acumen to come up with a Matzah Brei that is the ultimate in crispiness. Imagine biting into a deep-fried version of Matzah Brei, generously sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.  It is crackly, sweet, and decadent. Is your mouth watering yet?  

“My kids prefer my deep-fried version,” Ken said.  “It’s not even close.”  

Sheri Sherman is an active community volunteer, including being the current chair of the board of The New Jewish Theatre and a trustee of the Jewish Light. Many years ago, she and her husband Don learned that their daughter Samantha had a gluten allergy.  While there were plenty of other gluten-free foods Samantha could eat, the one food she hated to give up was Matzah Brei. Sheri was determined to find a way to make Matzah Brei for Samantha. After extensive research, Sheri learned about a company, Golders Green, that produces Schmura Gluten-Free Oat Matzahs.

The Matzahs are made in England from gluten-free oats grown on a farm in Scotland. These Matzahs are schmura, meaning a rabbi closely supervisions the process, from harvest through baking through packaging to insure that they don’t come in any contact with other grains or water, which would make them unfit for use during Passover.  Due to the added costs of this supervision and processing, the Matzahs are, to put it mildly, expensive.  One box, which contains just three sheets of Matzah, costs more than $25.

Sherry told me that she tries to keep a supply of these special Matzahs safely stored in her basement.

“This is Samantha’s favorite food,” Sheri explained. “I want to make sure that I always have these Matzahs on hand. I not only make Matzah Brei for Samantha on Passover but also for breakfast every morning during the year that she is in town visiting.”

To learn more about these Matzahs, you can visit

Kathleen Sitzer is the Artistic Director of New Jewish Theatre. Later this spring, she will receive a 2011Visionary Award from Grand Center for her work with that theater. Kudos to Kathleen.  

Her creativity extends beyond the theater. She has taken a recipe for Matzah Brei, initially developed by her husband Bill, and come up with some unusual variations.  While each show at her theater might have a run of three weeks, a Sitzer Matzah Brei may have just a one-day run. That’s because Kathleen’s “kitchen sink recipe,” as she calls it, is entirely dependent on whatever happens to be in her refrigerator or pantry at the time.

“Sometimes,” Kathleen told me, “I make it with tomatoes and green peppers, kind of like a Spanish omelet. Or I might go Italian, and add some basil, parsley, and Parmesan or Romano cheese. I just throw whatever I’ve got into it. I might add diced onions and zucchini and whatever seasonings my hands happen to go to.  I really like the flavors of basil and dill. And of course I almost always include garlic powder, which I add to the egg mixture along with the salt and pepper.”

Another unique aspect of Kathleen’s Matzah Brei is that she uses Matzah farfel rather than the more traditional sheets of Matzah.

“Farfel is so much easier to use,” she said, “and it doesn’t absorb as much of the egg/milk mixture. My family prefers crisper Matzah Brei.”

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of three.  A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected].