For eight days there might be just a bit more bread on campus than usual.
The Jewish holiday Passover, which commemorates the Jews’ exodus from Egypt and began this Monday, prohibits consumption of leavened bread. For those observing, this involves replacing the traditional cereal or toast breakfast with a thinner, crunchier, and–quite literally–holier variety.
Matzoh, a cracker-like sheet, constitutes the most symbolic and largely consumed food during the holiday season. The process of baking matzoh must take fewer than 18 minutes–from the initial mixing to the final moments of baking–in order to be considered in accordance with the holiday’s dietary restrictions. To prevent rising, small, fork-like pricks are embedded into the unbaked dough, resulting in puffed, evenly spaced pockets across the sheet’s surface.
Matzoh today is mass-produced in factories, their strict baking requirements attended to with Taylorism-like efficiency. While it is most commonly associated with the Passover holiday, my family and many others eat it year-round, using it as a neutral platform on which to load dips and spreads of various flavors and spices. Hummus, salsa, baba ghanoush – an eggplant and chickpea mix, and matbucha – a savory-sweet vegetable chutney, are all dollopped on with vigor.
What is not as common, and perhaps entirely particular to my own palate, is a combination of rice, chicken and tomato sauce layered onto a sheet, one atop the other. Seasoned heavily with freshly cracked black pepper and a splash of Tabasco for extra zing, the dish has been ideal for Saturday lunches, when leftovers from the previous night’s dinner are stacked high and tall in our single door white fridge, and grumbling stomachs demand instantaneous reward.
Though not as likely to whet the appetite as, say, a molten-lava cake, the dish serves as a delicious and simple reminder of home, and provides a taste of the special time of year when the sheet beneath the toppings takes center stage.