Passover brings to mind certain foods, like charoset, gefilte fish and brisket, to name a few. Then of course there’s matzo, Passover’s staple unleavened flatbread, which leaves its mark on many dishes, from matzo ball soup to matzo brei and matzo farfel. It wouldn’t be the same holiday without these hallmark foods, but let’s be honest: Eating the same dishes year after year for a week straight can get a little redundant.
This is where author Leah Koenig comes to the rescue. Her cookbook, Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen, is filled with both year-round and kosher-for-Passover recipes that defy any stereotype of Jewish food being bland or tired. We’re particularly smitten with her recipes that employ matzo, from her bold-flavored Jalapeño-Shallot Matzo Balls and Caramel-Chocolate Matzo Clusters to her entirely unconventional recipes for granola and lasagna that utilize sheets of matzo.
We asked Leah how she created such out-of-the-box uses for matzo. Her matzo granola was born partly out of necessity: “Breakfast on Passover can be particularly challenging because most categories of breakfast foods—cereal, oatmeal, toast, pancakes, muffins, bagels—are off-limits. I developed the matzo granola to fill this Passover ‘breakfast gap,'” she told us. “It’s crunchy and nutty with a hint of sweetness, just like any good granola, and I would happily eat it over yogurt all year long.”
She also discovered that if you briefly soak sheets of matzo in water, they soften to a consistency that very closely resembles lasagna noodles. That revelation inspired her lasagna, which she describes as “a little bit of Passover magic.” She adds: “I layer my lasagna with lots of cheese and spinach to make it a decadent-but-nutritious main dish for a vegetarian Passover seder, or for a weeknight Passover meal.”
See her matzo lasagna and matzo granola recipes below.
Over the last decade, matzo lasagna has quickly and emphatically entered the Passover mainstream. Its rise has partly to do with the need it fills for a substantive main dish to serve during the holiday’s weeklong bread ban. The other reason for its popularity? It’s delicious, and remarkably so. Softened matzo provides a convincingly noodle-like base for the rich ricotta and mozzarella, tangy marinara, and tender spinach threaded throughout the layers. I like to imagine that, fifty years from now, my future children and grandchildren will swear that Passover is not Passover without spinach-matzo lasagna.
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 oz/140 g baby spinach
4 cups/910 g full-fat or low-fat ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups/200 g grated mozzarella
1/4 cup/10 g roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
9 sheets matzo
4 cups/960 ml good-quality marinara
1/4 cup/20 g grated parmesan
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
Heat the olive oil in a medium pan set over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and spinach and cook, tossing with tongs, until the garlic is fragrant and the spinach wilts, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, eggs, 1/2 cup/50 g of the mozzarella, and the parsley. Season generously with salt and pepper and set aside.
Fill a shallow baking dish with water. Dip 3 sheets of the matzo in the water and let soften for 1 to 2 minutes. (Not longer—you want the pieces to feel soft, but not mushy or soggy. They should still hold their shape.) Spoon half of the marinara into the bottom of a 9-by-13-in/23-by-33-cm baking dish. Shake the excess water off of the softened matzo pieces and arrange in the baking dish, breaking the sheets as necessary to fit. Top with about half of the ricotta mixture, followed by half of the spinach mixture. Repeat with half of the remaining marinara, another 3 softened sheets of matzo, and the remaining ricotta and spinach mixtures.
Soften the remaining 3 sheets of matzo and arrange on top. Spoon the remaining marinara over the top, then sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 1/2 cups/150 g mozzarella and the Parmesan.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake until heated through, about 45 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the cheese is lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes more. Let stand for a few minutes. Serve hot. Serves 8 to 10.
Matzo Granola with Walnuts and Coconut
Breakfast can be tough going during Passover. With toast, bagels, cereal, waffles, muffins, oatmeal, and pretty much every other starchy breakfast staple off the menu, the options are seriously limited. Enter this granola. The crumbled matzo that replaces the typical rolled oats gets toasty and crisp in the oven, and is then tossed with chopped walnuts, shredded coconut, and raisins. I won’t promise that it will become your new year-round breakfast. (Very little can compare with a perfect stack of pancakes.) But I can promise that it will make Passover infinitely sweeter.
1/4 cup/60 ml vegetable oil
1/3 cup/115 g honey
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
5 sheets matzo, crumbled into 1/2-in/12-mm pieces
1 cup/115 g walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup/45 g coarsley shredded unsweetened coconut
2/3 cup/105 g black raisins
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C and line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk together the vegetable oil, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Add the matzo and stir to completely coat.
Spread the granola on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Add the walnuts and coconut and stir to combine. Bake, stirring once, until the matzo browns and the walnuts and coconut are toasted, 10 to 12 minutes more. (The mixture will look wet; don’t worry, it will crisp up as it cools.)
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and immediately transfer the granola to a large heat-safe bowl. Stir in the raisins. Let cool completely, stirring occasionally to break up any large clumps. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Serves 6.