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Back when we first met, my husband lived in a second-floor apartment on Route 1 in Rockland, Maine, above what was then the hardware store.
Along with its affordable rent, the old wooden building came with sweeping views of Rockland Harbor, the lulling sounds of buoy bells and lighthouse horns, and a front row seat to some amazing lightning storms.
It had a small living room and bedroom, a bathroom with an old fashioned skylight that made me feel as though I were living in the city, and a small but adequately equipped kitchen, where Rob turned out such exotic delicacies as liverwurst sandwiches on toast; a tuna-like salad made with jack mackerel, which came in a big, inexpensive can; leftover pork chop fried rice; mushroom and cheese omelets that he finished in the oven; and many wonderful things using shrimp, which for a couple of months of he year was cheaper than hamburger.
As I had never seen nor heard of any of these delights, I thought he was a pretty good cook. What clinched this opinion was what he called “little Jewish pancakes,” which I know today to be latkes made with matzo meal instead of the more familiar grated potato.
Although too much time has gone by for him to remember, I assume that he was introduced to these pancakes by my in-laws, who raised their family in the east side Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. At their dining room table, his parents would mark all the days of the religious calendar each year. And on Holy Thursday, that included a Seder meal, where matzo was served as the unleavened bread.
I had never seen a matzo until Rob served me one. In keeping with food choices driven by economic necessity, these large, thin, corrugated squares came in a big package with a little price tag so they were his cracker of choice, whether served smeared with butter, or with slice of cheese or a dollop of that jack mackerel salad.
Matzo meal, which came in a waxy blue and white box, was equally inexpensive as it was made from the ground up crackers. The latkes recipe was printed on the back.
These dense little disks are really more egg than pancake. Fancier versions call for the eggs to be separated, the whites beaten and then folded in to lighten the batter. Rob always made the more expedient, whole egg version.
The other morning, as I was roaming the kitchen, trying to decide what to eat, these latkes popped into my head when my eyes landed on a canister of matzo meal, leftover from a recent batch of matzo ball soup. The recipe for the pancakes was not on the box, but after a bit of research – thanks again, Google – I soon had it in hand.
This version calls for letting the batter sit for 10 to 15 minutes before frying, but you certainly could let it rest longer. You really want the meal to soften up before you begin. It also says you can adjust the thickness of the batter after letting it sit. I really didn’t know what texture I was aiming for, so I fried them as is and it worked out just fine.
Be sure to heat your pan well and let the latkes brown and the edges crisp before you flip them. I served mine with maple syrup, which made for a delicious, nostalgic breakfast, but I also read that adding a little grated onion turns them into savory pancake that can be served with sour cream.
Matzo Meal Pancakes
½ cup matzo meal
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
¼-½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup water
Vegetable oil for frying
Beat eggs thoroughly. Add matzo meal, sugar and salt, and beat well. Add water and beat again. Let sit for 10-15 minutes (or more). Adjust liquid to proper consistency. Drop onto heated, greased frying pan. (I used a nonstick pan with 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.) Brown on both sides.
Serve with cinnamon sugar, preserves, sour cream, powdered sugar or maple syrup.