I'm interested in how similar seemingly disparate food cultures can be. Dishes get repeated over and over throughout history, and across what appear to be canyon-esque cultural divides. Sure, the manifestations differ slightly, but is an empanada really all that far removed from a samosa? Lord knows the Chinese and Italians are locked in an ageless struggle for noodle supremacy, with few truly significant conceptual differences between the resulting dishes of these geographically disparate cuisines.
I look for these cultural linkages in my cooking, and occasionally run with them. Take, for example, Matzoh Brei. I first learned about this traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dish from Ruth Reichl. In Tender at the Bone, the first of her three-part memoir, Reichl details cooking this dish for a group of her drunken teenage friends, before getting felt up for the first time.
The dish, basically matzoh fried with eggs in a French Paradox-worthy amount of butter, sounded fantastic, and it is. It quickly became a favorite for my wife and me, as a late-night dinner after getting the kids to bed: simple, satisfying, and fast.
After making it a few times, it occurred to me that Matzoh Brei is basically Yiddish migas, or perhaps a crossbreed of migas and chilaquiles. Eggs, cooked with unleavened bread; what's the difference, really?
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With that in mind, I began experimenting. Nothing too out of the ordinary, so far. I have yet to simmer my matzoh in salsa verde, or pair it with chorizo. So far, the extent to which I've taken my cross-cultural association is by a little bit of flavor infusion in the form of jalapenos.
The quick, satisfying nature of this dish makes it a perfect Shiftwork Bites option. Everybody likes breakfast for dinner. A few nights ago, I whipped up a batch at work, caramelizing some red onions in the butter, along with a handful of fresh sliced jalapeno, before adding the matzoh and eggs. The onions added a sweet complexity, and cooking the chiles into the dish lent a nice background heat, and allowed all of the flavors to mellow. I topped it with some fresh jalapeno for color and texture, and served.
This was likely one of the most user-friendly meals I've made at work, so far, as it required only one pan. No waiting forever for pots to boil on tiny hotplates. No crowding the kitchenette to the point that I'm cooking on top of the water cooler. I only used half the box of matzoh I brought, so I've even got the makings of another batch (halfway) there, already.
I'm not sure the guys on my crew appreciated the lecture on cross-cultural culinary consanguinity, but they sure liked the food.