|Making Matzah in Kiryat Eqron, Israel|
But for Yemenite Jews, matzah is much more like pita bread. Although it is not nearly as fluffy and chewy as regular pitas, it is soft and more doughy than most matzah. Even today, in many parts of Israel, Yemenite Jews make fresh matzah each day on Passover. We had the chance to make some on Tuesday and I thought I would write a bit about it.
The process starts with strictly supervised "kemach shmurah" - carefully supervised flour. Special care has been taken to ensure that the flour has not come into contact with water or any other leavening agents. The flour is purchased before Pesach starts and kept in a dry location.
When it is time to start preparing the matzah, there are several key points to keep in mind. First of all, the "oven" itself. Yemenite matzah is prepared in a tabun - which is basically a tandoori oven. The oven burns wood which must be brought to the right temperature for matzah making. So the first step is to put the right amount of wood and kindling into the oven and get a nice fire going. Once the wood is smouldering, the oven is ready and matzot can be cooked on the walls of the oven.
Now - for the preparation. About 6 cups of flour are mixed with a similar amount of water. The baker must continually mix the flour to ensure that the dough does not have time to rest and start leavening. (This is a halachic requirement that ensures that the matzah is actually kosher for passover). Interestingly, Yemenite Jews add a bit of salt to the flour-water mixture. Some Ashkenazi rabbis have banned the use of salt in matzah but it is apparently more of a tradition than a law.
The baker continues to mix the dough until the texture is appropriate for matzah making. This is where experience comes into play.
Next, some of the smouldering wood is removed from the oven. The walls of the oven are cleaned and rubbed with oil. Then, the baker breaks off about 1/8 or 1/9 of the dough, flattens it a bit and spreads it onto the hot wall of the tabun. Water is used to help the dough spread and stick to the wall.
This process continues until the baker has placed 8 or 9 dough pieces on the walls of the oven. Lots of water is used, both to cool the arms of the baker and to help spread the matzah and ensure that it sticks to the walls. The photo above was taken midway through the process after about 5 matzot were prepared.
Some of the hot wood that was removed from the oven is now placed back in the oven so that the temperature can continue to rise. The baker lights some palm branches on fire and uses the fire and smoke to help cook the outside of the matzot that are stuck to the walls of the oven.
The actual cooking time might be 5 or 6 minutes. By tradition, the entire process, from the mixing of the dough to the complete cooking of the matzot must take less than 18 minutes. Our process was complete in 15 minutes and you can see the finished product.
If you are sticking to fairly rigorous Ashkenazi rules, you might eat the fresh matzot with cream cheese, butter or jam. No kitniyot based spreads could be used. If you are following Eastern traditions, you might have these matzot with some humus, which is permissible for Sephardic and other non-Ashkenazi Jews on Passover.
In our case, we ate the matzot with curried chicken soup and freshly slaughtered curried goat (well - freshly slaughtered, just before Pesach). This meal can also be enjoyed with some hot sauce (chili peppers, garlic and cilantro leaves - or zhoug). I think I put a bit too much in my soup...but it was still delicious.
Finally, this should all be enjoyed with an appropriate kosher Israeli wine for the occasion. I picked up a bottle of Trio Winery's "Spirit of Jerusalem" wine, which should suit this type of meal nicely. We'll find out tonight.
Passover will end, officially, tomorrow night in Israel but that will lead right into Shabbat. Since there would be no opportunity to change back dishes, buy back the chametz or go out and buy ingredients, we wind up with a default additional day of pesach.
As delicious as these Yemenite matzot are, I'm looking forward to getting back to our regular eating patterns. Chag Sameach!