Let's Eat

Pesach aubergine ‘secret ingredient’ matzah bake

Growing up in Soviet Russia, a box of matzah was something you kept hidden


Photo: Alissa Timoshkina

It is almost impossible to put in words the joy I experience when eating matzah. It is something I don’t do often, purposefully, so as not to spoil the specialness of the moment. Perhaps it is also an unconscious homage to how my family used to eat it back in the Soviet days - infrequently, on special occasions, almost as a secret pleasure.

While the Soviet Union officially embraced multiculturalism, the reality was far from the truth and Jewish food, especially items deeply connected to religious practices, occupied a marginal space both publicly and privately, lurking at the back of cupboards and never openly displayed especially when non-Jewish guests were around.

My great grandma, Rosalia, would get big boxes of matzah sent to her from Moscow by her cousin, Tamara, and these were indeed always kept at the back of the cupboard.

When I was a child I took to matzah like a natural what I didn’t understand however was the unspoken need to keep that culinary preference a bit of a secret.

One day my mother took me to visit her university professor who was having a gathering with her students. She was Jewish too. While the grownups were having a conversation I wondered off into another room where I managed to discover the professor’s hidden box of matzah and proudly brought it into the room for everyone to see, yelling excitedly “Mom, can I have some!” There was a very awkward pause as my mom and her teacher gave each other a knowing and a slightly uncomfortable smile.

As it turned out no one else in the room knew what I was talking about, and the attention was diverted with a reprimand for going through people’s drawers without asking.

To this day I chuckle as I recall this incident as I make a matzah omelette for my daughter around Passover, just like the one Rosalia used to make for me.

This recipe is an homage to our family ‘secret’ ingredient, that elaborates on my gran’s ideas and embraces my love of aubergines and harissa, to give it a delicious, albeit unauthentic for my family, Mizrahi touch.

Serves 2

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes


1 aubergine
2 sheets of matzah
½ tube of concentrated tomato paste
1 tsp harissa paste
1 tsp freshly toasted and ground coriander seeds

1 tsp dried mint
100g crumbly cheese, like feta
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste


  • Line a loaf tin with parchment paper and drizzle with vegetable oil. Cut the aubergine into thin slices lengthwise.
  • Place the first layer of aubergine and top with a layer of matzah. Top with a layer of cheese. Repeat until the tin is full.
  • In a cup mix the tomato and harissa paste, salt, pepper, dried mint and coriander. Top with boiling water till a thick pourable consistency is achieved.
  • Pour over the layers and top with a beaten egg and more feta cheese.
  • Bake in the over at 180°C for 35 minutes.

Instagram: Alissa Timoshkina

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