Passover Beef Pie with Spring Herbs
Spanish Jews have served mina at Passover since the Middle ages. When anti-kosher laws were devised by the Inquisition and implemented by the Spanish Crown, what had simply been a delicious, festive meat pie became a powerful symbol of religious freedom. So the point of serving it on this holiday is to showcase the beef. Because of that, there’s not much else in it: sauteed onions, a little salt and black pepper, chicken stock, eggs, and parsley. There are dressed up versions, too, of course, but I love the symbolism in this one. And it really is delicious as is.
My grandmother always cooked with curly leaf parsley, which is very flavorful. Around the time of her death, the markets in our area all began selling flat leaf parsley instead, which can taste a little flat too, by comparison. The family mina suffered a bit, until I got the lovely herbal bouquet back to my grandma’s by adding a little fresh dill. If flat leaf parsley is all you’ve got, I recommend you do the same.
1 pound minced beef (not ground).* You can use any good marbleized cut, or even chuck, which is very tender and flavorful, if you buy it from a good butcher.
3 medium yellow onions
3 large eggs, unbeaten
1 egg, beaten
4 square matzas
1 cup chopped curly leaf parsley, leaves only, OR 1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley + 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill, leaves only
2 ½ cups chicken stock
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & fresh ground black pepper
*Take a few minutes to mince the beef by hand with a sharp, heavy knife, rather than buying it already ground. There is no comparison in flavor or texture.
Peel and chop the onions.
Coat the bottom of a three-quart covered saucepan with a light coating of olive oil and place over moderate heat. When the oil is warm, add the chopped onions to the pot, stir to coat and cook them over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until translucent. Avoid browning the onions, which will turn them bitter. Just at the point the onions begin to turn light golden, add the minced beef to the pot, breaking it apart thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Cover the pot, reduce the flame to low and render the meat at a slow simmer. NOTE: Browning the meat quickly will toughen it and dry it out. Take your time with this step.
When all the meat has browned lightly, pour off the fat. Stir in the chopped herbs and one cup of chicken stock. Season to taste with salt and black pepper, cover the pot and let it simmer over a very low flame, just until the broth is absorbed; then, remove it immediately from the heat and set it aside to cool slightly. The meat should be moist and plump, but there should be little or no liquid left in the pot. It’s critical to keep a watchful eye on the pot through this step; if the meat is allowed to dry out, it will lose flavor as well as texture.
When the meat has cooled to room temperature, preheat the oven to 350°F. Warm the remaining chicken stock on the stove without boiling it. Choose a rectangular glass or ceramic baking dish into which you can lay two squares of matza side by side. Lightly oil the dish on the bottom and sides, and line the bottom with two squares of matza. Moisten the matza thoroughly with ¼ cup of the warm stock, which should be sufficient to soften the matza without turning it to mush. When the matzas have softened, brush them lightly with half the beaten egg, setting aside the rest for the top of the pie.
Separately, moisten the other two matzas in the same manner on two flat plates, dividing another ¼ cup between them.
Break the three remaining eggs directly into the meat mixture and blend them in with a wooden spoon. Pour the meat into the prepared baking dish and even it out with the back of the spoon. Carefully slide each of the two matzas onto the meat to cover it completely. Brush them with the remaining beaten egg, pour the remaining cup of warm stock evenly over the entire pie, and place it in the oven. Bake until light golden brown on top, about 40 minutes. (The top crust will puff up some).
Let the pie rest before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into squares.
To reheat cold mina, pour some chicken stock over it, and warm it in a 250°F oven.