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Traditional Jewish Recipes

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In this Lesson you will Learn

  1. What are typical ingredients and dishes in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine?
  2. What are typical ingredients and dishes in Sephardic Jewish cuisine?
 

Introduction

Jewish cuisine refers to the foods eaten by Jewish people across the globe, including Ashkenazi Jews in Europe, Sephardic Jews in the Middle East, Jewish immigrants in the US, and all the communities elsewhere. Thus, Jewish cuisine is an extraodinardily varied cuisine. Jewish cuisine is further shaped by Jewish dietary law (kashrut), Sabbath prohibitions, and holiday traditions. 1

Ingredients

Among other things, Jewish dietary law forbids eating pork, rabbit, shellfish, and catfish. Thus, chicken, beef, and lamb are eaten instead. Meat and dairy may not be eaten together in the same meal. Fish is often eaten on the Sabbath, the day of rest on which Jews are not allowed to work. For this reason, many Jewish dishes served on the Sabbath are prepared in advance and heated up, including kugels, tagines, and curries. Other dishes are simply intended to be served cold.2

While Ashkenazi Jews across Europe have created a variety of unique national dishes, they use some of the same ingredients as one another. Beets, carrots, cabbage, onions, and potatoes grow in their typically cool climates. Schmalz (chicken or goose fat) is a common cooking fat. Sour cream, cottage cheese, and cream cheese are popular, as are egg noodles, dumplings, bagels, and various breads (e.g. challah, rye, pumpernickel).3

Without access to the sea, Ashkenazi Jews traditionally enjoyed freshwater fish, especially smoked and cured. Ashkenazic cuisine is generally less spicy than Sephardic cuisine, though they do use garlic, parsley, dill, bay leaves, paprika, and horseradish. 3

Common Ashkenazic desserts include blintzes, cheesecakes, strudels, and tortes.

Sephardic Jewish cuisines from different countries also share some commonalities. The food is generally spicier than Ashkenazic cuisine—garlic, lemon, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cumin, cilantro, ginger, and dill are frequently used to flavor dishes. Instead of schmaltz, olive oil and other vegetable oils are used as cooking fats. The vegetables of Sephardic cuisines include tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, okra, and dried fava beans and chickpeas. Dairy plays a less central role in Sephardic cuisine, though yogurt and feta cheese are popular. Saltwater fish is eaten more frequently than freshwater. Pita bread and rice are common.

Sephardic Jews typically end a meal with fresh fruit. If dessert is served, it likely will include cake or pastries made with nuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon, dates, figs, raisins, and/or honey. 3

During Passover, leavened bread and bread products (e.g. wheat pasta, breadcrumbs, cookies, etc.) are prohibited, which is why unleavened bread called matzo is eaten instead. This tradition draws from the story of the Exodus, when the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt and left so quickly they did not have time to wait for their bread to rise. During Hanukkah, latkes and sufganiyot fried in oil are eaten to celebrate the miracle of the oil.2

Traditional Jewish Recipes

The recipes below are a mixture of traditional Ashkenazi recipes and traditional Sephardic recipes.
Main Dish (Ashkenazi): Kasha Varnishkes
Main Dish (Ashkenazi): Brisket
Main Dish (Ashkenazi): Kugel
Main Dish (Ashkenazi): Gefilte Fish
Main Dish (both): Cholent (the Sephardic version is called Hamin)
Main Dish (Sephardic): Ful Medames
Main Dish (Sephardic): Shakshuka
Side Dish: Challah
Dessert (Ashkenazi): Blintzes
Dessert (Sephardic): Ma'amoul

Recommended Read

The New York Times Jewish Cookbook

This cookbook offers traditional Jewish recipes from around the world from several professional chefs.

check it out »

Sources

  1. Encyclopedia of Jewish Food
  2. Jewish Holiday Cooking
  3. 1,000 Jewish Recipes
check

Takeaways

  1. Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine uses beets, carrots, cabbage, onions, potatoes, schmalz, sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, egg noodles, dumplings, bagels, and challah/pumpernickel bread.
  2. Traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dishes include brisket, kugel, gefilte fish, and cholent.
  3. Sephardic Jewish cuisine uses olive oil, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, okra, fava beans, chickpeas, yogurt, feta cheese, pita bread, and rice.
  4. Traditional Sephardic Jewish dishes include hamin, ful medames, and shakshuka.
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