Jewish Food is considered to be one of the most popular foods of the world as it offers an interesting variety based on the ethnicity of the regions. Jewish food, a collection of dishes from various cooking traditions of Jews, is traditionally marked for its diversity. The Jewish Cuisine is strongly influenced by the religious norms of the Jews which are governed by Sabbath and Kashrut. The Jewish festivals play a major role in the diet of the Jews on those special days. Not only religion, but also agricultural and economical factors have a strong influence on the diet of the Jews. These food items are influenced by the customs of various countries.
This is one of the few cuisines that are not the main cuisine of any particular country and is popular with Jews spread in different parts of the world. There are numerous distinctive styles of cooking that are renowned in various parts of the world. This cuisine has become even more popular since the establishment of the Israeli cuisine at around the mid 20th century. The food items from this region combine the traditions of Jewish cooking with those of the Middle East to offer some of the best dishes.
Classification of Jewish Cuisine
Jewish Food can be broadly classified into the following categories:
- Ashkenazi – This is derived from the cold climate of Eastern and Central Europe and the dishes are usually hot and consist of a lot of meat products.
- Sephardic – This type of food is popular in areas that receive a lot of sunlight and hence the foods are cooler and are most popular in the areas near the Mediterranean Sea.
Historical and Cultural Influences on Jewish Cuisine
Jewish Food is relatively simple to prepare and has been popular since Biblical times. The main ingredients used are fruits, vegetables, milk and bread. Cereals including wheat are an important part of Jewish food and so is barley. Earlier food was prepared only by women but the carving and slaughtering of meat was done by men. Only the wealthy people had kitchens in their homes while the common people did their cooking on a fire place made using a few stones. Jewish food started with a pickled starter as an appetizer and ended with a dessert. Certain wines were also served as the tradition was to always serve a drink with food without which a meal is considered to be incomplete. Certain beers are also popular in different parts of the world.
Commonly Used Ingredients and Cooking Methods for Jewish Recipes
The main ingredients used in Jewish food are wheat, barley, lentils, cucumbers, pomegranate, figs, raisins, almonds, nuts, walnuts, lamb, goats, sheep, milk, honey, cumin, mint and mustard. Fish and soups are extremely popular and are served all round the year. The main processes followed are frying and baking though the more modern processes are also becoming popular.
Globally Popular Jewish Recipes
Jewish traditional and modern dishes are liked throughout the world. Some of the most popular dishes include:
- Gefilte fish – this dish from the Ashkenazi cuisine consists of patties or balls made by deboning fish like pike or carp, grinding the fish with seasonings, and poaching it.
- Lox – Another Jewish dish from the Ashkenazi cuisine, is a thinly sliced salmon fillet marinated in water or oil based solution of salt, spices and sugar. Lox has been made popular in the American cuisine also by the colonial Jews. It is served as an accompaniment to bagels along with other accompaniments like capers and cream cheese.
- Kneidlach – These are dumplings usually made of chicken fat and cooked in chicken broth or water. They can even be made with egg and matzo meal.
- Challah – also known as hallah, kale, birches, barkis, bergis, chalka, and kitke this golden brown braided bread of the Jews is festival bread consumed by the Ashkenazi and Shepherdic Jews on special occasions like Sabbath and others. This sweet bread is made from wheat flour, oatmeal or spelt flour and consists of either sugar or honey as the sweetener. This braided bread is sprinkled with sesame seeds on top.
- Teiglach- also pronounced as taiglach or teglach, these holiday Jewish pastries are a treat for special occasions like Rosh Hassanah( The Jewish New year), and other occasions like Purim, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. The pastry is made by boiling the knotted pastry in honey syrup. The pastry is stuffed with nuts and dried fruits like raisin and also rolled in chopped nuts or shredded coconut after boiling it in honey syrup. The teiglach is a dessert delicacy from the Lithuanian cuisine.
Traditional Jewish Food
Traditional Jewish Food includes:
- Fish – Gefilte fish, lox, fish patties, quenelles (this is a dish made with creamed fish. The quenelles are oval in shape and are made by poaching the fish. These were originally used as food enhancers but presently are also being served independently.
- Soup – Chicken soup and borscht. Shkedei marak are Israeli flour-and-oil croutons generally served as an accompaniment to soups. Being kosher food (parve) these are served with meat and cream soups. The name of the dish translates to soup almonds but almond is not included by the recipe for this dish. The name might have come from the fact that these golden yellow croutons bear a resemblance to almonds.
- Breads and cakes – Challah, Rosh Hashanah rings, bagel. The bagel is traditional Jewish soft and chewy bread with a golden brown exterior, rounded in shape with a hole in the centre thus giving it a ring like appearance. The bread is made of wheat or rye flour and is baked after being boiled for sometime. The bread is sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds as garnish along with salt at times. The Bagel is not only popular in the Jewish countries but also in the North American and Canadian cuisines. The hole in the bagel, besides serving an ornamental purpose, also enables better baking of the bread.
- Meat – Gebratens and Pirogen. Gebratens is a pot roasted chicken dish made by cooking fryer chicken in a crockpot or a slow cooker with vegetables like potato in wine with paprika, salt and other seasonings. Pirogen is the Jewish variation of the pierogi, stuffed dumpling made with dough which is not leavened. Meat, potatoes, cheese, sauerkraut, mushrooms, spinach may be used as savory fillings for the dumplings. These dumplings are boiled and then fried.
Special / Festival Jewish Food
- Cholent- also known as hamin, this is a Jewish stew made with meat and beans. Potatoes and barley are added to the dish. Although the dish calls for beef, variants of the dish are made with chicken. Barley and beans which are wholesome ingredients themselves may be substituted with a more wholesome ingredient, rice, as observed in the native shepherd-fashioned preparation. The dish is, on the whole, designed for a filling meal course during the festive days when there are generally restrictions for consumption of food.
- Apples and honey - this is a traditional Jewish food consumed during Rosh Hashanah. The Jews chant prayers asking for blessings of God before and after consumption of the honeyed fruit.
- Tzimmes – Also known as tsimmes, this sweet dish made of cubed carrots or yam, with raisins and prunes, with honey and cinnamon flavoring, cooked over low temperature is a special dish made for Rosh Hashanah. The brightly colored, visually appealing, sweet and delicious dish which is made including meat in some cuisines is generally considered a symbol of good luck and prosperity for the coming year.
- Honey cake – This is a Jewish Kosher food made with coffee and honey and spiced with cinnamon especially for Rosh Hashanah.
- Hamentashen- These are triangular pastries with a sweet filling which may be of different types of fruits like dates, prunes, raisins, apple and apricot. Even chocolate, dulce de leche , cheese or caramel or the Jewish Halvaq may be used as a filling for the dish. The pastry shells vary in their hardness from the very hard ones to the soft ones.
- Berkouks – Also referred to as pasta bullets, these are semolina globules resembling cous cous. Along with vegetables and beans with seasonings, they are used in making a stew.
- Fazuelos – also known as fijuelos or deblas these are pastries resembling the hamentashen. However the pastries are made by frying the dough which is consumed with sweet syrup spiced with cinnamon.
- Wine – This is a kosher variety of grape wine, made with ingredients and method of production specified by the Jewish dietary laws.