The culinary traditions of Jewish cuisine, which is one of the oldest in the world, are inextricably linked with the history of the people themselves, who wandered the world for four thousand years. The culinary experience borrowed from representatives of other nationalities was transformed in accordance with Jewish traditions and, passed on from generation to generation, has stood the test of time. The State of Israel came into existence only in 1948. However, both Israeli and Jewish cuisine are based on religious customs, as well as restrictions on the consumption of certain foods – kashrut. The food philosophy established by the ancient Jews requires its followers to strictly comply with all requirements and restrictions.
Some foods are considered edible, while others are strictly forbidden. Kashrut also determines how animals should be slaughtered and dishes prepared.
- Kosher animals include ruminant artiodactyls that eat only grass. These are cows, goats, sheep, moose, etc. But pigs, camels, and rabbits have only one of these two characteristics. That’s why you can’t eat them.
- The kosher status of birds is determined solely by tradition. It is customary to eat only domesticated species. The kosher rule also applies to eggs. They can only be obtained from kosher birds. The cooks also pay close attention to ensure that no blood clots get into the eggs.
- Kosher fish must have fins and scales. Sturgeon, sterlet, catfish and other fish do not have scales, so they are not recognized as kosher. For the same reason, various seafood products are not suitable for food.
- Dairy and meat foods never mix. Even the dishes in which meat and dairy dishes are prepared are separated. So, you cannot use the same pan to cook meat and milk porridge.
- The laws of proper slaughter of livestock and poultry are so complex that they are specially taught in religious educational institutions.
- It is absolutely prohibited to consume animal blood in any form. Therefore, the hematopoietic organs of animals are also prepared in a special way.
- The use of gelatin is prohibited. Instead, use agar-agar.
Jewish cuisine has absorbed the traditions of Ashkenazi and Sephardic cuisine, which were formed about two centuries ago and differ significantly from each other. The first of them, more modest, is characteristic of the so-called European Jews. The Jewish population living in Europe had to invent the most sustainable ways to use products because people lived in poverty. The traditional dishes of Sephardim – Jews living in the Middle East, Spain and the Mediterranean countries – use a wider range of products. Their diet contains valuable varieties of fish, vegetables, legumes, and expensive olive oil.
The main difference between Jewish cuisine and Israeli cuisine is that the latter is influenced by Eastern, Arab and Turkish culinary traditions. This is evidenced by the love of Israelis for such dishes, in particular, as shawarma or sweet burakes buns. The basis of Israeli cooking is a variety of nutritious dishes, which, thanks to spices, are easily absorbed by the body. All of them are prepared from high-quality products that are thoroughly washed and free from external defects.
For starters, they prepare chicken broths, hot vegetable soups, as well as cold borscht and soups. For the main course – dishes made from minced meat (cutlets, rolls and meatballs) or natural meat. Chicken and goose fat, butter, lamb, veal, poultry, as well as veal and beef liver are widely used in cooking. A special feature of the lunch menu is a fish appetizer, for example, mince mince made from lightly salted herring with the addition of apples, onions and soaked bread. Then they serve soup, usually meat, and a second meat course, often without a side dish. The meal ends with tea and sweets.
A characteristic feature of Jewish cuisine are fish and meat dishes, boiled and stewed rather than fried. Meatballs made from finely chopped fish with seasonings and matzo (gefilte fish) are also popular. Jewish cuisine is characterized by the limited use of vegetables, vegetable oil and mushrooms, as well as the presence of original dishes with unexpected combinations of ingredients. It can be meat stewed with fruit and candied potatoes, radish boiled in honey or candied carrots. Milk in Jewish cooking is used exclusively fresh. A variety of unleavened dishes and boiled porridges with a semi-liquid consistency are prepared from it.
As for spices, their range is limited to onions, garlic, horseradish, dill, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon and ginger, which are consumed in moderation. The calling card of Jewish culinary specialists is all kinds of baked goods and preparations made from wheat flour or matze mel, to which raisins, poppy seeds, nuts or honey are added. These are matzo, challah, sufganiyet (donuts with jam) or bagels – Jewish bagels. An interesting fact: it is to them, and not to Russian bagels, that the song “Buy bagels” is dedicated. The popular drinks here are good tea and black coffee, and alcoholic beverages include aniseed vodka and kosher wines prepared according to Jewish traditions.
Jewish cuisine is distinguished by the originality of its dishes, which have a unique aroma and taste. The secret of preparing most dishes goes back thousands of years. This is due to kashrut, the laws of which stipulate only strictly certain products and methods of cooking.
Just like Arabs and Muslims, Jews do not eat pork. The pillar of Jewish cooking is the meat of only artiodactyl animals (beef, lamb) and poultry (chickens, geese). At the same time, inventive chefs manage to prepare several dishes from one product at once. So, for example, broth is first boiled from a chicken carcass. Then the popular national dish gefilte gelzele (stuffed neck) is prepared from the skin, offal and a small amount of meat. Flour, raw goose fat and onions are added to the minced chicken necks. After filling the necks, they are stewed in a specially prepared sauce made from carrots, onions and goose fat.
The main part of the meat from the broth is used to prepare dishes according to various recipes. For example, boiled beef is used to make pancakes. Note that both natural and minced meat are used to prepare meat dishes in Jewish cuisine. At the same time, dishes prepared in the best culinary traditions of eastern countries are easily identified by their sweet and sour taste. Thus, beef for the esik fleisch dish is stewed in tomato paste sauce with the addition of prunes, honey, raisins and lemon juice.
A traditional Jewish dish that is usually served on Shabbat, when fires are not allowed, is cholent. It is made from fatty kosher beef, beans, onions and many herbs, sometimes adding buckwheat or potatoes. The container with the ingredients of this dish is placed in a special oven on Friday night, so that the dish remains hot until Saturday noon. In Sephardic cooking, it is customary to cook eggplant with chicken, lamb with couscous (Israeli ptitim) or mafrum – savory cutlets of lamb, beef or chicken, stewed in tomato sauce, as well as stuffed potatoes. Another popular Jewish dish is the triangular kreplach dumplings, which owe their shape to the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their filling varies depending on the holiday. Thus, on holy holidays, Jewish dumplings are prepared with meat filling and served in chicken soup. On Purim, the kreplach is filled with dried fruits, and on Shavuot, it is filled with cheese.
Chicken broth with dumplings received the comic name “Jewish penicillin” due to the fact that it has the property of giving strength. The national feature of its preparation is the addition of a whole head of raw onion to the water, which is removed after cooking during straining, as well as the addition of 2-3 grams of sugar to each serving before serving. In addition to chicken broth, Jewish cooks prepare soups and borscht. Potato soups with legumes, as well as milk soups, are especially popular here.
Sephardic cooking traditionally offers harira tomato soup, cooked in a strong meat broth and seasoned with lentils, hummus, herbs and spices. In the summer, it is customary to prepare cold red borscht from beets with potatoes, to which slices of peeled fresh cucumbers, chopped boiled eggs, green onions and sour cream are added. Sometimes dried fruits are added to the ingredients for borscht. It is customary among Ashkenazis to prepare cold beet soup, kalte burechkes. In addition to cold red borscht, sorrel borscht and chilled soup with dried fruits are also prepared in the summer.
A typical cold appetizer of Jewish cooking is minced herring, borrowed from East Prussia, where this dish was prepared from fried herring. Performed by Jewish chefs, this appetizer is a paste of uniform consistency, which is spread on unleavened dough flatbreads – matzah.
One of the most original Jewish snack dishes is stuffed fish with horseradish, boiled in sauce with vegetables. It can be pike, carp, bream or carp, stuffed with fish pulp, white bread, onions, eggs and vegetable oil with added sugar, or less “noble” types of fish. Another national snack is hummus, which is extremely popular in Jewish cuisine. This dish is a tender, buttery paste of chickpea puree, seasoned with garlic, paprika, lemon juice, olive oil and tahina (sesame paste). Hummus can serve not only as a snack, but also as a sauce. Also among the snack dishes of Jewish cuisine, one should highlight grated radish with goose fat and sautéed onions, as well as chopped eggs with goose fat, to which fresh cucumbers are added if desired.
The basis of Jewish cuisine also consists of traditional dishes made from vegetables, flour and cereals. Popular flour dishes are: mandalah, meatballs, matzo casseroles and matzo dumplings. A special delicacy is the sweet vegetable roast tsiemes (sweet carrots stewed in fat), which, depending on the composition of the ingredients, can be not only a dessert, but also a second course served with meat. The Israeli version of the falafel bean dish known many centuries ago in Egypt in Jewish cuisine is prepared exclusively from chickpeas, to which bulgur is sometimes added. Fried artichokes are another Jewish delicacy, and latkes (potato pancakes), which require a lot of vegetable oil, are prepared for the joyful holiday of Hanukkah.
Baking and sweets
Jewish baking is represented by the national type of bread – matzo, baked from water and flour without adding salt. Another traditional Jewish dish is matzebrai, a matzah pie with milk, eggs and cheese, which is prepared for Passover, during the ban on fermentable foods. Traditional holiday bread sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds – challah – is also popular among Jews. It is prepared without the use of dairy products. The secret of baking these braided braids is passed down from generation to generation. Jewish ritual bagels – bagels – are prepared in a special way. Before putting them in the oven, they are pre-boiled.
Triangular homentashen cookies, traditional for the Jewish holiday of Purim, are prepared with a variety of fillings. Also popular among chefs are donuts filled with jelly or jam – sufganiyet, which Jews serve during the eight days of Hanukkah. This dish can be classified as both baking and dessert. Traditionally, Jewish desserts are a mixture of fruits and nuts. Jewish confectionery products are reminiscent of Middle Eastern ones, with the only difference being that yolks are added to the dough, and in addition to sugar, honey is also used. Therefore, the baked goods here have an extremely sweet taste. These include baklava – a multi-layer pie with a nut filling, to which honey and syrup are added, and kadaif – small rolls (balls) filled with nuts and honey, and harissa – a semolina pie with orange or rose syrup.
According to Jewish culinary philosophy, kosher food has a beneficial effect on a person’s spiritual level. The laws of kashrut call for self-discipline and self-restraint. Eating becomes not just an act of satisfying hunger, but a conscious adherence to the laws of the Torah. Thus, by following the Jewish culinary philosophy, a person takes control of his desires and also develops spiritually. In addition, the presence of vegetables and fruits in the diet of local residents helps provide the body with necessary minerals and vitamins, as well as dietary fiber, which helps eliminate toxins and poisonous substances naturally.