Meat and poultry may not be combined with dairy products. This necessitates the use of two sets of utensils. Therefore, Orthodox Jews divide their kitchens into two sections, one for meat and one for dairy.
Each Jewish community has its traditional dishes, often revolving around specialties from their home country. In Spain and Portugal, olives were a common ingredient and many foods were fried in oil. The stereotypically "English" fish and chips, for example, the fried fish was introduced to England by Sephardi Jewish immigrants. In Germany, stews were popular. The Jews of Netherlands specialized in pickles, herring, butter cakes and bolas (jamrolls). In Poland, Jews made lokshen (noodle) or knaidel (matzoh ball) soup and various kinds of stuffed and stewed fish. In North Africa, Jews ate couscous and tagine.
Thus, a traditional Sabbath meal for Ashkenazi Jews might include roast beef, potroast, or chicken, carrot tzimmes and potatoes; and a traditional Sabbath meal for Sephardi Jews would focus more on salads, stuffed vine leaves, couscous and other Middle Eastern specialties.
Lentils (adashim) were the principal legume. Cucumbers(melafefonim) were eaten raw, or spiced with vinegar. Watermelon (avatiah) is also a member of the cucumber family.Leeks, onions (betzalim) and garlic (shumim), all belonging to the Allium genus, were eaten raw with bread. Today in Syria ripe onion-bulbs are pickled like cucumbers and eaten as a relish with meat. The poor also used orach (malluah), the young leaves being either boiled or eaten raw.
There was an early fig (bikkurah) and a late fig (te'enim), the latter being generally dried and pressed into round or square cakes (devela). Grapes (anavim) were eaten either fresh, or dried as raisins (tzimmukim). They were also pressed into cakes. It is doubtful whether the Israelites knew of grape-syrup, though the fact that the Arabic dibs, corresponding to the Hebrew debash, is used to designate both the natural and this artificial honey or syrup, shows that they probably knew the latter. Olives (zayit) were probably prepared as they are today. Pomegranate (rimmon), the fruit of the mulberry fig tree (shiḳmah) eaten by the poor, and of the date palm (tamar), which is treated like figs and grapes; and, finally, pistachio nuts, almonds (shḳeidim), and walnuts (egoz). The fruit of the carob (κεράτιον) was used while not quite ripe, for flavoring water though it was not a food proper. The Israelites ate apples, the word , tap·pu′ach (or taf·fu′ach) the related Arabic word tuffah primarily means “apple,” and it is notable that the Hebrew place-names Tappuach and Beit-tappuach (most are mainly named so because of the prevalence of this fruit in their vicinity) These places were not in the lowlands but in the hill country, where the climate is generally somewhat moderated.
In ancient times, as today, much less meat was eaten in the Middle East than among Western peoples. It was served daily only at the king's table because sacrifices were offered every day. Otherwise, animals were probably slaughtered only for the great festivals (cḥaggim), at the yearly sacrificial feasts of families and tribes, at family festivals (such as circumcisions and weddings), for guests, etc. Furthermore, only certain kinds of animals were permissible as food, the restrictions dating back to very early times. For details see Dietary Laws. The most important animals for food were cattle, sheep, and goats, sheep ranking first. In addition to lamb, ("karim") fattened calves (meri'im) are often mentioned, especially those that were fattened in the stall rather than in the pasture (egel marbeḳ) From early times the eating of meat was allowed on condition that the blood of the slaughtered animal be taken to the altar, the meat not being eaten with the blood, thus every slaughtering became in a certain sense a sacrifice, this being changed only when the worship was centralized by the Deuteronomic legislation. Meat was generally boiled though sometimes it was roasted, usually, perhaps, on the spit. Game was considered as a delicacy.
Little is known of fish as food, it mentioned rarely. Yet there can be no doubt that it was a favorite diet. Fish were fried, and prepared with honeycomb. They were probably more generally eaten in post-exilic times. The fish market, where fish, salted or dried in the sun, were sold, was probably near the "fish gate. Fish were imported by Syrian merchants, some fish coming from Egypt, where pickled roe was an export article. In later times fish were salted in Palestine.
Milk of large as well as of small animals especially goat's milk, was a staple food. It was kept in skins. "Ḥem'ah," designating cream as well as bonnyclabber and cheese, is often mentioned. Cream is generally called "shefot", though this reading is uncertain. It was frequently offered as a present, carried in cylindrical wooden vessels; and, sprinkled with sugar, it was eaten out of little dishes with wooden spoons. Cheese made of sweet milk was probably also used. The proper designation for cheese is gebinah. Honey (debash) is frequently mentioned in connection with milk. Whether this is the ordinary bee's honey flowing of itself out of the honeycomb ("nofet ha-ẓufim") was especially relished or date honey is disputed among scholars. Honey seems to have been a favorite food of children.
The spices used by the ancient Israelites include cumin (kammon), dill (ḳeẓaḥ), mint (ἡδνοσμόν), and mustard (σίναπι). Salt (melaḥ), of course, was very important even in early times. To "eat the salt" of a person was equivalent to eating his bread, a covenant of salt was inviolable.
Kitchens were found only in the palaces of the wealthy. A special room for culinary purposes was not needed, as a primitive hearth consisted of a few stones upon which the pot was placed, with a fire lit underneath it on the mud floor. In later times mention is made of fire-basinskiyyor, and small, portable cooking-stoves, kirayim, with room for two pots. Wood, often in the form of charcoal, and dried dung were used as fuel with a draft was made by means of a fan (minifah),)as in the Orient today. Fire-tongs (melqachayim) shovels (ya'im) and hand-mills were also important cooking utensils.
Homes were equipped with two large earthen jugs, the kad, one for carrying water), the other for storing meal or grains. Milk and wine were preserved in goat-skins (chemet), nod, oil and honey, in small earthen or metal jugs (tzappachat) etc. fruits and pastry, in various kinds of baskets. The dud', kiyyor, qallachat, parur, sir, and tzelachah (tzallahat) are mentioned as vessels for cooking, but their specific uses are unknown. The sanctuaries were amply provided with these dishes and bowls. They were usually made of bronze, silver, or gold. Metal vessels were used mainly by the wealthy. These vessels were produced largely by Phoenician artisans.
Among the common people it was customary to employ earthen vessels for daily use, the receptacle most frequently mentioned being the sir, a pot in which the family meal was cooked, and sometimes sacrificial meat. For baking cake, a tin plate (machabat barzel, or a deep pan (marchešet) was used. Mention is also made of three-pronged forks, which were used for lifting the meat from the pot. Knives were used for slaughtering animals, and carving the meat (ma'akelet).
The preparation of the meal was a very simple process. Food staples were bread and milk, supplemented by fruits and vegetables. Many vegetables, such as cucumbers, garlic, leek and onions were eaten raw. Meat was generally reserved for festivals. Lentils or greens were boiled in water or oil. Fruit was often dried and compressed into solid, cake-like masses, making raisin-cake, fig-cake, etc., etc. Compare the ḳamr al-din, or flat cake of compressed apricots, still popular among the Syrians, and a kind of syrup or honey (devash) was sometimes extracted from it.
Porridge was made from ground cereal, water, salt, and butter. This porridge was also the basis for cakes, to which oil and fruits were added These cakes are of importance in later sacrificial ceremonies.
Meat, in ancient times, was usually simmered. The sauce in which it was cooked was considered a delicacy. The practice of cooking lamb in milk, which is still common in Arab cuisine, is forbidden according to Jewish law. The word which may also signify roasting is usually applied to cooking in the sense of boiling. It is mentioned in the Scriptures that the wicked sons of Eli HaCohen preferred roasted to boiled meat. The meat of the Passover lamb was usually roasted; and indeed the custom of roasting (ẓala) became ever more prevalent. As among all the nations of ancient times, it was cooked on the open fire, either by placing the meat directly upon the coals, or by using a spit or grate, which appurtenances, though not specifically mentioned in the Old Testament, may reasonably be supposed to have been employed. Even in Genesis it is stated that Rebekah could prepare the flesh of a kid so that it tasted like venison, and from this statement a certain degree of culinary skill may be inferred. Advances in food science and technology have contributed to the refinement of the culinary art.
Fruit was always relished, and many kinds, Biblical as well as non-Biblical, are often mentioned. A certain kind of hard nut even the wealthy could not procure. There was a custom to eat apples during the Feast of Weeks, while specific fruit and herbs were eaten on New-Year's eve as a good omen. Children received especially on the evening of Passover nuts and roasted ears of corn (B. M. iv. 12; Pes. 119b). Olives were so common that they were used as a measure (zayit). "While olives produce forgetfulness of what one has learned, olive-oil makes a clear head. "Bread for young men, oil for old people, and honey for children.
Herbs occupied a chief place on the evening of Passover, and they were also a favorite dish on the, being eaten either dry or soaked. Many vegetables were included in the comprehensive name ḳiṭniyyot, especially beans. Other vegetables were cucumbers, melons, cabbages, turnips, lettuces, radishes, onions, and garlic. The smell of garlic, frequently mentioned in later times in association with the Jews, is referred to in the Talmud.
Talmudic as well as Biblical times give evidence of a healthy, happy view of life. Sweets eaten during meals are frequently mentioned. There is a saying of Rav (Abba Aricha) that a time will come when one will have to render an account for all that one has seen and not eaten. It is said, however, of Abba Aricha that, after having had all the precious things of life, he finally ate earth. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus is also reported to have eaten earth. There is hardly any difference in food between Palestine and Babylon; only some details referring to the ritual are mentioned.
Meat was eaten only on special occasions, on Sabbaths and at feasts. The pious kept fine cattle for the Sabbath (Beẓah 16a); but various other kinds of dishes, relishes, and spices were also on the table. A three-year-old calf with its kidneys was considered excellent. Nor were the tongues of animals despised. Deer, also, furnished meat, as did pheasants), chickens, and pigeons. Fish was eaten on Friday evening in honor of the Sabbath.) Sometimes it was prepared in milk. Pickled fish was an important article of commerce, being called "garum" among the Jews, as among the Greeks and Romans. Pliny says expressly of a "garum castimoniale" (Ie. kasher garum) that it was prepared according to Jewish law. Locusts were eaten, though without blessing, as they signified a curse. Eggs were so commonly eaten that the quantity of an egg was used halakicly as a measure. The egg was broken and occasionally dipped in wine. The unsalted yolk of an egg eaten on ten successive days causes death. A regular meal consisted of chicken stuffed with meal, fine bread, fat meat, and old wine. The Talmudic axiom, "Without meat there is no pleasure; hence meat is indispensable on feast days," is well known.
There is detailed information about Italian cookery in the book "Massechet Purim." It discusses pies, chestnuts, turtledoves, pancakes, small tarts, gingerbread, ragouts, venison, roast goose, chicken, stuffed pigeons, ducks, pheasants, partridges, quails, macaroons, and salad. These were considered luxuries. The oppressed medieval Jews fared poorly, enjoyed large meals only on the Sabbath, festivals, circumcisions, and weddings. For example, the Jews of Rhodes, according to a letter of Ovadiah Bartinura, 1488, lived on herbs and vegetables only, never tasting meat or wine. In Egypt, however, meat, fish, and cheese were obtainable, in Gaza, grapes, fruit, and wine. Cold dishes are still relished in the East. Generally, only one dish was eaten, with fresh bread daily.
Some characteristically Jewish dishes are frequently mentioned in Yiddish literature, from the twelfth century onward, "brätzel", "lokshen", pasteten, "fladen", "beleg". Bbarscht or borshtsh soup is a Polish/Ukranian vegetable dish based on beets, best known are the berkes or barches eaten on the Sabbath, and "shalet", which Heine commemorates, and which the Spanish Jews called Ani. The Sabbath pudding, kigl or kugel in Yiddish, is also well known.
The Jewish love of fish goes back to ancient times. With kosher meat not always available, fish became an important staple of the Jewish diet. In Eastern Europe it was a luxury reserved for the Sabbath. As fish is not considered meat, it can also be eaten with dairy products. Even though fish is parve (neither meat nor dairy), when fish and meat are served at the same meal, some Orthodox Jews will use separate utensils. Gefilte fish and lox are popular in Jewish cuisine.
Gefilte fish (filled fish) was traditionally made by cutting fish into parts. The bones were taken out, the skin removed, and the flesh chopped fine and mixed with eggs, salt, pepper, and onions. This mass is then replaced in the skin, dropped into fish broth and simmered. Modern preparations omit the skin, making quenelles. While traditionally made with carp, gefilte fish is made in other countries according to what sort of fish is available, including cod, haddock, or hake in the United Kingdom, carp or pike in France, or whitefish in the United States. Polish gefilte fish is particularly noted for being sweetened, an unusual flavoring in other eastern European Jewish communities.
A number of soups are characteristically Jewish, the most common of which is chicken soup, being served most often on Shabbos, holidays, and other special occasions, particularly at Passover. Noodles (lokshen in Yiddish) or kneidlach are generally put into the soup. Kneidlach are made by combining matzo meal (ground matzos) eggs, water, melted fat, pepper and salt. This mixture is then rolled into balls simmered in water and then put into soup. Sometimes kneidlach are fried in fat or cooked with pot roast.
Another kind of kneidlach, made from mashed potatoes put into warm milk, formed a well-liked soup among Lithuanian Jews. Of course this could not be served with any soup made from meat stock.
In the preparation of a number of soups, neither meat nor fat is used. Such soups formed the food of the poor classes. An expression among Jews of Eastern Europe, soup mit nisht (soup with nothing), owes its origin to soups of this kind. Soups such as Borsht were considered a staple of Judaism in Russia. Soups like krupnik were made of oatmeal, potatoes, and fat. This was the staple food of the poor students of the yeshivot; in richer families meat was added to this soup.
Because of its nutritious qualities, one soup, made by putting crisp "beigel" (round cracknel) into hot water and adding butter, was called michyeh, a corruption of the Hebrew word "micḥyah" (i.e., food κατ' ἑξοχέν; compare the Latin "victus").
At weddings, "golden" chicken soup was often served. The reason for its name is probably the yellow circles of molten chicken fat floating on its surface. In more recent times, with chicken being fairly widely available and cheap, chicken soup has achieved a reputation for being one of the definitive foods for the sick, often jokingly referred to as "Jewish penicillin".
Bread & cake
The dough of challah is often shaped into forms having symbolical meanings; thus on Rosh Hashanah rings and coins are imitated, indicating "May the new year be as round and complete as these";For Hosha'na Rabbah, bread is baked in the form of a key, meaning "May the door of heaven open to admit our prayers." The Hamantashen, a triangular cookie or turnover filled with fruit preserves or honey and black poppy-seed, is eaten on the Feast of Purim. It is said to be shaped like the hat of Haman the tyrant.
The mohn kihel, a circular or rectangular wafer having in it a quantity of poppy, forms a part of the Sabbath breakfast. Pirushkes, or turnovers, are little cakes fried in honey, or sometimes merely dipped in molasses, after they are baked. The strudel, or single-layered jelly or fruit cake, takes the place of the pie for dessert. Teigachz, or pudding, of which the kugel is one variety, is usually made from rice, noodles, "farfel" (dough crumbs), and even mashed potatoes. Gehakte herring (chopped herring), which is usually served as the first dish at the Sabbath dinner, is made by skinning a few herrings and chopping them together with hard-boiled eggs, onions, apples, sugar, pepper, and a little vinegar.
There are a number of sour soups, called borscht, the most popular of which is the kraut or cabbage borscht, typically made by cooking together cabbage, meat, bones, onions, raisins, sour salt (citric acid), sugar and sometimes tomatoes. Before serving, the yolks of eggs might be mixed in. This last process is called farweissen (to make white). Borsht is also often made from beetroots and rossel (the juice derived from fermented beets).
In Eastern Europe, the Jews baked black ("proster," or "ordinary") bread, white bread, and challah. Of great interest are the various forms into which these breads are made; for while the black bread is usually circular in form, the shapes in which ḥallah is baked vary as the different holidays pass by. The most common form of the ḥallahs is the twist ("koilitch" or "kidke"). The koilitch is oval in form, and about one and a half feet in length. On special occasions, such as weddings, the koilitch is increased to a length of about two and a half feet.
As well known as challah (or perhaps even more so) is the bagel, which originated under unclear circumstances in Eastern Europe and is ubiquitous in many countries with substantial Jewish populations.
Meat & fats
Gebrattens (roasted meat), chopped meat, and essig fleish (vinegar meat) are favorite meat recipes. The essig or, as it is sometimes called, honnig or sauer fleish, is made by adding to meat which has been partially roasted some sugar, bay-leaves, pepper, raisins, sour salt and a little vinegar.
The rendered fat of geese and chickens is kept in readiness for cooking use when needed. Gribenes or "scraps," also called grieven, the cracklings left from the rendering process were one of the best liked foods among the Jews of Eastern Europe. They were eaten especially at Hannukah.
Sweets & confections
Teiglach, traditionally served on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, consists of little balls of dough (about the size of a marble) drenched in a honey syrup. Ingberlach are ginger candies shaped into small sticks or rectangles.
In Europe, jellies and preserves made from fruit juice were used as pastry filling or served with tea. Among the poor, jelly was reserved for invalids, hence the practice of reciting the Yiddish saying "Allewai zol men dos nit darfen" (May we not have occasion to use it) before storing it away.
Other common foods
Tzimmes consists generally of cooked vegetables or fruits, sometimes with meat added. The most popular vegetable is the carrot (mehren tzimes), which is sliced. Turnips were also extensively used for tzimmes, particularly in Lithuania. In southern Russia, Galicia, and Romania tzimmes was made of pears, apples, figs, prunes or plums (floymn tzimes).
Kreplach (or pirogen) also stem from Eastern European Jews. These ravioli-like dumplings are made from flour and eggs mixed into a dough, rolled into sheets, cut into squares and then filled with finely chopped, seasoned meat or cheese. They are served in soup. Kreplech are usually eaten on Purim, on the day preceding Yom Kippur and on Hosha'na Rabbah.
Sephardic cuisine in particular is known for its considerable use of vegetables unavailable to the Ashkenazim of Europe, including spinach, artichokes, pine nuts, and (in more modern times) squash. The cooking style is largely Middle Eastern, with significant admixtures of Spanish, Italian, and North African flavors.
Sephardic food has had little influence in the largely Ashkenazic populations of eastern and northern Europe and North America, though the Anglo-Jewish plava is thought to come from the Sephardic pan d'Espanya. Influence is growing because of the inter-marriage between both groups and the location of the State of Israel. Sephardic food has also become popular because of the fashion for the "Mediterranean diet", being considered healthier than the "heavier" Ashkenazic style.
Good food is an important part of the mitzvah of "oneg Shabbat" ("enjoying the Shabbat"). Hence much of Jewish cuisine revolves around the Sabbath.
As observant Jews do not cook on the Sabbath, various techniques were developed to provide for a hot meal on Sabbath day. One such dish is "cholent" or "chamin," a slow-cooked stew of meat, potatoes, beans and barley (although there are many other variations). The ingredients are placed in a pot and put up to boil before lighting the candles on Friday night. Then the pot is placed on a hotplate, traditional "blech" (thin tin sheet used to cover the flames, and on which the pot is placed), or in a slow oven and left to simmer until the following day.
A prominent feature of Sabbath cookery is the preparation of twists of bread, known as "challahs" or -- in southern Germany, Austria and Hungary -- "barches." They are often covered with seeds to represent manna, which fell in a double portion on the sixth day.
Another Shabbat dish is calf's foot jelly, called p'tsha in Lithuania and galarita, galer or fisnoge in Poland. Beef or calf bones are put up to boil with water, seasonings, garlic and onions for a long time. It is then allowed to cool. The broth then jells into a semi-solid mass, which is served in cubes. Drelies, a similar dish originating in south Russia and Galicia is mixed with soft-boiled eggs and vinegar when removed from the oven, and served hot. In Romania is called piftie, and served cold, with garlic, hard boiled eggs and vinegar sauce or mustard creme and it's a traditional dish in winter season.
Kugel is another Shabbat favorite, particularly lokshen kugel, a sweet baked noodle pudding, often with raisins and spices. Non-sweet kugels may be made of potatoes, carrots or a combination of vegetables.
Traditional noodles - lokshen - are made from a dough of flour and eggs rolled into sheets and then cut into long strips. If the dough is cut into small squares, it becomes farfel. Both lokshen and farfel are usually boiled and served with soup.
Passover is a Jewish holiday, celebrating the exodus from Egypt, to become free people in the Promised Land. Because they wanted to flee Egypt quickly, they didn't bake the bread long enough for it to rise. This new bread was called "matza". And so, it was ordained that Jews do not eat leavened bread during Passover. The commandment to abstain from eating yeasted breads has had the natural effect of developing many special kinds and methods of cooking appropriate to that period.
The unleavened bread is not merely a staple article of food, but an ingredient of many Passover dishes (except in households that also refrain from gebrokts during Passover). Matzah ball (kneidlach) soup takes the place of noodle soup for this week; fish, instead of being fried in a breadcrumb batter, is cooked with matzo meal; and an immense variety of sweet cakes and puddings, manufactured from ground matza meal, replaces the pastries of ordinary occasions.
Jewish cooks make use both matza meal and potato starch for pastries during Passover. Whisked eggs are also used to create food with a light consistency.
No beer or malt liquor is consumed on Passover and, for some Ashkenazi Jews, soft drinks such as Coke and Pepsi--which use corn sweeteners--must be reformulated to contain sugar.
Passover foods vary in Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities. Ashkenazim exclude rice, while it is served by Sephardim. Some Jews do not eat soaked Matzot on the first night of Passover or even throughout the holiday. Matza is traditionally prepared from water and flour only, but there are other varieties, such as egg matza, which may also contain fruit juice. At the seder, it is customary in some communities, particularly among strictly Orthodox Jews, to use handbaked shmura matzo, which has undergone particularly strict kashrut supervision; however, in some areas, particularly the United States, such matza is no longer common.
The exclusion of leaven from the home has forced Jewish cooks to be creative, producing a wide variety of Passover dishes that use matza meal and potato as thickeners. Potato flour is largely used in cakes along with finely ground matzo meal and nuts.
Popular Ashkenazi dishes are matzah brei (fried crumbled matzo with grated onion), matzo latkes (pancakes) and khremzlakh (also called crimsel or gresjelies; matzo meal fritters). Wined matzo kugels (pudding) have been introduced into modern Jewish cooking. For thickening soups and sauces at Passover fine matzo meal or potato flour is used instead of flour: for frying fish or cutlets, a coating of matzo meal and egg, and for stuffing, potatoes instead of soaked bread.
"Noodles" may be made by making pancakes with beaten eggs and matzo meal which, when cooked, are rolled up and cut into strips. They may be dropped into soup before serving. Matzo kleys - dumplings - are small balls made from suet mixed with chopped fried onions, chopped parsley, beaten egg, and seasonings, dropped into soup and cooked.
In eastern countries and in old Jerusalem, sheep-tail fat was prepared for Passover. Mizrachi Passover dishes are fahthūt (Yemenite) - a soup stew made with matzo meal - and Turkiah minas and mahmuras - layers of matzo with fillings of cheese, vegetables or meat. In Sephardi homes haroset is served as a treat and not just as a tasye. The khreyn (horseradish relish), originating as an Ashkenazi Passover dish, is popular all the year round.