1. A comforting pot of MATZOH BALL SOUP
There are few foods as perfect as these delicious little carbohydrate balls drenched in chicken soup. Matzo ball purists swear by the importance of schmaltz, aka chicken fat, in making the balls, but non-meat eaters (and less intense cooks) can definitely get by without it. Classic recipe available here, vegetarian version here, vegan and gluten-free versions here, but whatever you do, just don’t buy it in a jar off the shelf in the supermarket. (Gondi, the Persian chicken and chickpea balls, are often compared to matzo balls and duh, they’re also delicious.)
2. A beautifully braided CHALLAH
Sure you can buy your Shabbat challah at the supermarket, but you can also make this delicious egg bread yourself at home, if you leave yourself 3–4 hours to do it. The perfect challah is crispy and golden on the outside and fluffy on the inside. You can make it with a bread machine (see recipe #5) or without one, you can add raisins or even chocolate chips. But whatever you do: Make extra. Challah freezes really well and also makes for some delicious Saturday morning French toast. For help with your braiding technique, watch this video.
3. Flaky BOREKAS
In The Book of Jewish Food, Claudia Roden traced the origins of these potato-, spinach-, or cheese-filled fried pastry pouches – now a popular Israeli street food – to 16th century Iberian Jews. Try a basic potato and cheese recipe or make things a little more interesting with an onion and lentil stuffing. Or try making sambusak, a similar, empanada-like version often stuffed with beef, that makes regular appearances on Syrian tables.
4. A sweet or savory KUGEL
There’s little not to like about these Jewish casseroles, usually served on Shabbat and holidays. Potato kugel is basically a giant, baked tater tot, while sweet noodle kugels will make you feel like you’re eating dessert during the main course (as they should — they usually use a lot of sugar). Feel free to have fun with these by adding cinnamon and raisins to a noodle kugel, or using sweet potatoes instead of regular ones.
5. A spicy SHAKSHUKA
Tunisian Jews are credited for bringing shakshuka to Israel, but it’s unclear where exactly the dish was first made. (Some say Tunisia, others say Libya.) These days, the egg dish is popular in a number of North African and Middle Eastern countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Morocco. It’s basically eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, but there are tons of variations. Classic recipe here, Caprese version here, and a green version here.
6. Perfectly crispy POTATO LATKES
Kids think Hanukkah is all about the presents, but grown-ups know it’s really about the latkes. These little potato pancakes are fried in tons of oil to commemorate (one of) the ancient Hanukkah miracles. The story goes like this: After the Jews won their rebellion against their Syrian rulers in 164 BCE, they found their holy temple had been desecrated. They had only enough untainted olive oil to light the menorah for a single day, but miraculously, the candles stayed lit for eight days, giving them time to restock their supply. So in honor of that oil, Jews deep fry. Serve with applesauce, sour cream, or Thanksgivukkah-inspired cranberry applesauce. Classic latke recipe here, slightly sacrilegious sweet potato latke recipe here.
7. Jelly-filled SUFGANIYOT
Potatoes aren’t the only thing Jewish people deep fry on Hanukkah! In Israel, sufganiyot, which are basically just crazy good jelly doughnuts, are way more popular. They’re not the easiest thing to make, but dang, the effort is WORTH IT. Step-by-step slideshow available here. Just the recipe here.
8. Spicy BAZARGAN
This vegetarian, Syrian tabbouleh-like dish is best when made in advance so that the flavors can blend and mellow out from the original sharpness. It’s a sweet and savory bulgur salad, usually made with pomegranate molasses, walnuts, and lots of spices. Make it Saturday morning, serve it for lunch a few hours later. Recipe here.
9. A chocolatey RUGELACH
If you have ever been to Jerusalem, you hopefully stopped at Marzipan Bakery to try what are hands down the absolute best chocolate rugelach in the entire universe. If not, good news: You can make these gooey, mini-croissant-like pastries at home. The trick is the dough, which usually has cream cheese or yogurt in it. Try making these classic chocolate rugelach, or if you’re feeling really wild, put the chocolate in the dough and then add even more fillings, with this recipe. And you can always make special pecan pie rugelach for a Jewish Thanksgiving.
10. A juicy BRISKET
Brisket is made with a cut from the front of the cow, one of the toughest — and back in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, most inexpensive — cuts of meat. To tender it up, it’s cooked for hours, whether with with savory herbs and vegetables or sweetened with some brown sugar or dried apricots instead. (Some people also swear by this ketchup + onion soup mix recipe.) However you like to cook your hunk of beef, make sure you give yourself plenty of time — it can take all day.
11. Crunchy TAHDIG
If you are a person who tends to accidentally burn your rice, then you especially need to learn how to do it the delicious Persian way: by making chelo with tahdig, a rice pilaf with crispy, burnt rice from the bottom of the pot. (Tahdig means “bottom of the pot” in Farsi.) There are a number of variations on this dish, like this dairy, vegetarian version, a dill and lima bean recipe, and even a potato tahdig because the only thing more delicious than one crispy carb is TWO crispy carbs.
12. A dairy-free, flourless CHOCOLATE CAKE
Even on Passover, when flour is verboten, chocolate cake is not. There are plenty of flourless chocolate cake recipes out there, but if you had a meat meal, you need your dessert to be dairy-free too. This delicious chocolate torte with macerated strawberries is just what you’re looking for, and it has a bonus whipped cream recipe that you can make when you serve the leftovers for dessert at your dairy lunch the next day. (Or when you eat it for breakfast, whatevs!)
13. A hearty CHOLENT
Cholent, “the original slow-cooked dish,” has its origins in the prohibition of working — and cooking — on the Jewish Sabbath. In pursuit of a hot lunch on Saturday, a slow-cooked dish was born: One could start the cooking before sundown on Friday and enjoy the food Saturday at lunch. While many people think of cholent as an Eastern European dish, it actually traces its origins back to the Middle East, through North Africa and into Spain. The result is that there are many, many kinds of cholents, including the Iraqi tbit, made with chicken, Moroccan lamb stew, and a beef, vegetables, and bean version from Budapest. Sometimes a super-simple family recipe, though, is all you need. And good news for vegetarians: There are plenty of meat-free versions too.
14. A big COUSCOUS ROYALE
This isn’t a “Jewish food” in that only Jews eat it: It’s a popular dish in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, and the Jewish communities there love it too. (Because of the large immigrant populations, it has also migrated to Paris.) It’s basically couscous with delicious toppings, with those toppings varying regionally and seasonally. This meat-heavy Moroccan version includes chicken, merguez sausages, and lots of lamb. (Kosher Jews should sub in oil for the butter.) It can be made with fish or entirely vegetarian.
15. Pointy HAMANTASCHEN
Hamantaschen, known as oreilles d’aman to French speakers, are triangular, jelly-filled cookies Jews make for the holiday of Purim. They are made to resemble the hat or ears of Haman, the villain of the Purim story who tried and failed to destroy every last Jew in Persia. The holiday is celebrated by putting on costumes, drinking, and eating these cookies. Making hamantaschen is easy and super kid-friendly. Make the dough with a standard recipe and fill the cookies with anything from traditional poppy seeds to apricot jam to chocolate. Or, if you’re feeling really ambitious, try something wild like a Girl Scout cookie-inspired version or a savory Mediterranean ‘tasch. Lots more ideas here.
16. A zesty ISRAELI SALAD
Like almost anything made in Israel, this salad has a controversial backstory — both an Israeli foodie and a Palestinian scholar have said that the salad was originally made by Palestinians, making the term “Israeli salad” a misnomer. But instead of letting this complicated history divide us, maybe this simple but zesty salad can bring us together? Try making the basic cucumber and tomato version, or add in some peppers.
17. A hot DELI SANDWICH
Jews and deli go together like corned beef and rye. And while most New Yorkers would laugh at the idea of making their own deli meat — Katz’s is right there! — the rest of the world might want to take the time to learn. Try making your own corned beef or Katz’s copycat pastrami. If you’re looking to add cheese, you can either go totally non-kosher with a Zingerman’s Deli Reuben or make yourself a classic tuna melt, which is totally rabbi-approved.
18. An eye-watering MAROR
On Passover, Jews eat horseradish to remember the bitterness of their forebears’ lives as slaves in ancient Egypt. But as anyone who has seen The Ten Commandments knows, regular horseradish is too mild to do justice to the experience. That’s why making your own maror is a must. And the great news is, it’s so easy you can eat it year-round instead of buying the lame bottled stuff. Just watch out for your eyes and be careful not to breathe in the fumes of the horseradish because that stuff will burn your nasal passages to their cores. (Some people recommend donning ski goggles, and tbh, it’s not bad advice.) Standard recipe here, “murderous maror” recipe here. (Can’t stand the heat? Make your own charoset, the sweet apple-wine-nut mixture eaten to represent the mortar the slaves used in building the pyramids.)
19. Meat-stuffed KIBBEH
The shape and exact composition of this dish changes depending on where it’s made, but it’s often a crispy, torpedo-shaped meatball with a bulgur wheat crust. Mizrahi (or Middle Eastern) Jews picked it up from their Arab neighbors — it’s popular in many Middle Eastern countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, and, now, Israel. You can make it with lamb, beef, or even goat. Just remember not to make it with milk or serve with yogurt if you’re cooking for a kosher crowd.
20. Basic MATZOH BREI
Another food made for Passover but totally good enough to eat year round, matzoh brei is easy to make and a perfect canvas for sweet and savory toppings alike. This recipe will give you the basics and you can always stick with a simple jam for a topping, but feel free to go a little wild. Try adding roasted peppers and olives or even making the brei the topping on some truffled latkes.
21. Crispy FALAFEL
Despite being Israel’s national food, like the Israeli salad that frequently accompanies it, whether or not falafel can be called “Israeli” is a matter of ongoing debate. What is not up for debate, though, is that it is freakin’ awesome. Fried chickpea balls FTW. Classic recipe here. Serve with hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, and a pita.
22. A Jewish-Style FRIED ARTICHOKE
Carciofi alla giudìa, or Jewish-style artichokes, originated in the Jewish-Roman ghetto and are still popular in Jewish-Roman restaurants in the spring when artichokes are in season. It’s basically a deep-fried artichoke with lemon and it is delicious. Recipe here.
23. Homemade dill PICKLES
Jews didn’t invent the pickle, but deserve credit for helping to spread its good name. Obviously there are many different kinds of pickles, and you can pickle pretty much anything, but the classic kosher dill is perfection. Start by making your own pickling spice, and make a lot more than you need. (Once you have it, you can start using it whenever you have more vegetables than you’ll have time to cook and eat.) Once you have your pickling spice, the rest is super easy, assuming you can handle waiting out the three- to seven-day pickling period. Recipe here.
24. Cured GRAVLAX
Gravlax is different from the more common Nova lox — it’s cured, not smoked — but it’s as much of a part of Jewish history. Plus, it requires minimal ingredients (salt, sugar, dill, and peppercorns) and is super easy to make at home for a beautiful centerpiece to a dairy Shabbat or holiday meal. Advance planning, however, is key: It’ll take you less than 10 minutes to prep it, but it needs to cure in your fridge for several days. This Mile End Deli recipe is simple and easy, while this recipe adds some more fun flavors, like fennel, caraway, and gin. Both are perfect on a bagel with a schmear of cream cheese.
Did we forget your favorite Jewish food? Got a family recipe you’re willing to share? Put your suggestions in the comments!
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