Growing up, I always thought of Jewish food as heavy and hearty: matzah ball soup, brisket, potato pancakes. These traditional foods were delicious, but they didn’t always satisfy my desire for lighter, more exotic fare.
As I’ve gotten to know Jews from other cultures through the years, I’ve been delighted to taste distinctive Jewish dishes from other countries. These little-known, vegetarian, Jewish recipes are delicious, and have the added benefit of being full of healthy, low-fat ingredients like beans, whole grains, and vegetables.
Try expanding your Jewish culinary horizons today with these delicious dishes.
Aash-e Gandom (delicious Persian Vegetarian Stew)
My friend Afsaneh gave me this recipe: this satisfying, healthy stew is popular in Persian Jewish communities.
- 100 grams wheat
- 700 grams spinach
- 50 grams chick peas
- 50 grams black-eye beans
- 50 grams lentils
- 50 grams split peas
- 2 large onions
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Soak peas, beans, lentils and wheat in water for 4-5 hours. Peel and chop onions and fry in oil until slightly golden. Add peas, beans, lentils, wheat, turmeric, salt and pepper. Add enough hot water to generously cover all ingredients. Place a cover on the pot, and cook over low heat for about one hour, stirring frequently.
Wash and chop spinach and add to the peas, beans and lentil mixture. Cook for another 10-15 minutes. Fry one spoonful of flour in oil for a few minutes and add to the soup. Stir and cook for a few more minutes.
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course.
Cucumber Yogurt Soup
This cold soup was introduced by Bulgarian Jews to Israel, where it is a favorite hot-weather treat today.
- 1 ½ large cucumbers, peeled and coarsely grated or diced
- 3 cups (750 ml) natural yogurt
- 2/3 cup (150 ml) sour cream
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 T olive oil
- A bunch of dill, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
- 6 ice cubes
Sprinkle the cucumber with plenty of salt and leave to drain for one hour in a colander. Then rinse and drain again. In a serving bowl, beat the yogurt and sour cream with the garlic, olive oil, and dill. Stir in the cucumber, taste, and add salt if necessary. Chill and add ice cubes before serving.
(From The Book of Jewish Food: an Odyssey from Samarkand to New York by Claudia Roden.)
This rice and lentil dish, which some say originated among the Jewish community in Lebanon, is surprisingly rich and delicious: the addition of caramelized onions adds deep flavor. I like to make this dish with Jasmine or Basmati Rice, which has an extra-special, perfume-like scent and flavor.
- 225g (8oz) lentils
- 450 ml (3/4 pint) water
- 75ml (5T) vegetable oil
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 200 g (7oz) long-grain white rice
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
Combine lentils and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to the boil, cover and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until lentils are just tender. Drain liquid into a measuring jub and add enough water to make 450ml (3/4 pint); reserve.
In a heavy frying pan heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they are well browned, about 15 minutes. Add onions and their il to pan of lentils. Add measured liquid and bring to the boil. Add salt and rice and return to the boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook, without stirring, until rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.
Optional: some cooks add 5ml (1t) cumin to the onions. Plain yogurt makes a nice accompaniment to Majadra if you’re serving it with a dairy meal. It’s also nice with hard boiled eggs, which provide protein and make Majadra a complete meal.
Serves 2-3 as a main course; serves 4-6 as a side dish.
(From Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook by Faye Levy.)
This popular Israeli dish has become my go-to recipe on hectic nights. It’s inexpensive to prepare, full of vitamins, and bursting with flavor. This is also the one meal all my kids – picky or not – will agree to eat!
There are as many Shakshuka recipes as there are Jewish families. This one is from the famed Israeli restaurant Doctor Shakshuka in Tel Aviv.
- 2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, unpeeled and cut in quarters, or one 28oz can tomatoes
- 6 cloves garlic, roughly diced
- 2t salt, or to taste
- 1t sweet paprika
- 2t tomato paste
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 6 large eggs
Place the tomatoes, garlic, salt, paprika, tomato paste, and vegetable oil in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, over low heat until thick, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (When I cook this dish, I usually add a small jalapeno pepper, chopped very finely, for an extra spicy kick.)
Ladle the tomato sauced into a greased 12-inch frying pan. Bring to a simmer and break the eggs over the tomatoes. Gently break the yolks with a fork. Cover and continue to cook for about 3-4 minutes, until the eggs are set. Bring the frying pan directly to the table. Set it on a trivet and spoon out the shakshuka.
Serves 6. (Note: when I serve this dish to my family, I use twice as much tomato as the recipe calls for: the sauce becomes so rich and delicious, we easily polish off the larger amount!)
This dish is delicious served over couscous. Try sprinkling it with a little crumbled feta cheese, or garnish with fresh cilantro.
(From The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan.)
Moroccan Carrot Salad
- 3-4 carrots, thinly sliced
- Pinch of sugar
- 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1.5ml (¼ t) ground cumin, or to taste
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 30-45ml (2-3t) extra virgin olive oil
- 15-30ml (1-2t) red wine vinegar or fruit vinegar, such as raspberry
- 30ml (2t) chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
- Salt and ground black pepper
Cook the carrots by either steaming or boiling in lightly salted water until they are just tender but not soft. Drain, leave for a few moments to dry, then put in a bowl.
Add the sugar, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, olive oil and vinegar to the carrots and toss together. Add the herbs and season. Serve or chill before serving.
(From Jewish Food for Festivals and Special Occasions by Marlena Spieler.)
This classic Israeli spread is a refreshing way to use healthy, seasonal eggplant.
- ½ lb (675g) eggplants
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1T finely chopped onion
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 3t olive oil
- 1t sea salt
- 10 grinds of black pepper
- 2t finely chopped parsley
- 1 t finely chopped green pepper
- For the garnish: black olives
Cut off the prickly stalk-ends of the eggplants, then prick all over with a fork.
Traditionally the eggplants are grilled over charcoal, giving the dish its characteristic smoky flavor. If you don’t have a charcoal grill to hand, bake the eggplant at 230 degrees C (450 degrees F) for 30 minutes, until they have begun to collapse and a skewer meets no resistance when the center is pierced. (Eggplants can also be cooked in the microwave on 100 percent power for 16 minutes.) Leave for one minute, then pierce with a skewer to test as before.
Allow to cool for a few minutes, then cut in half and scoop out the flesh from the skin. Chop the remaining ingredients into it using a large cook’s knife, adding the olive oil and lemon juice last. Taste and add more lemon juice and seasonings if necessary.
Put into a fairly shallow pottery dish. Garnish with black olives and serve with pita bread.
Serves 8 as an appetizer, 12-14 as a dip.
(Adapted from The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook by Evelyn Rose.)
Israeli Green Beans
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1T oil
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1T chicken soup (or instant vegetarian chicken-flavored soup)
- ½ lb. green beans, trimmed
- 1 15 oz can of stewed tomatoes, roughly chopped, juice included
Combine oil and onion in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and sauté on medium heat 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is browned. Add garlic and sauté one minute more. Add remaining ingredients, cover, turn heat to low, and cook at least 2 hours, until green beans are extremely soft.
Stir and check frequently to make sure green beans are not getting too dry; add a little water if green beans begin to stick to the bottom of the pan.
These rich, date-filled cookies are popular in Sephardi Jewish communities and can be bought all over Israel. They’re even better home-made, and make a memorable dessert.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ t salt
- 1T sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- ½ t orange extract or oil
- 6-8T ice water
- ½ cup fresh orange juice
- 2 cups dried, pitted dtes
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cups dried apricots
- ½ t ground cinnamon
- 1T finely minced lemon zest
- ½ cup walnuts, ground
- Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Dough: In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut or rub the butter into the flour mixture until crumbly and mealy looking. Drizzle on the orange extract and enough ice water to form stiff dough. (The dough can also be made in a food processor.) Set aside the dough while making the filling.
Filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the orange juice with the dates, raisins and apricots for 5-8 minutes to soften the fruit. Add the cinnamon and lemon zest. Cook over low heat until the mixture is pastry. Cool well, then place in a food processor, along with the walnuts, and process 1-2 minutes to produce smooth filling.
Some cooks use dedicated ma’moul molds which imprint the ma’mouls with decorative designs, but the cookies can also be made by hand. To form cookies, break off a walnut-sized piece of sough and make an indenture in the middle. Fill it with a generous teaspoonful of filling. Mold or wrap the dough around the filling and seal it with your hands to make a round, slightly cylindrical shape. Roll it lightly on a board to further shape and seal. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, and bake 22-28 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on the baking sheet.
Makes 2 ½ to 3 ½ dozen ma’maouls.
(From A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman.)