Encyclopedia of Jewish Food

Encyclopedia of Jewish Food

by Gil Marks

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A comprehensive, A-to-Z guide to Jewish foods, recipes, and culinary traditions—from an author who is both a rabbi and a James Beard Award winner.
Food is more than just sustenance. It’s a reflection of a community’s history, culture, and values. From India to Israel to the United States and everywhere in between, Jewish food appears in many different forms and variations, but all related in its fulfillment of kosher laws, Jewish rituals, and holiday traditions. The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food explores unique cultural culinary traditions as well as those that unite the Jewish people.
Alphabetical entries—from Afikomen and Almond to Yom Kippur and Za’atar—cover ingredients, dishes, holidays, and food traditions that are significant to Jewish communities around the world. This easy-to-use reference includes more than 650 entries, 300 recipes, plus illustrations and maps throughout. Both a comprehensive resource and fascinating reading, this book is perfect for Jewish cooks, food enthusiasts, historians, and anyone interested in Jewish history or food. It also serves as a treasure trove of trivia—for example, the Pilgrims learned how to make baked beans from Sephardim in Holland.
From the author of such celebrated cookbooks as Olive Trees and Honey, the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food is an informative, eye-opening, and delicious guide to the culinary heart and soul of the Jewish people.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544186316
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 11/17/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 672
Sales rank: 516,864
File size: 11 MB
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About the Author

Gil Marks is a chef, rabbi, writer, historian, and expert on Jewish cooking. The author of five cookbooks, including the James Beard winner and IACP finalist Olive Trees and Honey, he was the founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine and currently writes for various Jewish and food-related publications. He has served as a guest lecturer at The Culinary Institute of America and has been featured on radio and television. Follow his Jewish Food blog and find out more on his website, gilmarks.com.

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Adafina is a Sephardic Sabbath stew in which the ingredients are typically cooked in layers and served in separate dishes.

Origin: Spain

Other names: Algeria: t'fina; central Morocco: frackh, schena, shachina, skhina; northern Morocco: daf, dafina, d'fina; Tangiers: horisa, orissa; Tunisia and Libya: tafina, t'fina.

The Register of Depositions before the Inquisitors in the Canary Islands on July 4, 1570, recorded, "Ana Goncales deposes that when she was in the service of Ana de Belmonte, she saw that her mistress cooked mutton with oil and onions, which she understands is the Jewish dish Adafina." During the Spanish Inquisition, the single most incriminating dish connoting a retention of Judaism was adafina. Even an accusation of preparing this stew led to Conversos being burned at the stake. Inquisition reports from the fifteenth century list ingredients for adafinas, including chickpeas, fava beans, fatty meat, onions, garlic, and cumin. The initial layer of flavor in any Sephardic stew is chopped onion sautéed in olive oil, and usually the meat is browned with the onions as well.

After the Sabbath stew developed and spread through medieval Spain, Sephardim from the north and center of the country generally adopted the Talmudic term hamin as the name of their Sabbath stew. However, an alternative nomenclature emerged in the south, ad-dfina or adafina (from the Arabic meaning "buried/covered"), corresponding to the Mishnaic phrase "tomnin et ha'hamin" (Aramaic meaning "cover/bury the warm dish"). In this vein, al-kanz al-madfun is Arabic for "buried treasure," once a Spanish sobriquet for the Sabbath stew. Pointedly, there is a homophone in Hebrew, dafinah, meaning "force into a groove" and "to press against a wall," either of which would be applicable to the medieval cooking methods of inserting the pot into a hole in the ground with embers or sealing it in an oven. Among the six Jewish dishes contained in an anonymous thirteenth-century Moorish cookbook from Andalusia was one for an antiquated "Adafina," which consisted of layers of spiced meatballs and spiced meat omelets. Following the expulsion, the name adafina or d'fina primarily survived across the Straits of Gibraltar in North Africa.

In addition to meat and onions, a basic adafina contains some sort of Legume — Moroccans and Egyptians are partial to chickpeas, while white beans are more common among Tunisians and Algerians. For Passover, some cooks use fresh fava beans from the new crop. Vegetables differ regionally as well. Algerians typically add turnips, while Tunisians use a well-cooked leafy green (sfanach) or cardoons. After potatoes and sweet potatoes arrived in the region from South America, they eventually became familiar additions. Sephardic Sabbath stews are always seasoned with cumin and frequently with other spices as well. Some adafinas are slightly sweetened with dates or honey, while others possess a hint of fire with the addition of harissa (chili paste) or chilies. Some cooks add pieces of quince or dried apricots and plums. Ubiquitous to all Sephardic Sabbath stews are haminados (slow-cooked eggs). The key to what is used in the adafina is an ingredient's ability to stand up to the long cooking time.

Many adafinas are enriched with a calf's foot, a tongue, an ox tail, or a small meat loaf, providing another dish for Sabbath lunch. Once luxuries and generally the province of only the wealthy, these enhancements are common today. Moroccans generally include a kouclas (dumpling) wrapped in cheesecloth, typically consisting of any combination of rice, wheat berries, and ground meat, or separate bags for any or each of the three. Today, some cooks substitute ovenproof plastic bags for the cheesecloth, adding water and seasonings to each bag. Many Algerians, Tunisians, and Libyans make a bobinet (beef sausage) or osbana/osban (a sort of sausage made from the chopped entrails of a sheep mixed with eggs, rice or bread crumbs, sautéed onion, garlic, and spices and stuffed into a sheep's stomach). Egyptians tend to eschew dumplings, making just the basic stew. For the meal breaking the fast of Yom Kippur, some households make an adafina containing a whole chicken stuffed with ground beef, ground almonds, and cinnamon.

In North Africa, the stew was typically started over a fire on Friday, then set in the coals of a kanoun (brazier) and covered with special bulky blankets for insulation and left to simmer overnight. Families lacking a kanoun sealed the lid with a flour paste, then carried the pot on Friday afternoons to a large public oven in town. In most communities, a guard was hired to watch the oven all night to avoid any tampering.

The majority of Moroccan Sabbath stews are traditionally cooked in layers and separated into different dishes for serving. Consequently, Moroccan adafina is technically a meal-in-one and not a blended stew. The haminados, usually peeled after cooking and put back in the pot for several minutes, are generally offered first as the appetizer. Diners can season their own eggs with salt and ground cumin. The remaining ingredients are then served in separate deep bowls. Presentation is important and fancier hosts line the dishes with lettuce leaves, which contrast with the intensely browned adafina ingredients. The legumes along with a little of the cooking liquid are sometimes spooned over couscous left over from Friday dinner. The remaining cooking liquid is presented as a warm soup, sometimes with thin noodles added. It is customary in many homes to follow the adafina with a glass of a digestif, such as fig liquor.

(See also Hamin, Haminado, Harira, Kouclas, Sabbath, Shkanah, and T'fina)

Moroccan Sabbath "Stew" (Adafina/Dafina/Skhina)

6 to 8 servings

1. In a large, heavy pot or deep 10- to 12-quart ovenproof dish, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and stir to coat. Sprinkle with the paprika, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, salt, and pepper.

2. In the order given, add to the pot (without stirring) the meat, bones, and optional chicken. Loosely tie the wheat berries in a large piece of cheesecloth and insert it into the center of the stew. Many cooks add a kouclas (dumpling). If using rice in the stew, use a meat and wheat berry dumpling; if using wheat berries in the stew, use a meat and rice dumpling. Surround with the potatoes and, if using, sweet potatoes and/or dates.

3. Add enough water to cover by more than 1 inch. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 2 hours. Add enough water to cover the stew. Arrange the eggs in the stew and press to submerge.

4. Tightly cover the pot. Place on a thin sheet of metal over a low heat or in a 225°F oven and cook overnight. Remove and peel the eggs, serving them separately. To serve, place the chickpeas, cooking liquid, meat, wheat berries, potatoes, and eggs in separate bowls.


Adzhapsandali is a vegetable stew, usually based on eggplant.

Origin: Georgia

Other names:adzhapsandal.

Until recently, most Georgian homes had a fire in the center of the large communal room with a shwatzetzkhli (large copper pot) hung by a chain from the ceiling, in which various stews were simmered, the main course of many meals. Outside was a clay oven, used to bake breads and casseroles. Vegetable dishes were either cooked in the pot or, less commonly, baked in the oven. The most popular of these stews is adzhapsandali (Adzha is a province on the Black Sea). Some versions are soupy, while others are dry. Eggplant, introduced by the Persians and subsequently becoming the Georgians' favorite vegetable, is commonly the heart of adzhapsandali; other produce is added depending on its availability and the discretion of the cook.

What distinguishes the stews of Georgian cookery from other vegetable stews is the large amount of fresh herbs and a kick from cayenne. Georgian Jews enjoy this lively stew hot on Sukkot and Friday night or at room temperataure for Sabbath lunch. Adzhapsandali is served as a main course or side dish, typically accompanied with khachapuri (filled pastries) or mchadi (corn cakes) and Georgian wine. At dairy meals, adzhapsandali is commonly accompanied with yogurt.

Afikomen (Tzafun)

Near the beginning of the Passover Seder, the middle of three matzas is broken in two and the larger section, called the afikomen, is wrapped and set aside to be eaten as the final item of food of the evening. This, however, was not the original usage of the word afikomen, but its modern convention, reflecting historical changes in Jewish ritual and lore.

The Mishnah states, "One may not add after the paschal offering an afikomen." This wording clearly indicates a forbidden activity. At the time that the Temple stood, the paschal offering (korban pesach) constituted the final part of the Passover Seder meal. Following the destruction of the Temple and the cessation of the paschal offering, it was replaced with a portion of matza at the end of the meal, separate from the matza at the onset over which the Hamotzi (benediction over bread) is recited. This concluding piece of matza is not consumed because of hunger, but, according to some, for the fulfillment of the commandment of eating matza or, according to others, in memory of the Temple.

The formalized Passover-night liturgy was developed by Sages living in Israel two thousand years ago, at the time of the Roman occupation. They incorporated into the Seder not only the various biblical commandments but also many elements from the contemporary Greco-Roman symposium (Greek for "drinking together"). It was a ritualized upper class banquet and intellectual dialogue, including reclining on couches, eating from private small tables, ritual hand washing, dipping greens, consuming fruit-and-nut relishes, a series of ritual wine libations, a sumptuous meal, and a series of questions as a starting point for an intellectual discussion of a designated topic. These aspects of the symposium served as models of freedom and affluence, the ideals to which the Seder participants aspired.

At the end of the symposium, however, followed a komos (later comissatio in Rome), named after an intoxicated reveling group of satyrs who followed around the Greek god of wine and fertility, Dionysus. (The word comedy also comes from the komos.) The end of the symposium, living up to the namesake komos, consisted of a drinking party accompanied with revelry, music, and song. The host always provided various tidbits — most notably fruits, roasted grains, and nuts — similar to the modern beer nuts — to nosh on with the wine to induce the consumption of alcohol. (A komos also frequently featured masks and costumes, a practice, which around the seventeenth century, through the Italian commedia dell'arte, found its way into Purim festivities.) The komos served as a ritualistic transition from the intellectual and gastronomic parts of the symposium to its sensual, decadent side, inevitably and intentionally leading to lewdness. As part of the komos, the inebriated participants would then proceed (komatsain) from house to house, laughing and singing, to persuade others to join them in their drinking, carousing, and orgies. The Sages, not wanting the aftermath of the Seder to degenerate into the bawdy and lascivious behavior of the komos, realized that it was necessary to avoid the excesses of the symposium. Consequently, afikomen originally meant in Greek epi komos/epikomion (upon the revelry). The meaning of the Mishnah is that one may not add after the seder meal any of the activities associated with the komos.

Initially, the final matza had no specific name. Amram Gaon, author of the first recorded Haggadah (857 CE), simply states, "After eating [the meal], everyone eats an olive size portion of matza." Saadia Gaon (tenth century), in his siddur containing another early version of the Haggadah, refers to the final matza as keenuach seudah (wiping of the meal), a Talmudic euphemism for dessert. However, despite a common misconception, the word afikomen does not mean dessert in Greek or Aramaic. By at least the late twelfth century, the term tzafun (hidden) became prevalent among Ashkenazim for the final matza. The Sefer ha-Rokeach (c. 1200) proposed that the name of this custom derives from a verse in Psalms: "How abundant is Your goodness, which tzafanta [You have hidden away] for those who fear You."

Illustrations in early Ashkenazic Haggadahs reveal the practice of hiding the larger piece of the middle matza under or in a cloth, an act intended to peak the interest of the children. After dinner, the Seder leader redeems the matza in time to be consumed. Like other parts of the Seder, the acts of hiding and finding the matza developed various symbolic meanings, such as pointing to the unknown future redemption. Wrapping matza in a cloth is also reminiscent of the Israelites leaving Egypt. Although some Sephardim and Mizrachim have recently adopted the practice of tzafun (hiding the matza), it was not their tradition. Rather at a Sephardic and Mizrachi Seder, the final matza is wrapped in a special cloth bag, frequently embroidered, and the leader conducts a dramatic reenactment of the Exodus from Egypt.

The first record of the word afikomen employed in reference to the final matza, and no longer something forbidden, occurred in the Responsa of Rashi, a collection of Rashi's writings chronicled by his students (c. twelfth century). By the time of the Shulchan Arukh (c. 1555), the term afikomen was firmly entrenched among both Ashkenazim and Sephardim as the name of the final portion of matza at the Seder. The Shulchan Arukh also advised, "One should be careful to eat the Afikomen before midnight."


Agraz refers to sour unripe grapes, the juice expressed from them (verjuice), and a sauce made from the grapes themselves.

Origin: Spain, Provence

Other names: Italian: agresta, agresto; Ladino: agra.

Verjuice or verjus (from the Old French vertjus, "green juice") is the light green unfermented juice of unripe grapes. The Spanish and Ladino equivalent is agraz. However, agraz also denotes the unripe grapes (agraz entero) as well as a sauce made from the grapes themselves (salsa agraz).

Verjuice is acidic and has a distinct grape flavor, but is less acidic tasting than lemon juice or vinegar, and grows milder as it ages. The grapes are picked before maturing at a period when they begin to change color and start to soften, around late July or August. Thinning grapes at this time is a natural aspect of viticulture and the immature portion are not wasted. As with wine, different varieties of grapes yield different qualities of verjuice. Salt is commonly added as a preservative and to prevent fermentation into vinegar, but preferably not enough to be detected. When the yearly stock of verjuice ran out, typically by spring, faux verjuices, with a much sharper taste, were made from sorrel, gooseberries, and crabapples until new sour grapes emerged each season.

The first recorded use of verjuice in cooking was by the ancient Romans, but it was most probably used in every ancient grape-growing society, as people were not wont to waste. During the medieval period, verjuice was the principal souring agent of the grape-growing regions of Europe — France, Italy, Spain, and Greece — as well as a common condiment in Turkey, Syria, and Persia. Throughout the medieval period, cooks used verjuice in a myriad of stews, sauces, pickles, condiments, and salad dressings, its intriguing flavor complementing wines served with foods and not overpowering or altering them as does vinegar. Taillevent in his influential late fourteenth-century cookbook, Le Viander, called for verjuice in more than 40 percent of the recipes. In Dijon, it was incorporated into the local mustard.


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