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Israeli Food and Cooking

As far back as I can remember, I sat in the kitchen watching my grandma cook. I used to dip into the pot with either a fork or a finger, to taste before the food was finished. My grandma hated it, but let me interfere anyway. The smells, the odors, the tastes....... I will never forget it. She was my mother's mother. Margot was her name, she passed away at the age of 93. This is dedicated to her. I love you, grandma.

Basically, one can divide Israeli cuisine to two: Ashkenazic and Sephardic. Ashkenazic related to Jewish people (immigrants) from east and west Europe and Sephardic relates to Jewish people from middle east countries. The Sephardic food is full of aromatic spices & herbs, spicier and livelier in general than Ashkenazic cooking which is sweeter. Nowadays we have new Israeli cuisine which combines the two with modern cooking. The style of Jewish cooking reflects the many places that Jews have lived throughout the centuries. Jewish cooking shows the influence of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Spanish, German and Eastern European styles of cooking, some influenced by the unique dietary Jewish laws.

Many of the foods that we think of as Jewish / Israeli are not unique to Jewish or Israeli culture. Stuffed cabbage, a traditional Jewish dish, is common in Eastern Europe. Blintzes and knishes are familiar to all Germans, not just Jewish ones. Many of the dishes that make up the Israeli cuisine have been brought by immigrants from the countries of their origin. Thus, even though dishes such as couscous, felafel and shishlik are extraordinarily popular throughout the country, none of them can be considered "truly Israel." Couscous, for example, originated in the Maghreb nations of North Africa; the roots of felafel are Egyptian; and shishlik first came from Turkey. Challa is a very sweet, golden, eggy bread. The taste and texture is somewhat similar to egg twist rolls . The loaf is usually braided, but on certain holidays it may be made in other shapes.

Israel is a small country. It is long and narrow and stretches just under 450 kms from north to south and, on average, is 60 kms from east to west. Israel's cosmopolitan society is reflected by the infinite range of cuisine available in the country. Any style of food from Argentinian to Zairean can be obtained in Israel. Israel is famous for its fresh fruits and vegetables. The Jaffa orange has long been a sweet symbol of the country.

Many restaurants in Israel observe the Kosher (Jewish dietary) laws. When dining Kosher you cannot mix meat and dairy products. However there are many non kosher reasturants where you can found a big saucy white (refer to pig meat) steak. Bacon and eggs too can be obtained in some restaurants. Together with the country's non-jewish citizens - Muslim and Christian Arabs, Bedouin, and Druze this melting pot gives the country its exceptional cuisine flavour.

The bagel has been a part of Jewish cuisine for at least 400 years. In America, bagels are traditionally served with cream cheese and lox (smoked salmon) or other fish spreads (herring, whitefish, etc.). They are also quite good with cream cheese and a thick slice of tomato. Matzah balls are also known as knaydelach (Yiddish for dumplings). Matzah ball soup, also known as Jewish penicillin, is generally a very thin chicken broth with two or three ping-pong-ball sized matzoth balls (or sometimes one very large matzoh ball) in it. Matzoh balls can be very soft and light or firm and heavy.

Honey candies are popular Ashkenazic Passover, Purim and Hanukkah treats. The basic recipe is varied by adding poppy seeds, sesame seeds, matzoh, carrots, or spices. When ground ginger is added, the candy is called "ingberlach" ("ingber" is the Yiddish word for ginger). When the ginger is omitted, the candy is sometimes called "pletzlach" (board), because it is spread into a thin layer to cool. Since honey syrups absorb moisture from the air, it is advisable not to make this candy on a humid day.

Classic Jewish Foods

Blintzes are basically Jewish crepes. A blintz is a thin, flat pancake rolled around a filling. It looks a little like an egg roll. As a main dish or side dish, blintzes can be filled with sweetened cottage cheese or mashed potatoes and onion; as a dessert, they can be filled with fruit, such as apple, cherry or blueberry. They are usually fried in oil. They are generally served with sour cream and/or applesauce. The word "blintz" comes from a Ukrainian word meaning "pancake."

Cholent is a very slowly cooked stew of beans, beef, barley and sometimes potatoes, usually done during the winter. After eating it, you would like to sleep for hours.

"Kosher" means "fit to eat," and the Jewish dietary laws, or kashruth, stretch back thousands of years. Even though the prescriptions are specific, there is room for interpretation in many cases.

Jewish food is not difficult. Basically, Jewish food is the food of country-folk and, because these were people who lived poorly, there was little to do then. The dishes were based on foods that were readily available, not overly expensive, and bound by the rules of kashrut. This led to a style of cooking that prized everything and wasted nothing.

There are those who claim that the Jewish kitchen is now passe. They are wrong.

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