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Jewish Cuisine

Jewish cuisine is one of the tastiest and most varied cuisines worldwide. Originally, this cuisine emphasized the seven biblical elements quoted in Deuteronomy: barley, wheat, olives, figs, pomegranates, dates, and herbs.

Jewish Cuisine

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 19/06/2023

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - Researcher at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Master in Psychology

Jewish cuisine is one of the tastiest and most varied cuisines worldwide. Originally, this cuisine emphasized the seven biblical elements quoted in Deuteronomy: barley, wheat, olives, figs, pomegranates, dates, and herbs. A few millennia ago, the food was rustic, prepared by the hands of Jewish peasants, who were transmitting the recipes to their daughters as one of the ways to maintain identity.


When the Romans expelled the Jews from Palestine in the first century AD, Jews spread to many places worldwide and had to adapt to different forms of the diasporic life. Thus, they acquired new eating habits and started to use the available ingredients. Their dishes incorporated various seasonings, herbs, and native spices, which were cultivated according to the soil, temperature, climate, and habits of the new regions.  


On the other hand, those new eating habits had to adapt to the laws of kashrut, better known as kosher foods, which is the dietary laws of Judaism, whose laws derive from the Old Testament and the Talmud (the set of laws concerning foods and the ways in which they are prepared). According to the physician, scientist, philosopher, and Jewish theologian Maimonides, the rules aim to promote the health of the body and the social good. To make the food pure and suitable for consumption, they establish certain principles and procedures regarding its choice and preparation.


One of these laws, for example, asserts that only shochets—professionals trained for shechita (slaughter)—can kill the animals that will be consumed, since they studied  for this function. To do so, the shechita uses an extremely sharp blade cutting the animal’s trachea and jugular vein at once, causing an instant death and minimum suffering. Once done, they remove its skin and claws and let all blood flow. The meat is then washed for thirty minutes, salted with kosher salt and drained for one hour in a perforated container. After that, the shochet removes the salt, washes, and drains the meat three more times and only then it is approved for consumption. 


Although Kashrut is an ancient commandment of the Torah, it is now recognized that the kosher diet, with its three categories—meats, dairy, and neutral foods, which include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—provides an excellent foundation for healthy eating. Since ancient times, Jews have been forbidden to combine meat or poultry with dairy in the same meal. The Orthodox still follow the biblical precept: “do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Exodus 23:19 and 34:26 – Deuteronomy 14:21). This precept, which prohibits placing mother and child in the same pot, also refers to incestuous relations between mother and son, who should not also share the same bed.


However, the combination of meat or poultry with neutral foods is allowed. By mixing and combining them, nutritionists have realized that they contain complex carbohydrates, as well as proper natural nutrients, and provide a balanced diet. Thus, as the group of neutral foods in the food chain has a wide variety, it can be said that the followers of Kashrut laws enjoy a healthy diet.


Kosher foods often come with the U and K symbols on their packaging. This certificate  guarantees the production of well-groomed food, subjected to strict and judicious quality control. These religious people refuse to eat in places where dietary laws are disobeyed. And when they travel by plane, the airlines are obliged to serve food with the kosher seal, which means they have been inspected by rabbis. However, most Jews do not follow the laws of Kashrut.


Other biblical prohibitions include eating pork, blood, hoofed animals (such as horses and camels), reptiles, fish without scales and fins, crustaceans or other living creatures from fresh or salt water, and game. If an egg has any blood spot, it cannot be consumed. Prohibited foods are called tarefah in Hebrew and treyf in Yidishe. Food, therefore, functions as a link between the sacred and the profane.


In general, Jews can be divided into two main groups: 1. the Ashkenazim (those from Northern France, Central Europe, and Eastern Europe); and 2. the Sephardim (those who come from the Iberian Peninsula, Northern Africa, and the Middle East). Interestingly, there are great differences in their cooking styles, and one has little or no knowledge about the other’s cuisine.


The Ashkenazim (or Ashkenazi), who come from very cold regions, consume more salted and smoked fish (such as herring and carp), chicken fat, potatoes, cabbage, beets, carrots, and onions. The Sephardim (or Sephardi), who come from warmer areas, many of them close to the Mediterranean Sea, have a richer, healthier cuisine, with a greater variety of foods such as fish, grains, fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, almonds, and hazelnuts, in addition to using more olive oil than animal fat. The Sephardi also use a lot of spices and condiments, such as cinnamon, saffron, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, Jamaican pepper, and garlic. In India, Jews make use of all these exotic products. Thus, by observing the dishes and ingredients used in the cuisine, it is possible to know the origin of a Jew and/or their descendants. Below are some recipes for Jewish food.




250 grams of kasha,

1 egg,

4 tomatoes (minced, without skin and seeds),

1 green onion sauce (finely chopped),

1 mint (finely chopped) sauce, 

1 lemon juice,

2 cucumbers (chopped),

salt and pepper to taste.



Mix raw kasha with a beaten egg. Sauté in hot oil and add 1 ½ cups (250 ml) of boiling water, salt, and pepper. If necessary, add more water. When the kasha is cooked, turn off the heat and let the pan cool. Remove the kasha from the pan with a fork to loosen it and add the other ingredients. The tabbouleh is ready to serve.




500 grams of pasta (tagliatelle type),

5 eggs (lightly beaten),

3 large onions (chopped),

1/3 cup of oil,

3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs,

salt and pepper to taste.



Cook the pasta in water and salt and leave it little more cooked than usual. Drain well and put in a container. Brown the onions in oil and add to the pasta. Add the eggs, salt, and pepper, and mix well. Place in an pan greased with oil and sprinkled with breadcrumbs and bake in a hot oven. Take it out when it is golden. When it cools, cut into squares and serve.





½ kilo of wheat flour,

2 eggs,

½ cup of warm water,

a teaspoonful of salt.


300 grams of ground meat or shredded chicken breast (cooked or roasted), or 300 grams of grated cheese,

2 eggs,

salt and pepper to taste.



Mix and knead all the dough ingredients and let rest for at least 30 minutes. On a table, cover a cloth and flour the entire surface. Roll out the dough with the roller and cut into small squares. Place the filling in the middle of each one and close like a triangle, tightening the ends. Then join the ends of this triangle, forming a cappelletti. Cook in boiling salted water for 15 minutes. Remove the kreplach with a skimmer, place melted butter on them, or meat and chicken sauce. It is ready to serve. 




1 kilo of lean meat (ground),

2 eggs (raw),

2 eggs (hard boiled),

1 ½ bread roll (stale),

1 onion (large and grated),

4 cloves of garlic (squeezed),

2 tablespoons of oil,

salt and pepper to taste.



Soak the bread in the water, squeeze well, and mix with the meat. Add the raw eggs, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Shape an oval cake and fill with the 2 hard eggs. Brush the klops with the remaining oil and bake in a hot oven in a greased form.




1 kilo of potato (coarse grated),

1 onion (grated),

1 onion (chopped and fried in 6 tablespoons of oil),

6 eggs (lightly beaten).



Mix all ingredients well, place in a baking pan greased with margarine and sprinkled with breadcrumbs, and bake in a hot oven until the pie is golden.




1 medium cabbage,

300 grams of ground beef,

1 cup of rice (washed),

2 tomatoes (minced without skin and seeds),

½ cup of oil,

100 grams of raisin (without seeds),

1 apple (chopped, peeled),

1 lemon (small) juice,

2 tablespoons of sugar,

1 onion (chopped),

salt and pepper to taste.


2 onions (finely sliced),

4 tomatoes (sliced),

¼ cup oil, 1 lemon juice,

2 tablespoons of sugar,

salt and pepper to taste



Place the whole cabbage in a lidded saucepan containing water and salt and boil for 5 minutes. Remove the cabbage from the water and let it cool. Carefully separate your leaves, keeping them whole, and reserve. Mix the other ingredients well, put 1 tablespoon of the mixture in the center of each leaf and wrap them like cigars, with the ends inside, but not too tight since the rice increases in volume when cooking. After rolling the cigars, prepare the sauce for cooking.

When the sauce is ready, add 1 cup of water and add the cigars. Simmer for about 1 hour, or until the filling is well cooked. If necessary, add more water.




1 kilo of eggplant,

½ cup olive oil,

1 green apple,

¼ cup of vinegar,

2 onions (cut into petals), 

100 grams of raisin (without seeds),

2 red bell peppers (diced),

1 green bell pepper (diced),

1 tablespoon dried oregano,

salt and pepper to taste.



Dice the eggplants with the peel. Leave them in the water and salt for an hour. Drain well. Mix all ingredients with the eggplant cubes and bake in a hot oven. Open the oven a few times to stir the mixture and turn it off when the eggplant and peppers are tender. Let it cool and serve.




1 cup of lentil,

1 cup of rice,

4 cloves of garlic (crushed),

3 onions (sliced),

1/2 cup of olive oil,

50 grams of margarina,

1 teaspoon of ground cumin,

cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste.



Cook lentils in water and salt until tender, but do not let them fall apart. Set aside. Cook the rice in water and salt until it is cooked and very loose. Set aside. Brown the onions in olive oil and add the spices. Then add the rice and the lentils, mix well, and serve.




1 kilo of eggplant,

½ cup of olive oil,

3 cloves of garlic (crushed),


salt and black pepper (freshly ground) to taste.



Wash and dry the eggplants. Bake them on a griddle on the stove. When the peel is burnt, put them in a container and scoop out their core with a spoon. Throw away the peel. Mash the eggplant with a fork and season it with the other ingredients, mixing well, or beat everything in a blender. Then place in the refrigerator and serve as a salad or as a filling inside pita bread.




6 beets (peeled and coarse grated),

½ kilo of meat (muscle, cut into pieces),

1 small head of cabbage (chopped),

2 ½ liters of water,

3 tablespoons of sugar,

1/3 cup of lemon juice,

6 potatoes (cut into pieces),

Salt to taste.



Cook the meat, cabbage, and beets in water and salt until the meat is very tender. Add the seasonings (salt, lemon, and sugar), the potatoes, and simmer until the potatoes are cooked. The soup is ready to go to the table.




2 cups of brown sugar,

1 cup of oil,

3 eggs,

2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour,

1/2 tablespoon of baking powder,

1 teaspoon of cinnamon,

1/2 tablespoons of baking soda,

2 apples (chopped), 

30 grams of raisins (without seeds), 

50 grams of apricot (minced),

6 figs in syrup (drained and chopped),

10 dried dates (chopped),

10 walnuts (chopped). 



Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs in a blender. Pour into a deep container and add the cinnamon, baking soda, flour, and baking powder, and stir lightly. Add and mix the chopped fruits and nuts. Put the dough into a greased and sprinkled with breadcrumbs baking pan and bake in medium oven. Do the toothpick test before turning off the oven.




500 grams of ricotta,

4 eggs,

1 can of condensed milk,

2 cans (of the same size) of milk,

2 tablespoons of cornstarch,

2 tablespoons of sugar,

grated peel of a lemon.



Beat all ingredients except the egg whites in the blender. Beat the egg whites until stiff and incorporate them lightly into the mixture. Grease a tray with margarine, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and bake in a medium oven for about 40 minutes. 





1 ½ cup of wheat flour,

1 cup of sugar,

2 tablespoons of baking powder,

2 tablespoons of butter,

2 egg yolks. 


½ kilo of ricotta, 

250 grams of sour cream,

1 tablespoon of butter

3 egg yolks,

1 cup of sugar,

1 tablespoon of wheat flour,

100 grams of raisins (without seeds),

1 lemon zest,

vanilla drops,

3 egg whites (beat until stiff).



Mix the ingredients of the dough until it forms a smooth dough and line a (demountable) tray with it. Set aside. Beat the ricotta and sour cream in a blender, then add the butter, egg yolks, sugar, and wheat flour and beat well. Pour the mixture into a container and add the raisins, the lemon zest and, finally, the stiffed egg whites. Bake the pie in a hot oven. Be careful not to over-gold it.




4 eggs,

2 cups of sugar,

1 cup of honey,

¾ cup of oil,

1 cup of tea (strong and cold),

1 lemon zest,

1 tablespoon of chocolate powder,

1 teaspoon of instant coffee,

3 cups of wheat flour,

1 tablespoon of baking powder,

nutmeg zest,

1 cup of walnuts (chopped),



Beat the egg yolks well with the sugar, honey, and oil. Mix the remaining  ingredients, except the egg whites, and add to the dough. Beat the egg whites until stiff, add to the dough and add the nuts. Grease a baking pan, sprinkle with wheat flour, pour the dough, and bake in a hot oven. After baked and cooled, cut the honey cake into squares.


For the Jewish religion, the Shabbat is holy, and on this day, people must rest and are forbidden to work and to light a fire. On Shabbat, the family consumes the food that was prepared the day before. It is the mother of the family who takes care of the wine, the bread (the challah), and the knife to cut it, it is she who lights the candles, passes her hands over the flames, and says the prayer: Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, who sanctified us with the commandment of lighting Shabbat candles. ... Everything happens as if, on Shabbat, the lights of the lit candles illuminate the paths of faith and hope of the Jewish people.  


The Hebrew mother is so devoted to feeding her offspring that they say she gives maternal love. In other words, for her, feeding her offspring represents an act of transmitting love. For this reason, when a mother somewhere in the world insists that her children eat some more, she is immediately called yídishe mamme (a Jewish mother).


Every year, in November, the Jewish Culture Festival takes place in Recife. The party is open to the public and is in the bairro do Recife. Next to the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue, in Recife Antigo, a platform is set up, where teenagers perform folk dances. There is also a handicraft exhibition along Rua do Bom Jesus. And in the stalls set up in Arsenal Square, Jewish cuisine is sold to thousands of people.




Recife, December 27, 2007.

sources consulted

ALGRANTI, Márcia. Cozinha judaica: 5.000 anos de histórias e gastronomia. Rio de Janeiro; São Paulo: Editora Record, 2002.


COHEN, Elizabeth Wolf. New Jewish cooking. Londres: Quantum Publishing, 2003.


IGEL, Lúcia; FICHIMAN, Regina. Cozinhando com a idishe mame. São Paulo: W-Edith Produções Gráficas, 2007.


QUEVICI, Neide Elias. Cultura judaica e nordestina trocam receitas. Recife: Editora Nelson Caldas Filho, 1996.


SABORES para sempre. São Paulo: Editora e Livraria Sefer; Congregação Monte Sinai, 2001.


TAAM – Três generaciones de sabor. San Jose, Costa Rica: Grupo WIZO Jai Sara Rose, 2005.

how to quote this text

VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Jewish Cuisine. In: Pesquisa Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2007. Available at: Access on: month day year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2020).