Sephardic Jewish cooking (Mediterranean)
Sephardic cooking, in the term's current use, broadly encompasses the worlds of Judeo-Arab (Middle Eastern), Judeo-Spanish (Iberian) and North African Jewish cooking. These diverse styles share much in common. Cumin, coriander and cinnamon are the seasoning stars. Rice and chickpeas are staples. Dishes are pungent and aromatic, heady with garlic, herbs, lemon and pomegranate. Lamb is the meat of choice, frequently stewed in tomato-based sauces. Artichokes, eggplants, spinach, okra, olives and peppers accompany the meal, often in the form of olive oil-drenched salads. In households with origins in the eastern Mediterranean, pita bread and tahini-based spreads are common, and bulgur and lentils are additional pantry staples. Desserts are based on pistachio and pine nuts, honey and filo dough.
Holiday Celebrations With Meaning
The story behind the food truly comes alive during holiday celebrations. While chicken soup and gefilte fish make repeat appearances among Ashkenazim, each holiday is distinguished by foods and dishes that mark the season and are deeply imbued with symbolism.
Passover – The Springtime Feast
Passover celebrates the ancient Jews' deliverance from slavery in Egypt. On the first two nights of the holiday, a festive meal known as a Seder is held. This meal is rich in edible symbols, including matzoh (a cracker-like unleavened flatbread) eaten in remembrance of the hasty escape from Egypt. It is yummy when topped with haroset, a pasty mixture of chopped apples and/or dates, nuts, honey and sweet wine, which represents the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to build the pyramids of Egypt.
Gefilte fish, symbolic of abundance since fish multiply rapidly, leads as the appetizer. It is usually served with horseradish, a bitter "herb" representing the affliction of slavery. Matzoh ball soup is the traditional soup. Roast chicken, braised lamb shanks or pot-roasted brisket typically make up the main dish. Macaroons, flourless chocolate cake, almond-flour gateau and sponge cakes provide for a wonderfully sweet ending.