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All About Jewish Food, kosher, yiddish, Passover

Updated on October 20, 2016


Kosher means quality
Kosher means quality


The Diaspora of the Jews began around 800 years BC and continued through several forced exiles through ancient history. It wasn’t until 1948 and the founding of the state of Israel that the Jews had a country and a place to call their own. In spite of the dispersal of the Jewish people or perhaps because of it they have managed to maintain a culture and a cuisine that is unique unto them.

Eastern and central Europe and the Middle East all made major contributions to Jewish food but the food choices remain their own.

As always, corrections or requests for additions are welcome

Depend on kosher quality


The dietary laws of the Kashrut, the sacrifices of the Korbanot and the Shabbat (Sabbath, when cooking is prohibited), and the Festivals are all written in the Torah (Hebrew Bible) and detailed in the oral law of the Talmud. When your dietary laws come from God I guess you pay attention because their foods have evolved with the local cultures but have never been absorbed or abandoned.

Kosher or not?

There is a common misunderstanding that Rabbis have to bless food to be Kosher. This is not true, food either is or is not Kosher. The purpose of a Rabbi in food preparation plants is to keep an eye on things and make sure that only Kosher ingredients and methods are used. Considering the number of additives and flavors available today a Rabbi is needed.

Traditional Jewish foods may be prepared and still not conform to Jewish law, these might be called Jewish style but calling something Kosher style makes no sense, it’s like calling pork chicken style. According to experts, there are no discernable health reasons to eat kosher foods. Except of course kosher butchers. Kosher butchers are held to such a high standard that they are frequently exempt from FDA and Health rules. If you remember the commercial for kosher hotdogs that closed with “We’re held to a higher standard” even our FDA recognizes the truth.

Meats, Jews are permitted to eat any animal that has cloven hooves and chews its cud. All others are forbidden so hare, horse, camel and swine are not kosher. Meats must be completely drained of blood before consumption and certain parts of the allowed animals are forbidden. Rodents, reptiles and amphibians are forbidden.

Fowl, the Torah has a list of forbidden birds and the forbidden birds all seem to be either scavengers or birds of prey. Chicken, geese, and ducks are allowed and turkey is uncertain because it was unknown when the Torah was written.

Insects, some insects are allowed but varieties permissible are uncertain so now all insects are forbidden. There are communities where they have a tradition of allowed insects so in those places some will be eaten.

Fruits and vegetables are allowed but grape products produced by gentiles may not be eaten. Meat, from bird or animal may not be eaten at the same meal as dairy products and separate utensils are needed to cook, serve and eat dairy and meats. Fish, grains, eggs and fruits may be eaten with meats.
Fish that have fins and scales are allowed but all shellfish are forbidden.

Beer is kosher as long as it does not contain any grape products.

In baked goods some cream of tartar is forbidden because it is a by-product of wine making. Additives, There are so many additives used currently in food production that it is far beyond the scope of this list. Some are kosher and some are not, a list may be found here: Food additives


Because I got Cholent
Because I got Cholent | Source

A glossary

The glossary below presents some of the more common Jewish foods that you might encounter but there are many more. Many items are cross cultural and belong in several glossaries. Perhaps you will be able to use this info to try some new dishes as they become a little less foreign.

Bialys and Challah

Challah | Source

Easy Cheese Blintzes



From the Greek word for dessert this portion of Matzah is traditionally hidden by the Seder leader and found by the children who would receive a reward. The Afikoman was then shared by all and eaten at the close of the Seder meal but it wasn’t sweet.


Jews of Eastern and Central Europe



(There are many alternate spellings: Bhaba ganoush, babaganoush): Mediterranean dip made of roasted, pureed eggplant and Tahini.


Yeast raised coffee cake from Poland. May be flavored with cinnamon,

chocolate, or lemon, and filled with cheese or fruit.


Circular bread with a hole in the center that originated in Poland.

Dough is first boiled and then baked for a chewy interior and crispy




Named for the city of Bialystok, where it originated. Bread similar in size to a bagel, with a softer dough and an indentation rather than a hole in the center.

Birkat Hamazon
grace after meals.


Similar to a crepe. Thin pancake rolled or folded filled with cheese or fruit.


Beet soup of Eastern European origin. Served cold with sour cream or hot with a plain boiled potato.


Cracked wheat that has had part of the bran removed and been parboiled and dried is bulgur. Common in the Middle East, Greece and Eastern European cuisines. A primary ingredient in tabbouleh, Cracked wheat salad

Called bourek in Morocco and Algeria, brik in Tunizia, burek in the Balkans, börek in Turkey and Bourekakia in Greek. Small, pastries filled with cheese, spinach, eggplant, or meat. May be half moon shape or egg roll shaped


Carciofi alla guidia,
Jewish-style artichokes. Carciofi is the Italian word for artichokes. The dish is basically deep fried artichokes, famous from Roman Jews.


Egg bread. Typically made in braided form for the Sabbath,
and in circular form for the Jewish new year (to remind of the circular nature of life.

Leavened foods, prohibited on Passover.


(Alternate spelling: haroseth) Mixture of apples, cinnamon, honey and wine (Ashkenazic version) or dried fruits and raisins (Sephardic version) eaten on Passover. Symbol of the mortar used by the Israelites while they were slaves in Egypt.

vegetable used for maror (bitter herbs), many use Romaine or celery.


A traditional Jewish stew consisting of meat, potatoes, and beans simmered overnight. Cholent was developed to comply with Jewish religious laws that prohibit cooking on the Sabbath. Brought to a boil on Friday and kept warm to eat on Saturday,

Chrain: Horseradish sauce. Typically eaten with gefilte fish.


Dafina (or d'fina):

Sephardic version of cholent.


Ess: Yiddish and German word for "eat."

Etrog: Esrog

Hebrew word for citron, a citrus fruit with thick lumpy skin Used in the festival of Sukkot.

Holishkes, stuffed cabbage



Lebneh and Matzo Balls

Lebneh, ready to eat
Lebneh, ready to eat | Source
Matzo balls
Matzo balls | Source
Matzo ball soup
Matzo ball soup | Source



Middle Eastern fritter. Typically made with ground chick peas in Israel,

but with ground fava beans elsewhere in the Middle East.

Small pellet-shaped pasta. Farfel consists of an egg noodle dough which may be cut or grated for use in soups, or served as a side dish. In the United States, it can also be found pre-packaged as egg barley.


Yiddish word for meat, or meals containing meat ingredients.


Yiddish verb for overeating.


Gedempte Flaisch:

Literally, "potted meat." Refers to tough cuts of meat, such as brisket,

that are braised and then cooked for hours to soften.

Gefilte fish:

Literally, "stuffed fish." A mixture of ground fish typically, pike,

carp, orwhitefish that was stuffed back into a fish skin and poached.


Yiddish word for "chopped," as in chopped liver.

Gehakte Leber:

Chopped liver.

Glatt Kosher:

Kosher meat inspected after slaughter and found free from the even the tiniest imperfections. Also used to refer to establishments that strictly observe kashrut laws.


Yiddish word for "burp."


Crispy bits of fried chicken or goose skin similar to our fried pork rinds. Typically made as a biproduct when producing schmaltz.


Confection most often made of ground sesame seeds and sugar but also may refer to a confection made from oil, flour and sugar


Triangular pastries stuffed with jam, poppy seeds, or honey. Eaten on

Purim to remind them of the villain Haman in the Purim story.


Sephardic hard-boiled eggs colored a deep russet with onion peels.

Traditionally served at the Passover seder to remind us of the circular

nature of life.


Stuffed cabbage leaves


Mediterranean dip made of pureed chick peas and tahini.


Karpas. "greens" A vegetable, usually parsley, celery or radish dipped in saltwater and eaten at the beginning of the Seder.


Usually Buckwheat groats but may be any grain cooked into a porridge Commonly eaten in Eastern Europe.


Jewish dietary laws as set out in the Torah and Oral Laws of the Talmud.


Dish made of stuffed beef intestines. (which has not been legal in US since 1958) Also used for stuffing in general. (May be known as stuffed derma), stuffed with flour or matzo meal, a traditional part of cholent.


Yiddish word for matzo balls.
Kneydls, Also matza balls, matzoh balls, or matzo balls) are dumplings made from matzo meal.


Small pastry typically stuffed with potatoes, kasha, meat, or other vegetables. May be grilled, deep-fried or baked. Areas with a large Jewish population may have street vendors selling knishes.

The tenth activity of the Seder is to eat matzah and bitter herbs in a sandwich. This tradition dates to the time of King Herod when one of the most important figures in Jewish history, Jerusalem Rabbi Hillel invented the Hillel sandwich to comply with Biblical law.


Literally kosher means fit. Foods that are kosher meet the requirements of dietary laws. Food is not made kosher by being blessed by a Rabbi, it either is or is not kosher according to dietary law. When a Rabbi is involved in the production of food he is there to ensure that the dietary laws are being followed. There are over 30 thousand kosher products available in American markets.

Kosher Salt:

Almost all table salt is kosher and the name kosher salt would be more correct if salt were called koshering salt, salt used to extract the blood from meat to mate it kosher. Kosher salt in the market is almost always coarsely granulated. Kosher certified Salt is certified by a Rabbi as kosher.


Semolina pasta pockets like ravioli are most often stuffed with ground meat, usually liver and onions, although at times they may be filled with mashed potatoes or other things. "In many Ashkenazi homes, kreplach are served on Rosh Hashanah, at the pre-fast meal before Yom Kippur, and on Hoshana Raba. Kreplach with vegetarian or dairy fillings are also eaten on Purim because the hidden nature of the kreplach interior mimics the "hidden" nature of the Purim miracle" (wiki)


Yiddish word for matzo balls.


Polish barley soup. Also a honey infused vodka, also a village in Bulgaria

Kubaneh or Kubneh:

Yemmenite sweet yeast bread prepared overnight for the Sabbath and typically eaten with zhoug (also called shatta or zhug)


A casserole, often with a pudding-like consistency.

May be made with rice, noodles, vegetables, or potatoes.



Crispy potato pancake frequently flavored with onion, latkes are fried in oil and may be served with a garnish that is either sweet such as applesauce or savory as sour cream Typically served for Hanukkah, The oil for cooking the latkes is reminiscent of the oil from the Hanukkah story

Lebneh: (Alternate spellings: lebne, labne, labneh):
Lebanese or Middle Eastern yogurt cheese, simple to make at home by salting and straining yogurt


Spiced honey cake. Traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) for a sweet year.


Yiddish word for noodles,

Lokshen Kugel is a sweet baked pudding made of noodles with other ingredients such as cheese, raisins, egg, cinnamon, sugar, sour cream, and butter (or margarine)


Salmon cured with salt and spices, Lox is not the same product as smoked salmon. Lox may be available as regular lox or belly lox and the belly lox is more desirable because of the fat content and lower level of salt. Nova or Nova Scotia Lox will have even less salt.

Matzah Balls

Rugelach and Schmaltz


Ma'amoul to Pita

Shortbread pastries with nut fillings are eaten on Purim, while ma'amoul with date fillings are eaten on Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah.

Malawach or malawah
Fried bread that is a staple of the Jews of Yemen. Malawach resembles a thick pancake, thin layers of puff pastry brushed with oil or fat and cooked flat in a frying pan.


Yiddish word for almonds.


Similar to biscotti. Loaves of sweet bread with almonds are sliced and baked again into crispy cookies. They are called kamishbrot in the Ukraine.

Matzo: Matzah

Unleavened crispy flat bread made of white flour and water, eaten at Passover to remind the Jews of the haste with which they left slavery.

Matzo Balls: (Alternate spellings: matzoh, matza, matzah)

Also called knaidlach. Dumplings made of ground matzo meal, fat, and egg. Typically served in chicken soup or as a side dish for roasted meats.

Matzo brei, or matzah brie is a dish of Ashkenazi Jewish origin made from matzo softened with milk or water, mixed with eggs and fried in a pan like a frittata.


Wines that are rendered kosher by the process of boiling. This was a means of separating kosher wines from wine that might have been used by an idol worshiper. The boiling process removes much of the flavor from the wine and apparently idol worshipers had their standards too, they wouldn’t use Mevushal wines.


Yiddish word for dairy foods or meals with dairy ingredients.



Yiddish noun or verb for snack



(Alternate spelling: Parve) Hebrew word for "neutral"

foods that are prepared without meat nor dairy, such as fish, fruits, vegetables, and eggs. Pareve foods are permitted to be eaten with both meat and dairy dishes.


An appetizer of calves' foot, chopped up and cooked slowly then chilled into jelly.


Middle Eastern flat bread.

Rugelach at the CIA

Rugelach to Zhoug



Lit Little Twists: Small pastries made from rich cream cheese dough and filled with jam, chocolate, honey, or nuts.


Pita sandwich of fried eggplant, hard boiled egg, hummus and tahini

Another name for zhoug


Russian soup pungent from sorrell.


Yiddish word for rendered chicken fat. Gives flavor to traditional

dishes. May be served with gribenes.


Used to describe all Jews who are not from Eastern and Central Europe.

The Sabbath, on this God ordered day of rest from all labor, cooking is not allowed

Shkedei marak (literally soup almonds), known as "soup mandel" in the United States, crisp mini croutons used as a soup accompaniment. Despite the name, they contain no almonds.


Kosher butcher.

Sum Sum or Soom Soom
Hebrew word for sesame seeds.


Israeli donuts typically eaten on Hanukkah.



(Alternate spelling: Tabouli) Cracked wheat salad typically made with

parsley, tomatoes, cucumber, and mint.


(Alternate spelling: Tehina) Middle Eastern sauce made of ground

sesame seeds. Common topping for falafel.


(Alternate spelling: treif) Literally, "torn." Refers to un-kosher food.


Literally "a fuss" in Yiddish. A medley of vegetables such as potatoes,

sweet potatoes, parsnip, carrots) simmered with prunes or other dried

fruit. Typically served at Rosh Hashanah for a sweet new year. when it is traditional to eat sweet and honey-flavored dishes"


Varnishkes: Bow-tie pasta (farfalle in Italian). Typically served with




(Alternate spelling: Yuch) Yiddish word for chicken soup.



Middle Eastern spice mixture used for seasoning meats and flat breads.
Made with Sumac and other ingredients zaatar is a good introduction to the seasoning of the region

Zeroah, shank bone the first item on the Seder plate, can be any bone with a bit of meat, usually a chicken neck

Zhoug: also Shatta or Zhug

PopularcCondiment from Yemen made of ground hot peppers. Very hot.


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    • chefsref profile image

      Lee Raynor 4 years ago from Citra Florida

      Thanx Anti

      Glad you stopped be and commented.

      I remember a Deli in Orlando called Ronnie's that closed a long time ago. I made my own recipe of their "Victory Layer Cake" that they used to serve. See it at

    • profile image

      Anticruz 4 years ago

      Good Hub, very informative and makes me wish we had a good New York Jewish Deli here in Central Florida