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Jewish Holiday Meal Ideas
Understanding Jewish Holiday Meals
While this author is not Jewish, being interested in the customs and foods of many cultures, it seemed only natural that Jewish holiday meal ideas recently sparked my interest.
As in many cuisines based upon religion of any kind, holiday fare surrounding Jewish holidays is very specific. In many cases, the foods that are eaten symbolize something within the faith. There is a purpose for eating specific things during the individual holidays.
It's also important to note that Jewish holidays never fall on the same day each year--at least if you aren't using the Jewish calendar. If you follow the Jewish calendar (rather than the Gregorian calendar as most non-Jewish faith people do), the dates make predictable sense. The rest of us might ask why Rosh Hashanah is one date one year and a different date the next.
The holidays do fall in order, however, and each has a prescribed purpose of celebration. Foods are prepared and eaten in honor of the specific holiday. Some Jewish holidays will be non-work allowed holidays whereas some holidays allow people to work.
For non-Jewish foodies, some of the most sumptuous recipes in the world are found in Jewish holiday cookbooks. This author in researching this article stumbled on several cookbooks that are a "must have" in my kitchen library. I've found a treasure of recipes I plan to use for preparing food for my non-Jewish holiday meals.
Jewish holiday foods not only reflect the strong cultural beliefs of one of the oldest religions on the planet; the recipes reflect a pervading attitude towards being at one with a divine spirit as well as answering the demands of family, friends and society. In the observance of holidays, their faith is restated again and again and their commitment to it renewed.
Jewish holidays are all about honoring the past but looking to the future and new generations.
List of Major and Minor Jewish Holidays
This author needs a cheat sheet because I've never heard of many of the Jewish holidays. As I compiled this list, I enjoyed learning the different recipes that accompany each holiday but also more importantly, I learned a bit about Jewish history and why these holidays are important within Hebrew circles.
Holidays in order by occurrence--though they will occur on different dates by the Gregorian calendar every year:
- Tu b'Shvat--The New Year for Trees--considered a minor holiday
- Purim--celebration from genocide in biblical times--considered a minor holiday
- Passover--also called Pesach--celebrating the liberation from Egypt--considered a major holiday--most Jews take days off work at the beginning and also possibly at the end--it lasts for 7 or 8 days
- Yom Ha'Shoah--Holocaust Remembrance Day--considered a new/minor holiday
- Yom Ha'Atzmaut--Israel Independence Day--celebrating liberation from England in the 1940s--considered a minor holiday
- Lag B'omer--the omer are the 49 days between Pesach/Passover and Shavuot--while this is not a holiday per se, it is a time during which people reflect and postpone certain activities such as parties and weddings. Lag B'omer is a favorite wedding day itself when the 49 days expire--likewise athletic events, picnics and bonfires
- Shavuot--celebrates giving of the Torah--considered a major holiday
- Tisha B'Av--day of mourning of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem--considered a minor holiday
- Rosh Hashanah--start of the new year--time to repair relationships--major holiday
- Yom Kippur--day of atonement--fasting and prayer--major holiday
- Sukkot--celebrates the harvest--many times eat outside--minor holiday
- Simchat Torah--holiday rejoicing in the Torah--celebrated in synagogue--minor holiday
- Hanukkah--celebrates rededication of Temple in Jerusalem--minor though 8 day celebration
- Shabbat--celebrated every week--sundown Friday to sundown Saturday--orthodox Jews do not work and also abstain from other worldly activities
Minor holidays are still observed and traditionally certain foods are prepared.
It's important to note also that in traditional Hebrew celebrations, kosher laws are also observed, such as not eating dairy meals with meat meals.
Major holidays require that no work be done and in the case of Yom Kippur, fasting is practiced. Refraining from bathing or not wearing leather are traditions which some more orthodox Jews practice in honoring certain holidays like this as well.
The holidays (and the foods selected for them) are a way for Jews to worship and pledge themselves (again) to their religion. Food is an integral part of the religion and culture itself.
Major Jewish Festivals by Season
Festivals of Spring
Festivals of Summer
Festivals of Fall
Fesitvals of Winter
Omer (awaiting the harvest)
Holiday Meal Ideas for Tu b'Shvat
This holiday celebrates the birthdays of trees. It occurs in Israel when the trees begin to bloom and is often celebrated by the planting of trees.
Great Tu b'Shvat foods:
- Fruits such as grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates are popular items
- Carob is also very popular
- Fig or fruit spreads
- Tu b'shvat granola
- Hazelnut torte or cake
- Carob chip cookies
- Date nut bread is very popular for this holiday
- Barley and wheat are also mainstays of this holiday
- Mushroom barley soup is a favorite
- Fruit salads are very popular for Tu b'Shvat
- Apricot souffle
Purim Holiday Meal Ideas
Purim is a time for adults and children to dress up in costumes and celebrate by eating triangle-shaped cookies and foods. The celebration is escaping genocide during biblical times. Cookies called hamantashen named after Haman in the Book of Esther who was the villain trying to destroy the race, are triangular/hat shaped delicacies served in both parve form and dairy form. Often foods have surprise fillings in them as part of the Purim tradition.
Great Purim foods:
- Persian lentil salad or other legume salads
- Hummus or chickpeas/garbanzo beans
- Turkey kreplach (dumplings filled with ground meat and potatoes)
- Hamantaschen--little sugar cookies with jam inside baked into triangles
- Apricot sushi
- Beef and eggplant stew
- Sweet and sour 3-bean salad
- Baklava is a popular dessert
- Stewed prunes is a popular side dish for Purim
Holiday Meal Planning for Pesach or Passover
Since Passover or Pesach is the holiday where only unleavened foods are allowed, foods are necessarily more limited by ingredients. The celebration is a time for remembering Egyptian rule but celebrating the Jews being freed by the pharaoh.
Great Passover meal ideas:
- Apple haroset--haroset is a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine
- Salmon with oranges en papillote
- Meat pie called a savory mina--ground meat and potatoes
- Meringue cookies
- Matzoh French toast
- Sponge cake
- Unleavened brownies
- Beet horseradish
- Gefilte fish
- Rack of veal
- Roast chicken with olives
- Chicken with tarragon and lemon
Holiday Celebrations for Yom Ha'Shoah
This is a relatively new holiday and considered a minor one. There are no set "rules" yet surrounding this holiday though many observe it in remembrance of their ancestors and in support of the Jewish Uprising.
In Jewish communities, there will be celebrations and festivals honoring the victims of the Holocaust as well as the survivors. Films will be shown remembering the devastation and the lost but thanks given to those who did not let Jewish traditions die.
Check out the recipe for the traditional Jewish 7-layer butter cake at joyofkosher.com.
One popular item that seems to have made the news for celebrating this day is the Butter Cake recipe which is said to represent hope for the future.
Meal Ideas for Yom Ha'Atzmaut
Another minor holiday, Israel's Independence Day from British rule in 1948, most communities celebrate it with fairs and celebrations.
Popular Yom Ha'Atzmaut dishes:
- Israeli salad
- Homemade doughnuts
- Baba ghanoush--eggplant dish
- Shakshouka--a dish made of eggs, chili spices and tomatoes
Holiday Food Ideas for Shavuot
Shavuot is a great time to have dairy meals. This holiday celebrates God giving the Torah to the Jewish people. Many say the dairy connotation to the holiday comes from God promising to lead the Jews to the land of milk and honey.
Great Shavuot foods:
- Stuffed French toast
- Blintzes of every kind
- Classic cheesecakes
- Dishes made with farmer's cheese
- Samosa--fried or baked pastry with meat and potato fillings
- Noodle kugel
- Lox and eggs with onions
In the days of Lag b'omer leading up to Shavuot enjoy:
- Tabbouleh--cracked wheat--in salads with tomatoes and cucumbers
- Lamb and vegetable shish kebobs
- Watermelon salad
Holiday Meal Ideas for Rosh Hashanah
The Jewish New Year is the resolution to mend broken relationships and encourages a time of reflection on one's life and those around them. Families gather to celebrate the autumn harvest and to pray for a bountiful new year ahead. Many featured foods have sweet ingredients in them.
Popular Rosh Hashanah dishes:
- Sweet ginger gefilte fish
- Soda pop brisket
- Sweet carrot tzimmes
- Harvest rice with pomegranate
- Sweet potato casserole
- Lemon honey cake
- Raisin challah
- Sweet potato pudding
- Honey cake muffins
- Rugelach--bite size cookies made with cream cheese dough
Meal Ideas for Celebrating Yom Kippur
After Shabbat, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year. In the days before Yom Kippur, Jews reflect on their behavior in the past year. They apologize to God and other people they have wronged. They atone for their sins by fasting and refrain from eating or drinking anything from sunset to sunset. Then they come together to break their fast and celebrate their new resolve to lead a purer life.
Favorite Foods for Yom Kippur:
- Bagels and cream cheese
- Lox and bagels
- Smoked salmon frittata
- Various types of kugels (egg and noodle dish)
- Mandelbrot or mondel bread--similar to biscotti
- Baba ganoush
- Varnishkes--buckwheat groats and noodle dish
- Mushroom, lentil and barley soup
- Rice pudding
- Herring salad
Holiday Meal Ideas for Sukkot
The abundance of autumn foods is part and parcel of the celebration known as Sukkot. Many people honor this holiday by building an outside dwelling covered with branches and pay respect to the Israelites who wandered the desert upon departing Egypt.
Great Sukkot meal ideas:
- Pumpkin soup
- Stuffed cabbage or cabbage rolls (holishkes)
- Baked apples
- Stuffed apples
- Ladder challah
- Meat and pine nut puff pastries
- Albondigas soup with Jerusalem artichokes
- Chicken with dates, olive oil and 12 cloves of garlic
- Fresh corn casserole
- Lentils and barley with tomatoes and rosemary
- Bulgur and pomegranate seed salad
- Cabbage and carrot sweet and sour slaw
- Carrot cake
- Pears in red wine
- Cranberry apple crumb pie
- Tofu brownies
Holiday Meal Ideas for Simchat Torah
This holiday celebrates the reading of the Torah scroll.
It often is celebrated in the synagogue with dancing and singing--even dancing with scrolls. Jewish music is in and of itself one of the most expressive styles of music one can experience.
There are no real foods associated with this holiday but it is a time for rejoicing and hearty family meals.
Holiday Meals for Celebrating Hanukkah
Hanukkah is celebrated for 7 or 8 days and commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by the Jews. It is called the Festival of Lights and is rampant with traditional recipes as well as new favorites.
Great Hanukkah Meal Ideas:
- Sweet potato latkes
- Zucchini, feta and basil frittatas
- Winter vegetable soup
- Goose, duck, capon or chicken breast with fruit sauce
- Spaetzle--small dumplings dipped into boilling water
- Wild rice stuffed chicken
- Raw applesauce
- Kumquats in spiced syrup
- Whole wheat olive and rosemary bread
- Sofganiyot--biscuits with cream cheese and cheddar cheese
- Raspberry ponchik--fried doughnuts with jelly
Holiday Meal Ideas for Shabbat
This is the holy day for Jews which occurs every week--Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Traditional Jews do not cook their food, work, exchange money, watch TV, or partake in other activities that detract from a day of spiritual reflection and get-togethers with friends and family. It is meant as a day of rest from all the usual things during the week and as always, foods are a great part of the tradition.
Great Shabbat Meal Ideas:
- Roasted chicken with vegetables
- Chicken noodle soup
- Matzoh balls
- Vegetable cholent
- Garbanzo and couscous salad
- Gefilte fish with challah
- Marinated salmon
- Potatoes with tarragon and garlic
- Vegetarian chopped liver
- Mandelbrot--much like biscotti
Jewish Traditional Foods for Hanukkah
Meal Planning for Jewish Holidays
Whether you are ethnic or not, the above cookbooks are excellent sources for Jewish Holiday meal ideas. I've added several of these to my own cookbook collection. The recipes are absolutely fabulous, easy to follow and delicious. My favorite so far is the one for Apricot Souffle.
- Beni's Family Cookbook for the Jewish Holidays--Jane Breskin Zalben
- Jewish Holidays Cookbook--great for teens and adults
- The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking--Phyllis & Miryam Glazer
- Helen Nash's New Kosher Cuisine--Healthy, Simple & Stylish