Jewish identity is as much composed of cultural and ethnic dimensions as those of faith and religion. Originating from the Hebrews of the Ancient Near East, Jews branched out to the rest of the world forming distinct communities with their own traditions and cultures- and of course, cuisines! The largest of these groups are the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim; read below to get to know the where and why of each group’s food customs.
The Ashkenazi originate from Germany and Eastern Europe; “Ashkenaz” means “Germany” in Hebrew. In addition to that of Germany, the Ashkenazi cuisine is influenced by the foods of Poland and Russia (i.e. horseradish, rye bread, & pickles). This is a very cold region, and therefore the food tends to be heavier, with lots of potatoes, noodles, and meat. Additionally, this group was forced to live in poverty after having been expelled from Western Europe in the Middle Ages, and therefore were limited in terms of ingredients. Their foods were made with fewer components, with fewer spices and ingredients, and those that were more flavorful had to be used sparingly. This is why the Ashkenazi cuisine is often regarded as being blander than dishes in Sephardi cuisine.
The Sephardi originate from Spain, North Africa, the Middle East, Egypt, and Turkey; the root of “Sephardi” means “Spain” in Hebrew. Their cuisine was influenced by Spanish and Mediterranean cuisines (i.e. shakshuka and hummus) and was developed in a sunnier climate than Ashkenazi making it generally lighter, healthier, and more colorful than that of the Ashkenazi. Staples of Sephardi cuisine are salads, stuffed vegetables and vine leaves, olive oil, lentils, fresh and dried fruits, herbs and nuts, chickpeas, and lamb. Another interesting difference in the Sephardi tradition in relation to food is that they eat rice and legumes during Passover whereas other Jewish ethnic groups do not.
In anticipation of Passover, here are two charoset recipes that perfectly illustrate the differences in the lineages. Be adventurous and try a new one, or serve both to see which you and your guests prefer. Serve them up in a Quest Collection piece for maximum visual impact; we recommend the Passover Coconut Spice Bowl or Wildflower Medium Glass Bowl. And if you have leftovers, either version makes a great chicken breast stuffing!
- 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dried apricots, chopped
- 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dark raisins, cut in half
- 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Yellow raisins, cut in half
- 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dried, pitted dates, chopped
- 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Dried figs, chopped
- 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Pistachios, preferably dry roasted
- 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) of Walnuts, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon cumin
- 2-3 twists of freshly ground pepper (optional)
- About 4 tablespoons (¼ cup) hot liquid (sweet red wine like Manischevitz or grape or apple juice), added by tablespoonful
- Mix the dried fruit and nuts (all chopped) together in a bowl.
- Heat the liquid and add it to the fruit and nut mixture. Let the charoset sit for a few minutes until the fruit absorbs the liquid.
- Mix again and drain off excess liquid if any or add more if required.
*Original recipe: https://motherwouldknow.com/sephardic-charoset/
- 1 ½ lbs Gala or Fuji apples (about 4 medium apples)
- 5-6 tbsp sweet kosher wine
- 1 tbsp honey (use agave to make vegan)
- 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ginger
- ¼ tsp allspice
- Salt to taste
- 1 cup raw walnuts (no shell)
- ½ egg white
- 3 tbsp sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp cayenne
- Dash cinnamon
- Dash nutmeg (optional)
- 1. Peel and core the apples, then chop them fine. I usually put them in a food processor and pulse a few times till they're chopped fine but with texture. Careful, it's easy to over-chop if you go this route and you could end up with applesauce!
- 2. Place the chopped apples in a bowl. Stir in 5 tbsp sweet kosher wine, honey, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and a pinch of salt (to taste). Taste the mixture; if you feel it needs more moisture or sweetness, add a bit more kosher wine. The wine will be soaked up a bit as the charoset marinates, but you don't want it puddling too much at the bottom of the bowl... a little puddling is fine.
- 3. Cover the bowl, place in the refrigerator, and allow the mixture to marinate for 24 hours.
- 1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Separate egg white from yolk, then pour half of the egg white into a mixing bowl (just eyeball this, it doesn't half to be exact). Use a whisk to beat the egg white till frothy, then beat in the sugar, salt, cayenne, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the walnuts to the egg mixture and stir till the walnuts are fully coated in the seasoned egg white mixture.
- 2. Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes till crisp. Remove sheet from the oven and allow the nuts to cool on the sheet.
- 3. Pour the candied nuts onto a cutting board and roughly chop them into smaller pieces.