A few definitions for your Jewish culinary art knowledge

Shared with me by my colleague Miguel Ring around 15 years ago. Time to let it re-surface.

Latkes: A pancake‑like structure not to be confused with anything the House of Pancakes would put out. In a latka, the oil is in the pancake.  It is made with potatoes, onions, eggs and matzo meal. Latkas can be eaten with apple sauce but NEVER with maple syrup. There is a rumor that in the time of the Maccabees they lit a latka by mistake and it burned for eight days. What is certain is you will have heartburn for the same amount of time.

Matzoh: The Egyptians’ revenge for leaving slavery. It consists of a simple mix of flour and water ‑ no eggs or flavor at all. When made well, it could actually taste like cardboard. Its redeeming value is that it does fill you up and stays with you for a long time. However, it is recommended that  you eat a few prunes soon after.

Kasha Varnishkes: One of the little‑known delicacies which is even more difficult to pronounce than to cook. It has nothing to do with Varnish, but is basically a mixture of buckwheat and bow‑tie macaroni (noodles). Why a bow‑tie? Many sages discussed this and agreed that some Jewish mother decided that “You can’t come to the table without a tie” or, God forbid “An elbow on my table?”

Blintzes: Not to be confused with the German war machine. Can you imagine the N.J. Post 1939 headlines: “Germans drop tons of cheese and blueberry blintzes over Poland ‑ shortage of sour cream expected.”

Kishka: You know from Haggis? Well, this ain’t it . In the old days they would take an intestine and stuff it. Today we use parchment paper or plastic. And what do you stuff it with? Carrots, celery, onions, flour, and spices. But the trick is not to cook it alone but to add it to the cholent (see below) and let it cook for 24 hours until there is no chance whatsoever that there is any nutritional value left.

Kreplach: It sounds worse than it tastes. There is a rabbinical debate on its origins: One Rabbi claims it began when a fortune cookie fell into his chicken soup. The other claims it started in an Italian restaurant.  Either way it can be soft, hard, or soggy and the amount of meat inside depends on whether it is your mother or your mother‑in‑law who cooked it.

Cholent: This combination of noxious gases had been the secret weapon of Jews for centuries. The unique combination of beans, barley, potatoes, and bones or meat is meant to stick to your ribs and anything else it comes into contact with. At a fancy Mexican restaurant (kosher of course) I once heard this comment from a youngster who had just had his first  taste of Mexican fried beans: “What! Do they serve leftover cholent here too?!” My wife once tried something unusual for guests: She made cholent burgers for Sunday night supper. The guests never came back.



Gefilte Fish: A few years ago, I had problems with my filter in my fish pond and a few of them got rather stuck and mangled. My son (5  years old) looked at them and commented “Is that why we call it ‘GeFiltered Fish’?”  Originally, it was a carp stuffed with a minced fish and vegetable mixture. Today it usually comprises of small fish balls eaten with horse radish (“chrain”) [1] which is judged on its relative strength in bringing tears to your eyes at 100 paces.

Bagels: How can we finish without the quintessential Jewish Food, the  bagel? Like most foods, there are legends surrounding the bagel although I don’t know any. There have been persistent rumors that the inventors of the bagel were the Norwegians who couldn’t get anyone to buy smoked lox.  Think about it:  Can you picture yourself eating lox on white bread?  Rye?  A cracker?? Naaa.  They looked for something hard and almost indigestible which could take the spread of cream cheese and which doesn’t take up too much room on the plate. And why the hole? The truth is that many philosophers believe the hole is the essence and the dough is only there for emphasis.

The Old Wolf has spoken, but do you ever write me? No, that’s fine, I’ll just sit here in the kitchen slaving, if you come and find me dead someday it will only be what you deserve…

[1] Linguistic note: the German word for horseradish is “Meerrettich” but in Austria it’s known as “Kren”.

3 responses to “A few definitions for your Jewish culinary art knowledge

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