Jewish Soul Food: Traditional Fare and What It Means by Carol Unger takes an amazing look at Judaism though food. The cookbook goes through the holidays and the symbolic meanings of foods connected to those holidays. There are recipes from Jewish communities from around the world, which can be made easily from ingredients available at just about any supermarket.
With Tisha B’Av approaching quickly, here are 5 delicious and thought provoking recipes with text excerpts from the cookbook related to Tisha B’Av and the 9 Days:
Carol Unger refers to this dish as “Smallpox For Supper”, because the Arabic name Majadarah literally means “having smallpox.” The brownish lentils allegedly resemble the disease. Don’t let that put you off. Majadarah is incredibly healthy, full of fiber and iron and low in fat. Majadarah is eaten before Tisha B’Av and also after funerals because lentils are closed spheres without an opening or a mouth and under Jewish law a mourner lacks a mouth; mourners aren’t allowed to initiate a conversation—they can, however, respond. On Tisha B’Av all Jews are mourners.
As warm as a mother’s embrace, as soft as a baby’s blanket, mamaliga, a cornmeal mush, which is a close relative to polenta, is the ultimate comfort food. In Rumania, mamaliga, was eaten round the clock. In the early 20th century immigrants brought it to the U.S. and sung about in the Yiddish theatre. Since it’s meatless, it’s great for the pre Tisha B’Av period, though you can eat it anytime.
A Jewish take on a Hungarian peasant classic, Rakott Krumpli, or pleated potatoes is a savory sour cream, potatoes, and hardboiled eggs casserole. Jews often remake regional foods to conform to the Jewish dietary laws. The “pleating” refers to layering of ingredients. In addition to Tisha B’Av, you can also eat this dish on Shavuot or Hanukah when dairy foods are featured, or any other time.
In my family “cabbage noodles” was the name we gave to an archetypically European combination of spicy savory savoy cabbage and small pieces of pasta. If the phrase “cabbage noodles” doesn’t ring a bell, know that this dish is called káposztás tészta, in Hungarian and kraut lokshn, or kraut pletzlach in Yiddish.
Remember how Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil soup? That transaction wasn’t really about soup. It was about the eternality of the soul. That’s why Jacob made such an odd payment request—Esau’s birthright. That birthright wasn’t the family jewels or stock certificates. It was the right and responsibility to perform the Divine service. Esau exchanged that for a bowl of soup. In Jewish tradition the round lentils symbolize eternity so Esau traded his share of eternity for a soup flavored with eternity.
If you enjoyed these recipes, you can purchase Carol Unger’s book from Amazon here.