There’s lots of talk of the traditional Jewish holiday meal but what is it and how did it become the meal most served at Jewish holidays?
The typical components of the traditional Jewish meal include gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzo balls (also called Kneidlach), brisket, roasted chicken, a potato dish such as kugel or latkes and tzimmes. Like many “Jewish” foods, the Jewish meal components are Ashkenazi as they originated in Eastern Europe. Before World War II, countries such as Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland had sizable Jewish communities where Jewish life including food traditions thrived. So many of our favorite foods have their roots in these countries including babka, rugelach, kichel (bowties) and of course the meal including brisket.
Why brisket? Brisket has some key features that have propelled it to become the “Jewish meat staple.” First, it’s relatively cheap vs other cuts such as steak. Second, brisket is typically sold in comparatively large amounts (usually at least a 3 lb cut), which is generally too much meat for a typical dinner or Shabbat but plenty for a holiday. So when serving many people for Rosh Hashana or Passover seder, brisket is a relatively inexpensive meat option. Third, it’s hard to ruin or overcook brisket. Letting it simmer for hours only makes it better.
Note that none of the Jewish meal components have any dairy ingredients. This is another reason that these foods have become traditional Jewish holiday foods. One of the primary kosher rules is that meat and milk should never be mixed. Butter or milk is not necessary in the preparation of any of these dishes. Instead of butter or fat, often schmaltz (chicken fat) is used or oil (canola, vegetable or olive). It is this reason that Jewish dairy foods such as blintzes, and lox and bagels with cream cheese tend to “go” together as a lighter meal, often for brunch.
Finally, tradition and heritage play a huge role in the evolution of these foods as the traditional Jewish meal components. Most American Jews have roots in Europe and there is no better way to connect to previous generations then through food. You have heard about “Bubbe’s” recipe for this or that. While there may be an actual bubbe (grandmother) in the family, “bubbe” is often intended as the universal Jewish grandma that knows how to cook to perfection and is an all around Balaboosteh or a maven at everything in the house-from cooking to cleaning to entertaining.
Let’s honor tradition and good taste as we enjoy a traditional Jewish meal. Click here for some useful Jewish recipes. Or, if you prefer not to cook, you can order a terrific glatt kosher meal at Challah Connection.
Written by Jane Moritz, Chief Maven Officer Challah Connection