The sun has set. Yom Kippur and, in fact, the ten Days of Awe have come to a close. Our thoughts now turn to…well, food, of course. Our bodies cry out for replenishment while our hearts crave comfort, a sort of hug in the form of food.
It’s no wonder, then, that for most American Jews, the break-fast traditionally means Ashkenazic favorites like sweet noodle kugel, bagels and lox, smoked fish platters, blintzes, rugelach and babka. But what about Jews from other parts of the world, other Jewish food traditions where these comfort foods are little known, if at all?
Not to worry. What each of us considers comfort food has much to do with our family roots and backgrounds, where we grew up and, of course, our individual families themselves. So, Jews from all over the world have an abundance of diverse delicious comfort food traditions, many of which appear at break-fast gatherings.
In the non-Ashkenazic traditions, breaking the fast often begins with a glass of water or mint tea (chai b’nana) and the sweet taste of apple, quince or other fruit preserves. Strong coffee might also be served to make up for the lack of caffeine for some 25 hours. In Turkish homes, usually just some sugar to taste is added to the finjan, the long-handled Turkish coffee pot, while in homes of Mizrahi and other Jews from the Middle East and Central Asia, some whole cloves or cracked cardamom pods might flavor the coffee.
The meal itself, whether a buffet or seated gathering, is full of favorite dishes, sometimes dairy and sometimes meat. Many egg dishes, pareve or with cheese added, satisfy hunger and the need for comfort. Among them are kookoo-e-sabzi, an herb-filled frittata favored by Persian Jews, and quajado (aka cuajado, kuajado) a dish passed through the centuries from the original Sephardim and, in fact, used against Jews in Inquisition testimony. In quajado, the egg is mix with lots of mashed or grated vegetables such as leeks, eggplants or zucchini. The dish is then baked, much like an Ashkenazic kugel.
At dairy break-fasts, borekas filled with eggplant, spinach and feta or potato and a good strong cheese such as kashkaval are favorites among Jews from Greece, Turkey, the Balkans and Israel. Cheese fritters with various vegetables appear at break-fasts from Italy to Israel, not just for Chanukah.
Warm and cold salads using such ingredients as eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, onions, carrots, fennel, leeks and lots of spices and herbs are a big part of non-Ashkenazic break-fasts. For Jews from Egypt, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries ful medammas—warm fava beans dressed with lemon, olive, parsley, hard-boiled eggs and some spices—is a favorite break-fast and breakfast dish.
When it comes to comfort food, there is little that competes with chicken soup, and some non-Ashkenazim who serve a meat meal include their favorite chicken soup, such as this Yemenite version. Dishes with chicken, pigeon or other fowl, such as Moroccan chicken with olives, might be served as well as a comforting overnight meat or vegetable stew, adafina or hamin, which are along the same lines as cholent, but with different ingredients and flavors.
Huevos haminados, long-cooked hard-boiled eggs, are eaten on their own as a life-affirming symbol and sometimes as part of a dish or two. The eggs can be cooked by themselves or tucked into the overnight stew for a meat meal.
And then there is rice pudding, a seemingly universal comfort food with versions part of cuisines across the world. Most rice puddings found in delis and American Jewish kitchens are made with long-grain or arborio rice and can take as long as an hour to cook and thicken.
The non-Ashkenazic version, however, most often called sutlatch—sütlaҫ or mahallebi in Turkish—is a creamy rice pudding made with rice flour, traditionally flavored with orange or rose water. It takes just 10 to 15 minutes to prepare before chilling in the fridge. Jews from Morocco, France, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Hungary and other places influenced by Sephardic cuisine have fond memories of this easy-to-eat dish, many also remembering cinnamon lovingly sprinkled on top in a special shape or the initials of each child.
Sutlatch, often served for breakfast especially for Shabbat, is also a perfect break-fast dish that finds its way to many tables along with other comforting Jewish food traditions from around the world.