“Sephardic“ is a term used to describe Jewish people who descended from the Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. In fact, even today the Hebrew word for Spain is “Sepharad”.
The Sephardic culture influenced Spanish culture in many ways, especially in regards to Spanish cuisine. As a result, many Sephardic recipes can be found among those from the Mediterranean region. Sephardic Jews recipes usually consist entirely of kosher foods although some Jewish recipes may vary especially during Pesaj, when some vegetable gums are used to prepare certain Sephardic foods.
One of the Sephardic food customs that has remained strong in Spain is the tradition of snacking on appetizers during family gatherings or holidays. They are known as “mezé,” hors d’oeuvres that are usually accompanied by raki, a liquor flavored with anise, similar to pastis or absinthe. Common Sephardic hors d’oeuvres include cheese dumplings, yogurt soup, fried pumpkin, soused fish, etc.
This inherited tradition helped influence the famous Spanish custom of tapas, going from bar to bar to dine on small appetizers. This Spanish food tradition is particularly popular in the afternoon on Sundays after mass when Spaniards gather to have lunch dining on tapas in various bars. A popular Spanish tapa with a Sephardic origin is anchovies in vinegar.
This popular Sephardic recipe is quite easy to prepare: once the anchovies are clean and the head is removed, cut them in two lengthwise and soak them in a plate with vinegar where they will macerate at room temperature. When they have absorbed the vinegar flavor, drain the vinegar, drizzle olive oil and sprinkle finely chopped garlic and parsley over the anchovies. This dish is a delicious fresh fish dish and a great example of a traditional Jewish food recipe.
In the Spanish city of Toledo, the marzipan Jewish recipe is well preserved. Marzipan is a treat made up of sugar and almond meal. Toledo traditionally was a city with a large Jewish population and many Jewish traditions have remained strong. Today, the last name “Toledano” still exists and the origin is Sephardic.
The Jewish tradition of substituting fish for meat on Fridays was maintained in Spain for a long time. So Catholics’s lent tradition was actually inherited from Jewish food culture. Jews traditionally eat fish such as Gefilte fish, a famous Sephardic stuffed fish recipe, on Fridays to prepare for the Sabbath.
In Andalusia many typical Jewish food recipes still exist in their original form after all this time. Among all these dishes, “bienmesabe” swordfish stands out. The fish is marinated, cut into cubes, breaded in flour and then fried until crispy. This typical Spanish food recipe of Jewish origin is very popular on along the coast of Andalusia.
Friar’s Ears (orejas de fraile) is a typical Galician treat of Sephardic origin. This coffee pastry is made up of flour, eggs and milk that is fried and accompanied by a rose honey drizzled on top. The Friar’s ears originated from Haman Ears, a Sephardic pastry. Haman was a minister of Ahasuerus, a Persian king who plotted to end the lives of all Jews in Persia. Ahasuerus’ s wife, Esther, was of Jewish origin and was able to convince the king to stop the plan and save the Persian Jews from massacre.
In addition to the Jewish foods already mentioned, in Spain many recipes incorporate almonds, pine nuts, honey, spices and other ingredients originating the Sephardic Jewish kosher foods.