This week we take a look at comfort food with writer Victoria Prever. Victoria is an expert on Jewish food and cooking and has written a recipe for Jewish chicken soup with matzo dumplings for our latest issue. She takes us through the steps to perfecting a perfect bowl and we talk about some other Jewish food traditions including the evolution of babka to one of 2020s trendiest bakes!
The dishes of Victoria’s heritage
The Sabbath meal always starts with challah, the Jewish egg-enriched bread. The Sabbath comes in at nightfall, so it starts on Friday night and goes on to Saturday night. You light candles just before dusk, make a blessing on some wine and a blessing on some challah. And it’s a special bread because it’s a celebration. It’s like a holiday every Friday, that’s how it’s meant to be, that’s why you’ve got your wine and your bread.
You might follow with chicken soup with kneidlach. Kneidlach are matzo balls, which are like dumplings. This all originated as peasant food from the Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi are Jews who lived in eastern Europe, other Jews are from further south, Southern Europe and Africa – they’re called Sephardi. So this chicken soup and matzo balls is very Ashkenazi, and the Ashkenazi Jews took that to the UK and to the United States when they emigrated.
Dessert would be non-dairy. If you’re observant, the rules of kosher are that you don’t mix meat and dairy, so you wouldn’t have those in the same meal. So there’s an awful lot of non-dairy desserts that people turn to, to not miss out on the pudding, and to have it at the end of their meat-based meal. So in a very traditional meal it might be something called lokshen pudding. Lokshen is the Yiddish word for noodles. It’s very stodgy, not like a rice pudding because it’s not milky but that kind of idea. Like a baked, noodly, eggy, custard dessert.
Victoria’s favourite Jewish food
This is a big stew cooked with barley, vegetables and meats – it sometimes has boiled eggs buried in it. Traditionally slow-cooked overnight on Friday to be eaten warm on Saturday when observant families wouldn’t cook.
The original babka was made from the same dough as challah bread and wasn’t enriched with butter or chocolate like modern versions. It would be kept dairy-free so it could be eaten at certain meals.
The rendered fat from cooking a chicken which is traditionally used to make matzo dumplings. You can also use for roasting potatoes or just eat spread on bread.