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A Shiksa Cooks Jewish Food

How I learned to Love Jewish Food


Matzoh Ball and Kreplach Soup

Matzoh Ball and Kreplach Soup

© 2009 Barbara Rolek licensed to About.com, Inc.
What's a Catholic girl doing cooking Jewish food? Well, I come by it honestly. I inherited the gene from my mother. Mom was a goye, a shiksa. There wasn't a Jewish bone in her body, yet she cooked like a yidene.

If you're not Jewish, it might take a bit to decipher some of these words. That's why I've put a short list of Yiddishisms at the bottom of this article. Mazeltov!

The fact that mom cleaned houses and served meals for some of the Jewish ladies in our ethnically diverse neighborhood may have had something to do with her affinity for Jewish cuisine.

That's where she learned about matzoh ball soup so rich with shmaltz, it tasted like bubbe's. She learned about blintzes, potato latkes with sour cream and applesauce, gefilte fish, corned beef on Rosen's rye bread, challah, and bagels and cream cheese before bagels were fashionable.

It wasn't much of a leap for her, actually, since Ashkenazic Jewish cuisine has its roots in German, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian and Russian food. Besides, my mother always identified with what she called Jewish people's rakmonhes and zest for life. It's not surprising, then, that mingled with the Polish dishes of our heritage were heaping helpings of delicious Jewish food.

I have fond memories of Mom taking us to Chicago's Maxwell Street, considered the bargain mecca of the city, to hunt for fabrics and then having lunch at Manny's Deli. The restaurant still exists and, in fact, is one of President Barack Obama's favorites.

People think I'm meshuge when I recount stories of grating pounds and pounds of potatoes for latkes on meatless Fridays. So, OK, I'm an ersatz yidene, but I think my matzoh balls hold a candle to anyone's.

A friend once told me, "Never cook with your tokhes." In other words, don't turn your back to your cooking, it takes watching to turn out right. And no matter what you cook, if you cook with tam, you'll do fine.

So, now, I say to you, nu, don't make a tsimmes out of cooking Jewish. Try these recipes. Some I've collected over the years from friends at local hadassahs, and some are my own. Lechaim!

(Spellings May Vary)
Blintz Thin crepe stuffed with cheese or fruit filling
Bubbe Grandmother
Challah Sabbath loaf; braided, yeast-raised egg twist
Gefilte Fish Fish dumplings similar to French fish quenelles
Goy, Goye Gentile (masc., fem.)
Gribenes Chicken fat cracklings
Hamentaschen Cookies served for Purim
Hadassah An American Jewish women's volunteer organization
Kasha Roasted buckwheat groats served as a starch
Kishke Sausage made of buckwheat groats
Kikhels Cookies
Knish Baked dumpling stuffed with potatoes, cheese, meat or kasha
Kreplach Meat- or vegetable-filled dumplings
Kugel Noodle pudding
Latkes Pancakes (usually potato)
Lechaim To life! To your good health!
Mandelbrot Twice-baked cookie like Italian biscotti
Mazeltov Congratulations! Good luck!
Mentsh A good and kind human being
Meshuge Crazy
Nu Well; so; get on with it
Oy vey My God!
Rakmonhes Compassion
Schmendrick A loser
Schmuck A jerk
Shmaltz Rendered chicken fat; oversentimentality
Shiksa Female gentile
Tam Flavor; taste
Tokhes Person's behind
Tsimmes Stew or casserole made with dried fruit or meat; make a big deal or fuss out of something
Yenta Female busybody; nosy person
Yidene Jewish woman
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