Bene Israeli cuisine | Konkan kosher

Bene Israeli cuisine | Konkan kosher

Los Angeles-based chef and writer Kaumudi Marathé, author of The Essential Marathi Cookbook, and herself from the Kokanastha Brahmin community, ticks off the most characteristic ingredients of these cuisines. “Lots of rice, mango, coconut milk," she says. “It’s difficult to describe any cuisine briefly, but if I absolutely had to, I’d say it’s like Maharastrian Kokanastha cuisine that conforms to Jewish dietary laws."

“Yogurt and dairy products are not eaten immediately after eating meat dishes but after a few hours. Fish without scales, animals with cloven hooves and pork are taboo. Often, there are separate vessels for milk and meat. The slaughter of animals is done in a specific manner. So most Indian Jews prefer to be vegetarian and only eat meat dishes when they are slaughtered according to the law. Often, we also avoid eating beef to respect our Hindu neighbours," says David.

The milk-meat taboo creates Bene Israeli food’s most distinct taste. Coconut milk, used in place of milk, is the key flavour, says David. So are kokum and Konkani fish masala. Marathé points out that Jewish chefs also found a way around using yogurt in marinades: Lemon juice or lime juice does the trick.

Seafood is loved. And “poha (beaten rice) is used by almost all Bene Israeli Jews for the ritual of Malida, made as an offering to Prophet Elijah, for wish fulfilment," David says.

“For Shabath (Sabbath) prayers or Passover services or to break the Yom Kippur fast, we often make a sherbet of black currants in the absence of wine, especially in Gujarat, which is a dry state. For Jewish New Year, the fragrant rose-coloured chik-cha-halwa is a signature Bene Israeli dessert."

Chik-Cha-Halwa

SERVES 2 ‘THALIS’

Ingredients

10 tbsp wheat extract, or chik

7 litres coconut milk

14 tbsp sugar

100g almonds

1 tbsp vanilla essence

Edible colour, rose pink

Method

If you wish to make your own wheat extract, soak whole wheat in water for three days, changing the water occasionally till the grain puffs up. Grind wheat in a hand-operated machine to a smooth paste, spread out on a plate and dry in the sun. When completely dry, break into pieces and store in jars. If using readymade chik, make a paste of chik with water and let it stand for 4 hours until the water surfaces. Remove the excess water. Mix coconut milk and sugar with the paste and cook on a slow fire, stirring continuously for 4 hours till the paste thickens and leaves the pan.

Add vanilla and colour, and cook for half an hour. Spread on a flat surface and when cool, cut into diamond shapes, decorate with almonds and eat fresh.

Recipe courtesy Esther David and her friend Julie Pingle, who caters to the Jewish community of Ahmedabad.

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