Traces of Sephardic Heritage in the Catalan Cuisine

— by Espe Teruel

The current cuisine of any people is the result of many causes: tradition, culture, customs, native products, and the influences of different cultures that have been present at some point in history nearby that nation. In the current Catalan cuisine we can find conspicuous traces of inheritance from the Sephardic cuisine. They have undergone the typical evolution of time, and adapted to local products.

Sephardic Jews from Spain brought to the cities of the Ottoman Empire and North Africa a taste for olive oil, almonds, citrus, saffron, and sweets made with eggs and egg yolks. They brought with them the expertise of using spices, and flower essences, such as rose water or orange blossom water.

More after the jump.
There is an old Sephardic proverb that says, “What you ate or did not eat does not matter. What matters is that you sat at the table.” This shows that just as in the Catalan culture, the important thing is not so much the menu, but if you shared your meal with others, making it a social event.

Here are some examples:

L’aperitiu

In Catalunya, especially on holidays and other celebrations, meals usually start with what we call “L’aperitiu” (which could be equated to “meze”). Small quantities of more or less elaborate appetizers are served. Many of these dishes recall the Sephardic custom quoted.

L’escalivada

A dish of grilled vegetables, especially eggplant and peppers, but you can add others such as onion, garlic, tomatoes and all dressed with olive oil, salt, garlic and parsley. According to some experts, this dish could be considered a local evolution of the medieval Sephardic almadrote (cheese and garlic sauce)”.

Escudella i carn d’olla

This dish, labeled as Catalan today, could have originated, as Claudia Roden explains in her book “The Food of Spain,” in the adafina, the large pot with plenty of food inside that Jews cooked over low heat in Friday night to have it ready on Sabbath, in which you can not light the fire (similarly to cholent).

Espinacs a la catalana

In this dish we can see the evidence of its Sephardic origin in its ingredients: It’s a delicious combination of spinach, raisins and pine nuts, seasoned with garlic.

Cigrons amb espinacs

In the Sephardic cookbooks, another recipe usually found is “stewed chickpeas with spinach.” This is another dish that we cook today in Catalan cuisine. There are as many variations as cooks, but they are essentially based on the aforementioned Sephardic dish.

Postre de Músic

The “dessert of Music” is a typical Catalan dessert, made with various dried fruits and nuts, accompanied by sweet wine, like in Tu B’Shvat. Drying the fruits was the way to use them out of their season.

Fideuà amb aioli

The recipe for this dish is based on a typical Sephardic way to cook the noodles: it starts with sauteing the noodles in oil until golden-brown, unlike other styles, in which the pasta is placed directly into the broth.

Pa de Pessic

The “Country of Pessic” biscuit is popular in Central Catalonia, especially in the city of Vic. It reminds us of Pan d’Espanya, or “fluffy Sephardic bread.” In Catalonia, this is the standard basis of Easter cakes. Not so for the Sephardim, who do not consider it ksoher for Passover, as it is made with self-rising flour.

Bunyols de vent

Historically, those donuts are a Jewish pastry that has been prepared since the tenth century to celebrate Chanukah. Due to the proximity of the holiday with All Saints, they also became part of the Christian repertoire. In Catalonia, they are traditionally eaten on Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent.

Bunyols Empordà

The “Bunyols de l’Empordà” are typical to the region of Empordà. We can find the Sephardic version of this recipe under the name “Biscochos de anise,” or anise donuts.

Ensïmada de Mallorca

Typical to the island of Mallorca, this pastry is crafted with all kinds of fillings such as pumpkin, cream, and chocolate. The spectacular sweet has its ancestry in the “Kalabasa Rodanchas,” a Jewish specialty.

Panellets

Marzipan began as a sweet for Passover, one of the many that are made without flour. It is made with almonds, hence its name in Ladino, “almendradas.” Many varieties of marzipan are made in Catalonia. Pine nuts, coconut, almonds, cherries, coffee, quince, and lemon are some of the ingredients included.

Espe Teruel was born in Premia de Dalt, a village in the province of Barcelona, ​​in 1962. She grew up in a bicultural environment, in which the customs of her parents, who came from Andalusia, were combined with those of Catalonia. She is fond of cooking, and wants to know the different cuisines around her, especially those of the Mediterranean.