The development of Spanish cooking has historically been influenced by the people of many countries and by a diverse range of ethnic people. In 1492 Jews were expelled from Spain by the invading Christian armies. But the new rulers could not so easily expunge the elements of Jewish cooking that so dramatically influenced Spanish food for centuries to come. To this day many Spanish dishes have their origins in Jewish cooking.
In Hebrew the Iberian pennisula is known as Sepharad. Jews had been in Spain long before the tenth century but it was thereafter that their influence increased, including in the kitchen. Sephardic cooking has always been aromatic, using plenty of spices and herbs. Lemon, tomatoes, cumin, turmeric and garlic are commonplace.
In Spain, as elsewhere in the world, there are strict rules when it comes to Jewish cooking. These rules are called cashrut in Hebrew. These rules dictate how food is prepared, the sequence in which the food is consumed and even the amount of time that should elapse between the courses.
So it is that milk cannot be consumed at the same time as blood in the form of meat or fish. An interval of several hours is required. Practicing Jews in Spain eat the meat of poultry, sheep, cattle and goats. The animal must have been weaned. Of course Kosher preparation, meaning impeccable, is crucial when it comes to the slaughter of the animal. The meat is then heavily salted and hung for more than an hour on a grid. It's then rinsed with water on three consecutive occasions. Only thereafter is it deemed to be kosher and ready for cooking.
When it comes to fish, Jewish cuisine is restricted to species with fins, gills and scales. It is forbidden to eat shellfish. In Spanish fish cookery the Jewish influence is still very much alive and well. Many a stuffed fish dish originates from the Jewish meals of the 10th and 11th centuries.
Adafina is the Jewish equivalent of the Spanish cocido or stew. It will include kosher goat meat or mutton, oil, chopped onion, garlic and be cooked with saffron and herbs. Due to the sabbath, no cooking takes place in a Jewish household on a Saturday. Therefore this dish, and all others, are prepared on a Friday and kept warm for eating twenty four hours later.
Pies are popular in Jewish cooking and they are often stuffed full of feta cheese, spinach or potatoes. Many of the kebab dishes now so popular in Spain can be traced back to Turkish Jewish cooking. But the essence of Sephardic cuisine is how light it is. Salads, stuffed vegetables, lentils, fresh and dried fruits, herbs, nuts and chickpeas are regularly used.
Luis Benavides-Barajas, author of so many books on the history of Spanish cuisine, says: "There can be no doubt that long before even the Visigoths ruled Spain, it was the Jews who influenced Spanish cooking. To look back at the history of Jewish cooking in Spain is fascinating. In 1492 when the Jews were driven from Spain, they left behind their culinary skills and many a Christian soldier was eating Jewish food while at the same time driving the people who created those meals from cities such as Granada.
"Thankfully the ingredients Jews first introduced into the culinary life of Spain are still used every day in Spanish kitchens. And without that influence, Spanish cooking would not be as respected and revered as it is today."