An Egyptian Jewish Culinary Detour

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Jews have lived in Egypt for thousands of years. They helped found Alexandria and became a substantial part of the city's population during the Ptolemaic period. They flourished under the Romans, until the Jewish revolt in Jerusalem spread the Roman persecution against them to the land of the Nile. During the Christian period, they occasionally faced persecution and forced christianization.

Jews welcomed the Arab conquest and in general, they fared very well under Fatimid and subsequent Arab leaders. Jews from North Africa and later Spain migrated to Egypt, creating one of the most vibrant intellectual culture of the ages. The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides found a home in Cairo from where he wrote his greatest works.

After the opening of the Suez Canal, Egyptian Jews were joined by their brethen from Europe and other areas, but the Egyptian Jewish community could not survive the foundation of Israel and the wars that followed. By 1990, only 150 Jews lived in Cairo - not counting expats and foreign exchange students.

For my quick sojourn into Egyptian Jewish cuisine, this is the recipe I made:


Matzoh and Potato Bake


This matzoh and potato bake is similar to shepherd's pie, with a slightly Middle Eastern flavoring and a layer of matzo crackers at the bottom instead of mashed potatoes. Working with the matzos was very difficult. They were hard to divide neatly into parts, and they came apart when I tried to soak them in water, per the original recipe. Ultimately, I don't think they gave anything to the dish - apart from a Jewish flair - that it wouldn't have without them. Still, the results weren't bad. It was a hearty, satisfying meal.


Matzoh and Potato Bake


  • 2 tsp salt, divided
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 Tbsp cooking oil + more for greasing
  • 1 lb beef or chicken, diced
  • 1 - 2 onions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, divided
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 4 eggs, divided
  • 6 matzos


Bring a pot of water and 1/2 tsp water up to a boil. Add quartered potatoes and cook until soft. Drain and mash and keep aside.

Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the diced meat or chicken and brown. Turn heat down to medium and add the chopped onions, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, the allspice and nutmeg. Cook until the onions are soft and the meat is cooked through, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease the bottom of an oven safe 8"x8" or 8" diameter baking dish.

Beat 2 of the eggs in a large bowl.

Divide the matzos intro three parts. Lightly moisten them with water. Quickly dip them in the beaten egg and then carefully place at the bottom of the prepared baking dish, covering it all with several layers.

Top with the prepared meat and then spread mashed potatoes on top. Make 6 deep holes in the mashed potatoes.

Beat the remaining 2 eggs with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Pour the egg mixture on top of the mashed potatoes, spreading it all round.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Adapted from a recipe in Copeland Mark's Sephardic Cooking: 600 Recipes Created In Exotic Sephardic Kitchens From Morocco To India

See also: Egyptian, Afghani Jewish, American Jewish, Baghdadi Jewish, Cochin Jewish, Greek Jewish, Bene Israel, Georgian Jewish, Israeli dishes.

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