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Recipes

Giving Jewish Breakfast Its Due

(Egyptian Beans and Eggs) is one of the many Jewish morning meals worth celebrating.

“What is your favorite Jewish food?”

I ask this question often — at Shabbat dinner with friends, when I interview someone for a story and whenever I lead a cooking demonstration.

I ask it because the query tends to elicit smiles from people, both Jewish and not. And more importantly, it gets them talking about their grandmothers, their favorite bakery or deli or a beloved friend from growing up.

Invariably, people mention some combination of the following foods: latkes, brisket, matzo ball soup, potato kugel, pastrami and rugelach. (Tzimmes, for whatever reason, rarely makes the cut.) It is no surprise to find these nostalgic comfort foods topping people’s charts. But what stands out to me is that none of these dishes (save perhaps, sometimes, rugelach) is a traditional breakfast food.

This is certainly not for a shortage of options. Where is the matzo brei and babka? What of blintzes or bourekas? For goodness sake, what about bagels, cream cheese and lox?

If I can devote an entire weekly column to the subject of Jewish breakfast, certainly some of these dishes deserve to be included on our “greatest hits” lists.

But here’s the thing: Jewish food is, at its core, holiday food. On a day-to-day basis, Jews eat whatever our neighbors are eating. But when the holidays roll around, we dig out the family recipe archives and go hunting in cookbooks and on websites for the flavors that speak most deeply to our souls. These foods are most often shared around a dinner table (or in the case of pastrami, at the delicatessen), not in a breakfast nook. And they are layered in our minds with family memories — funny, tragic or otherwise. Even more than the taste of the foods themselves, these associations are what help holiday foods stick so indelibly in our minds.

But it is time, I think, to give Jewish breakfast foods their categorical due. While breakfast dishes are rarely the focus of a holiday gathering (Yom Kippur’s break fast aside), they can be every bit as iconic as dinner foods. From traditional Eastern European recipes like cheese blintzes to Egyptian bean and egg breakfasts and newer classics like challah French toast, get ready to welcome a new set of favorites to your list.

Here are a few of our favorites from the Forward’s archive and elsewhere. Dig in!

Leah Koenig is a contributing editor at the Forward and author of “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” Chronicle Books (2015).

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