Tag Archives: Inquisition

Tales from the dark side

Tough topic today. A history lesson, not about food, but it is about language (and a bit of perversity) pertaining to the Judeo-Spanish experience, so I’ve included it here.

Dear Janet,
I have a bit of a question for you about Sephardic history/culture. I know that the yellow ritual garment worn by the accused “heretics” (especially marranos) during the Inquisition was/is called a sanbenito or sambenito in Spanish. What does this mean? Some translate it as “blessed sack”. People have linked it to Saint Benedict… I assume it refers to Saint Benedict of Monte Cassino, the founder of Catholic monasticism, since the persecution of Jews and heretics was so often linked to the monastic orders, particularly Dominicans and Franciscans. But could it also be derived from the Ladino name for G-d? In a Ladino version of Chad Gadya, I heard G-d referred to as “Santo-Bendicho-El”, i.e. the Holy Blessed One (ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu). I know it’s a strange linkage to make but could it be plausible? – Mark L.

Yikes! No way, Mark. In the 1500’s, New Christians and Old spoke the same Spanish. This one belongs strictly to the Spanish Inquisition, though the convicted heretics (i.e. Jews) condemned to wearing one did coin an enduring expression around the word, which I’ll explain at the end of this post.

Without going into great detail about the various designs (there were several), the ‘saco bendito’ – or sambenito, as it came to be known – as such was an invention of the Spanish Inquisition. The former name does mean ‘blessed sack’ and the latter is a contraction of San Benito, i.e. Saint Benedict.

Anyone found guilty of heresy was required to wear a saco bendito as part of their punishment, either when being led to be burned at the stake, or, if one was not condemned to die, then at all times when appearing in public, for the duration of their punishment. Imagine having to walk around dressed like this for the rest of your life:

As a written word, ‘sambenito’ is first known to have appeared in the notes of a Jesuit missionary Continue reading



Filed under History

Guëvos Haminados / Huevos Jaminados (Glosario)

Hay un articulo nuevo hoy en el glosario castellano, sobre los “huevos jaminados”.  Se lo encuentra aquí.

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Filed under Escrito en castellano, Glossary, History, Holidays (fiestas judias)

Survival of the Fittest / La Ley de Supervivencia (Q & A)

Queridos lectores, he recibido el siguiente mensaje en castellano y por eso yo queria presentar mi respuesta – este articulo –  en castellano antes que en ingles, pero ningun de mis traductores estan disponibles y escribo muy, muy despacio (y mal) en castellano.  Por eso, os presento todo en ingles y apenas posible la traduccion (y con accentos!) — JA

Hola Janet,  es un placer haber encontrado tu Blog, estoy estudiando cocina en París, y realmente me gustaría aprender y conocer mas sobre la cocina Sefardí y como, no solo ha sobrevivido durante siglos, sino que hoy día es una realidad.
Una cosa muy graciosa es que, en mi casa estamos bien familiarizado con el cuajao, pero en este caso es de pescado, mi Abuela Petra todavía lo cocina.
mil gracias y felicitaciones por tu trabajo

Hi, Janet. 

It’s a pleasure to have found your blog.  I’m studying cooking in Paris, and I really would like to learn and know more about Sephardic cooking and how it has not only survived for centuries, but today is a reality.   A funny thing is that in my house we’re very familiar with cuajado, but in this case it’s made with fish; my Grandmother Petra still makes it. 

A thousand thanks and congratulations on your work.



 Dear Nerwin, 

Many thanks for your kind words and for asking such a good question.  I thought the best way to answer you would be with a brief lesson in Sephardic history (which makes for a long blog entry). 


Really there is no mystery at all as to how Sephardic cuisine has survived over the centuries – especially if you’re Sephardic.  To begin to understand, you need to know Continue reading

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Filed under Escrito en castellano, History, Other Reading, Your Questions Answered

Ouevos Haminados

GUEVOS HAMINADOS   (“GWEH-vos hä-mi-NÄthos”)  – The word ham in hebrew means “warm”; haminado is a Ladino adjective meaning “warmed.”  Far from ordinary, these “warmed eggs” acquire a velvety texture and an intoxicating, smoky onion flavor from a six-hour bath in warm water and onion skins – slow cooking really does make a difference.  Besides lending their marvelous flavor, onion skins also act as a natural dye.  If the eggshells remain intact, the eggs turn a delicate shade of light brown, like a very pale cup of coffee, and when cracked they take on a striking range of deep reds and unique patterns that suggest marble.  It’s a fairly safe bet that the inspiration for dyed Easter eggs began with this custom.

Guevos haminados are one of many Jewish foods that pre-date the Inquisition.  Although eggs were commonplace in all cuisines of Medieval Europe, it was well known in Spain that slow-braising whole eggs was a technique unique to the Jews.  More than a few conversos were imprisoned or sentenced to death on the basis of their having continued to eat ouevos haminados.  500 years after the expulsion, eggs in general remain an important component of the Ottoman-Sephardic diet (and, I should add, the Spanish diet as well).

Guevos haminados are generally most associated with the Sabbath desayuno (breakfast) and with Passover, when they appear on the Seder plate, but they are a fundamental element of Ottoman-Sephardic cuisine, eaten on their own or incorporated into other dishes – for example, baked into a meatloaf (without the shell, of course).


Filed under Glossary, History, Holidays (fiestas judias)