In the beginning, God created Jewish dietary laws. The Bible contains a menu of these kosher foods, while this A-(ncient) list is constantly swelling thanks to rabbinical interpretations and diversity of cultural tastes. Kosher foods can be enjoyed by Orthodox Jews as well as non-Jews. In honor of the opening of the new kosher store within Ralph's Grocery in La Jolla, here's the scoop on the kashrut.
Jewish cultural foods vs. kosher foods
Certain foods are culturally Jewish but not necessarily kosher. These have assimilated nicely into mainstream American cuisine and are about as Yankee Doodle as hamburgers and apple pie.
Bagels, which now come in designer flavors including blueberry, cinnamon raisin and feta/black olive, are typically topped with cream cheese and smoked salmon or lox; challah (egg bread) which is traditionally served on Shabbat is baked daily at a variety of kosher and non-kosher bakeries so folks can nosh on it all week; chicken and matzo ball soup is a universally beloved dish to ease a cold or soothe the soul; and such deli faves as pickled tongue, pastrami and Hebrew national franks are ubiquitously enjoyed, along with kugels, blintzes and latkes (potato pancakes).
Kosher foods are identified on their packaging with kashrut certification using the symbol "K."
Living high on the hog
The Torah proclaims that only cloven-hoofed mammals that chew the cud are kosher. So cows, sheep and goats are kosher while pigs, horses and rabbits are considered trafe or not kosher.
In addition, these hoofed animals have to be humanely slaughtered by an expert in kosher killings who follows strict guidelines when performing the "shechita." After the ritual, the animal is examined to ensure it was sanitary and free from disease.
The stork and owl are non-kosher, but other fowl, such as chicken, goose, duck and turkey, are kosher so long as they are slaughtered in the humane, ritualistic manner as the hoofed mammals.
The world is your oyster as long as it has scales and fins
Fish not only need easily removable scales and fins to make the kosher cut, but also have to be prepared by a kosher fishmonger. So salmon, tuna, carp and herring are kosher while all shellfish (crustaceans and bivalves), shark, eels, catfish, octopus and squid are not.
Pareve – The Switzerland of kosher foods
Foods such as grains, fruits, veggies, soy products, fish and many condiments are considered pareve, or neutral, and allowed to commingle with either dairy or meat.
Rabbinical supervision and other kosher rules
Processed foods must be prepared in the presence of a rabbi. No meat (animal or fowl) is allowed to be combined with any dairy. So cheeseburgers, sausage pizzas, Philly cheese steaks and chicken Parmesan are taboo. Fish, on the other hand, is pareve and excused from this rule, allowing bagels, lox and cream cheese to mix.
That's no yolk
A blood spot inside an egg makes it impure and therefore un-kosher even though it's simply a benign rupture of a blood vessel.
To maintain a kosher kitchen, the chatelaine needs two separate sets of dishes, eating and cooking utensils and pots and pans - one for dairy, one for meat. These must be segregated in washing and storage. That's why many kosher kitchens have double sinks and two dishwashers.
Kosher foods for Rusty and Furball
Most pet owners feel that their four-legged friends are members of their family, and as such if they eat kosher foods, then ditto for their pets. Kosher pet food is strictly regulated and made from kosher animals and byproducts. Kashrut laws require the use of separate spooning utensils and dishes for serving this specialty pet food.
While meandering through the kosher section of Ralph's in La Jolla, I found many versions of my favorite grain - Israeli couscous, including whole wheat and organic spelt. Here's a simple and scrumptious dish that is not only kosher, but also pareve so you can enjoy it with fish, chicken or meat.
Israeli Couscous Prima Vera
- 1 package of Israeli couscous
- Vegetable broth (quantity according to package directions)
- 1/2 small red onion, diced
- 4 ounces of assorted mushrooms, chopped
- 6 asparagus stalks cut in
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
- Chopped Italian parsley
In a medium covered saucepan, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, mushrooms and asparagus until tender. Add the Israeli couscous and brown for two minutes. Add the broth, salt and pepper and simmer covered for about 8 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.
Garnish with parsley and serve as a side dish or make a "bed" and place your favorite piece of fish or meat on top.