Whether you grew up in a kosher household or are just learning the kashrut ropes, you’ve got to be mindful of many rules. But focusing solely on what you can and can’t do in the kitchen isn’t especially fun or exciting. Cooking ought to be both. Here are some tips for infusing your kosher cooking with healthy doses of creativity, inspiration, and deliciousness.
1. Embrace Fresh Produce
As long as they’re properly cleaned and free of bugs, all fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs are kosher. They’re pareve to boot. There are countless varieties to choose from, they're beautifully colorful, and you can use them in virtually any type of recipe. Emphasizing fruits and veggies literally opens up a world of culinary possibilities. Of course, eating lots of produce is also a boon for your health. What’s not to like?
2. Ditch the Margarine
It’s long been the traditional butter replacement for pareve cooking and baking, but most varieties are abundant in unhealthy trans fatty acids. (That’s especially true of stick margarine, which is more likely to be pareve than tub margarine). It doesn’t taste particularly good, either. Losing the margarine may mean you have to adapt recipes or find new favorites, like this Ultimate Pareve Chocolate Cake. But from both a health and flavor standpoint, in this case, change is good.
3. Explore the Health Food Aisle
Even in standard supermarkets, the health food aisle is full of useful kosher products such as dairy-free milk alternatives, interesting grains, and gluten-free baked goods. Certifications of all stripes (i.e. fair trade, vegan, organic) are big selling points in the burgeoning natural foods industry; kosher certification is no exception. As a result, you may find a greater variety of kosher-certified products at shops like Whole Foods than you would at regular supermarkets.
4. Shop Online
Even if you’ve got access to a great kosher grocery store, you’re likely missing out on some amazing kosher specialty foods. But thanks to the internet, you can track down hard-to-find kosher-certified delicacies like authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, curry paste, humanely raised grass-fed meats, dulce de leche – even Thai nam pla (fish sauce).
5. Go Global
Learn as much as you can about international cuisines – even those not typically associated with kosher cooking. You’ll find inspiration and menu ideas, and discover new cooking techniques. You’ll also start to notice culinary similarities that make it easier to adapt non-kosher recipes into kosher dishes. For instance, many Asian cuisines eschew dairy, but favor spices common in kosher cookery. With simple changes – say swapping pork with a kosher variety of meat – you can explore a new cuisine you might not have been able to otherwise enjoy.
6. Devour Cookbooks
On that note, one of the best ways to learn about food is to read cookbooks. Great food photography is always nice, but you’ll find some of the most enlightening books are full of stories and anecdotes about the cuisine they highlight. Seek out authors like Claudia Roden, who will give you a deep appreciation of Jewish food history and cuisine. Scour vegetarian and vegan cookbooks for creative dairy and pareve meals, side dishes, and desserts. Study chef-authored tomes to brush up on technique and get some high-end inspiration.
Big kosher certification agencies like the Orthodox Union (OU) and Kof-K Kosher Supervision (Kof-K) have tremendous reach, and their symbols are a common sight on major brands. But there are many regional and international kashrut certifiers whose symbols may be less recognizable, yet are equally valid. If you come across an unfamiliar kosher mark, check it out – you may have just discovered a new product to enjoy. And if you have travel plans, absolutely do some homework on the symbols you’re likely to encounter. You’ll probably score some amazing kosher souvenirs.
There’s a surprising range of foods that are inherently kosher, whether or not they bear a kosher symbol. Pure unflavored honey, extra virgin olive oil, raw nuts, unflavored coffee, kosher varieties of fresh fish, and plain raw popcorn kernels are just some examples. That means when you encounter that gorgeous jar of varietal honey, artisanal extra-virgin olive oil, or heirloom popcorn kernels, you can bring them home sans worry, even if they don’t bear a kosher symbol.
9. Think Seasonal
The Jewish calendar is peppered with so many holidays and celebrations throughout the year, that you’re probably already attuned to the seasons. Take that a step further, and plan menus with the local harvest in mind. The approach pays dividends in freshness, and adds interest to traditional meals. The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking is a great resource for taking a seasonal approach to holiday menu planning.
10. Don’t Give Your Food an Identity Crisis…but Do Experiment and Have Fun
If you’re making a meat meal, own it. Why follow a fantastic steak dinner with a chemically-laden faux-dairy dessert? Serve a seasonal fruit crisp instead. Embrace the milchig status of that amazing cheese lasagna by layering it with roasted vegetables instead of soy “ground beef.” Of course, if you love the novelty of sipping a non-dairy “milk”shake with that burger, go ahead and enjoy it. Gotta have mock crab in that California roll? Do it. If fake bacon floats your boat, you’ll find it here. Just remember that ingredients count. Use the best you can, combine them well, and your food will sing.