Kosher as a corvid gets

If you’re Jewish, you already know that corvids, as part-time carrion birds, are not kosher. According to a lot of Jews, neither is this blog. Anytime I post a recipe that most people wouldn’t accept as kosher, I’ll put up an alternate version that is. For instance, I have no problem mixing poultry with dairy. I know most people interpret Exodus (and Exodus again, and Deuteronomy) as any meat and any milk, but chickens’ mothers don’t have milk to seethe them in. At all. So, I use a nice pat of butter with chicken, and serve it on the same plate as cream-filled, soft-as-pillows mashed potatoes. And I will sleep well when I do it. Don’t approve? Use olive oil on your chicken, and make a pareve side. I’m not offended.

I also feel I should make a note for the goyim. If you don’t know already (I’ve been surprised at how many people here in Texas don’t) keeping kosher means eating according to Jewish dietary laws. The big three are: (1)don’t eat unclean animals (like piggies, rabbits, and carrion-birds, and cute little bats you wouldn’t want to eat anyway), (2) Don’t eat unclean fish/water-dwelling critters (things that don’t have both fins and scales, like lobster, crab, shrimp, shellfish, eel, shark, skate, and ray, as well as cute little octopi and turtles you wouldn’t want to eat anyway), and (3) don’t mix meat and milk. There are many caveats and addenda and some waffling about the details depending on who you talk to, and I probably keep the loosest possible definition of kosher in the whole wide world. But I also use a pretty darn literal interpretation of the Torah, so I’m pretty okay with it.

Also, full disclosure: I have totally eaten cheeseburgers. More than once. And they were delicious. Bad me!

So, if you’re not Jewish and looking for kosher recipes, you may have some questions. So here’s a bit of an FAQ. If I’m missing something, let me know in the comments!

If this food is certified kosher, is it blessed by a rabbi?

Nope. There was a bit of a fuss recently about Campbell’s soup labelling certain of its products halal as well as kosher, and apparently there are people out there who think that means that there’s some religious rite taking place in their food, or, according to a few wackadoodles I’ve met, “a secret Jewish/Muslim ingredient” being added to the food. Since these folk were wackadoodles, I guess they still think we eat Christian babies or something. (Side note: babies, regardless of faith, are absolutely not kosher. They don’t chew the cud or have cloven hooves. Also, that’s just gross.) A kosher label just helps us identify stuff that doesn’t have any un-kosher meats in it, and which doesn’t mix meat and dairy. It’s sort of like those products that have a warning label about being processed in a facility that also processes peanuts. There’s no secret agenda of nut-haters performing weird rituals over them (or is there?), it’s just a friendly reminder that those who have an allergy or other reason to avoid the nuts should maybe not buy that product.

Can I serve [X] at my dinner party if I invited my Jewish friends?

I get this question a lot at the bookstore. The short answer is: I don’t know, why don’t you ask them? Some of the most orthodox Jews won’t eat anything prepared by a non-Jew, but then, they probably wouldn’t accept an invite to a secular home. Some Jews won’t eat milk and meat in the same day (I won’t in the same meal. Unless i’m being bad.), so they would need to know the dinner plans ahead of time in order to plan their breakfast and lunch. The rules are stricter on the Sabbath (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday), so Friday night meals are harder. Likewise, don’t even try on the high holidays without help. And every single Jewish family seems to have a slightly different definition of kosher. So just say to your friends: hey, what should I cook? I’m sure they’ll be happy to offer suggestions.

With so many limitations, how do you cook X (which usually means “anything good”)?

There’s a movement in French literature–no, don’t leave! I promise I’m not going to talk about that dinner party in Proust! I’ve learned my lesson and moved on–a movement called Oulipo, works of “potential literature”. The idea is, by limiting himself to only certain aspects of language (one man wrote a whole novel without the letter “e”), a writer can more thoroughly hone his art. The limitation doesn’t restrict creativity, it requires it. I feel the same way about kosher cooking. No bacon allowed, but I can fry thin strips of brisket in a wok until crispy, and serve it with latkes. I cook routinely from half a dozen culinary traditions and I’ve never minded skipping the shellfish pages of cookbooks. On the other hand, I can cook chicken at least two dozen delicious ways. So no, I don’t feel limited at all. And I don’t feel that’s a delusion, either.

Is it wrong to eat kosher if I’m not Jewish?

This one threw me for a loop. Not because it’s hard to answer, (Go right ahead; my people don’t have a patent on matzoh ball soup!) but because I’m honestly shocked that anyone would worry about that. If you’re not Jewish, your reasons for eating kosher will be different. Maybe you want the health benefits (shellfish are very high in cholesterol, pork is fatty and can carry some unpleasant parasites.) Maybe you, like Mr B, live with a Jew and don’t want to cook different meals. Maybe you want to try cooking Israeli cuisine, or want to lose weight and restrict yourself to only milk or meat in any given meal (No mashed potatoes with my steak, thanks; I’ll have the asparagus!) As I mentioned before, kosher is a set of rules for eating, not blessed food or anything like that. Some people treat it more spiritually than others, just like some folks practice yoga as part of Hindu faith, but it’s also a fantastic way to be more mindful of what you eat. Any vegetarian meal is going to be kosher unless there’s a bug in it.

I just threw this together real quick-like, so let me know if I need to add/change/apologize about anything here. It will be updated. You know, when I feel like it.

  1. #1 by Lee Hock on May 16, 2011 - 2:03 PM

    Love your description of kosher, well done!

  2. #2 by Melissa on May 24, 2013 - 7:35 PM

    This is one of the best (actually, no, it’s the best) overviews I’ve seen on what it means to keep kosher. I’m not a Jew but I’m interested in religion so I’ve read a lot about it. Came in handy when we had some Jewish clients who kept kosher come into town (a relatively small town, with limited kosher options) Those clients’ views on kosher meant that they were willing to eat anywhere (didn’t worry about kosher pans/plates/etc.) if they stuck to vegetarian foods, which made the task of feeding them easy. But THEN my friend had a much more orthodox client come into town and he (the friend, not the Jew, lol) asked for my advice. BUT HE WOULDN’T FREAKING LISTEN TO ME WHEN I KEPT TRYING TO EXPLAIN THAT NO RABBI WAS NEEDED TO BLESS THE FOOD. Ugh, and I had to listen to him stress about, what if they needed to eat dinner late and the rabbi had already gone to bed? Next time that happens, I’m just sending along a link to your page. So, thank you.

    • #3 by Melissa on May 24, 2013 - 7:38 PM

      P.S. Now I’m giggling, thinking about how busy that poor rabbi would be – running around blessing everyone’s meals three times a day…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: