Book Chat: Kosher Nation

— by Hannah Lee

Kashrut, the kosher dietary laws, is the original practice of mindful eating, set within a holistic framework”, said Sue Fishkoff at the symposium “How Kosher is Kosher?,” held on April 15th as part of the What Is Your Food Worth? series, hosted by Temple University and coordinated by its Feinstein Center for American Jewish History.  

Fishkoff is the author of the 2010 book Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority and editor of J., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California. For about ten years before she began research for her book, she said that Americans had expressed an interest in where and how we get our food. What galvanized her to write the book was that Jews were beginning the same conversation from a Jewish perspective. “Every Jewish household has a kosher story, even if the family does not follow kashrut.”

More after the jump.
In 2007, Fishkoff read a report stating that kosher food is the largest and fastest growing segment of the domestic food industry. “While there are at most a million kosher Jews,” she cited, “there are another 12-13 million Americans who buy kosher products. Who are they and why do they choose kosher items?”

In 1972, Hebrew National launched its historic campaign featuring the character of Uncle Sam biting into a hot dog with the slogan “We answer to a higher authority.” “This was at a time where Americans had a sense of fear of governmental authorities”, said Fishkoff, “coming after the civil rights protests, the publication of Rachel Carson’s environmental wake-up call, Silent Spring, and the Vietnam War. The ad portrayed kosher food as safer and healthier.”

In the book, Fishkoff cited that recent polls showed that 62% of Americans believe kosher food is better, 51% believe kosher food is healthier and 34% believe kosher food is safer. “In this country with the world’s highest numbers of believers in God and the most trust in religious authorities,” she said, “this translates into a $200 billion a year kosher certified food industry.

Who buys kosher? People who are lactose-intolerant (75% of African-Americans are deficient in lactase, as well as 90% of Asians) have learned to look for the pareve label, signifying the food’s dairy-free status. Fundamental Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventists who follow Old Testament prohibitions on “unclean animals” buy kosher meat. Many Muslims were given dispensation to buy kosher meat when their own halal meat was not readily available. Finally, non-kosher Jews buy kosher food for the holidays, so that the Jewish food companies earn 40-50% their annual revenue from their Passover inventory.

The rise of kosher certification is tied with the advancement of technology. In 1925, less than 5% of the food in a typical American Jewish kitchen was processed. As food technology expanded and the use of additives and preservatives increased, the Orthodox Union stepped in to regulate the food manufacturing process. In 1923, Heinz became the first company to put a kosher label on a food item — its vegetarian baked beans. To avoid scaring off its gentile customers, said Fishkoff, it used a symbol, the U inside a circle, that was easily recognizable by Jews. In the United States today, a kosher label is a sign of quality. That is not true in most of the world, including Great Britain, where lists of kosher products are prepared by their rabbinic authorities, and kosher-keeping visitors are advised to obtain those lists before shopping for groceries.

There are over 1,000 kosher symbols recognized in the United States today, with the “big four” — OU, OK, Star-K, and Kof-K — controlling 85% of the market. Supermarkets often stock only the big four, or even the “big one”, OU. The reach of the big four is global, with half of the food products exported from China being certified kosher.

Along with the profits comes abuse, sometimes benignly — as when Fuji placed a kosher symbol on its packages of film (without approval) because it was thought to promote sales. The biggest price differentiation is in kosher meat, so that’s where most scandals have occurred. “In 1914, Barnett Baff, who ran a wholesale poultry business in New York City, was said to be murdered by a cabal of 100 butchers who’d paid for his death,” reported Fishkoff.

In the 1920s, half of all poultry in New York City was sold as “kosher,” but it was estimated that about 60% of it was actually not kosher. In 1961, Rabbi Morris Katz published a scathing exposé of the kosher sausage houses in the Midwest, where he claimed that up to 80% of all “kosher” meat was treife (not kosher). This incurred the ire of the local rabbinical councils for making trouble and making a public scandal.

“Selective kashrus” was a term first used in the early 20th century, mostly by Reform Jews, to delineate the red line so they would eat what Gentiles ate while refraining from other forbidden foods such as pork. In Boston, this meant allowing lobster; on Long Island, it was oysters; in New Orleans, it was crayfish. In California, “kosher style” is now known as “New York,” as in New York delis.

As Jews became more assured of their status in America, they became more comfortable keeping kosher in public. Previously, it was rare for kosher food to be offered, even at large gatherings such as Jewish Federation’s General Assembly. The turning point was the Six-Day War that Israel waged in 1967, after which Jews began expressing pride of their religion. Nowadays, for many liberal Jews, eating kosher has become a symbol of “membership in the tribe” rather than an indicator of a fully observant lifestyle.  

Food Chat: How Jewish Food Became Jewish


Ariella Werden-Greenfield

— by Hannah Lee

What makes food Jewish? “The iconic comfort foods of American Jews connect us with our heritage, but most of the items are not innately Jewish”, says Ariella Werden-Greenfield, a PhD. candidate in religion at Temple University. She spoke last week at the Gershman Y as part of the series on What Is Your Food Worth? coordinated by Temple’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History. Some exceptions are bulkie rolls and matzo balls, which derive from challah and matzah, both prominent in Jewish rituals.

Jews have adapted recipes to the kosher ingredients available to them in whatever land they’ve landed. Pastrami, from the Turkish word, pastirma, we know as spiced, dried beef, but it originated in Romania where pork or mutton were instead used. The Romanian recipe arrived with the Jewish immigrants in the second half of the 19th century. In Israel, it’s made with chicken or turkey. Corned beef, a salt-cured beef, is actually Irish, but the Jewish butchers sold cuts of brisket to the Irish, so they also offered it to their brethren.

More after the jump.
Fish was not sold together with meat products and it was not easily accessible to Jews in the Old Country. The advent of the canning industry expanded the dietary options for all Americans. Jews gravitated to herring, which was familiar and cheap; whitefish, a colonial novelty from the Great Lakes; and lox and nova, from the salmon which was previously unaffordable to Jews.

Most Jewish immigrants started life in America as peddlers. Historian Hasia Diner has written (in Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration) about how these Jews kept kosher during their rounds. Known as “orange eaters” or “egg eaters,” they ate these items, which were kosher because they had peels, while staying at the homes of their mostly non-Jewish clients. Other Jews, as they became successful, could afford new foods and they nurtured an interest in other people’s culinary worlds.

The Settlement Cookbook, first published in 1901, introduced American recipes to new immigrants. The major food companies took notice of the spending prowess of the Jews. In 1919, Crisco introduced its vegetable shortening and single-handedly revolutionized Jewish cooking, freeing it from a reliance on chicken fat, schmaltz. Maxwell House introduced its Passover Haggadah in 1934 and Heinz offered a kosher version of its baked beans in 1923. An audience member noted that the Heinz factories are cleaned and kashered on the weekends, so the kosher line is processed on Mondays, transitioning to the rest of the company’s products later in the week. In 1965, when Hebrew National launched its slogan, “We answer to a higher authority,” in reference to Jewish dietary laws, it was both a marketing strategy and a testament that the Jews have become established members of American society.

The infamous Trefa Banquet of July 1883 that served clams, shrimp, and frog’s legs to the first graduating class of rabbis from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati was a clarion call by the Reform movement that they were not beholden to traditional Jewish dietary laws. An audience member suggested that Reform Jews would not be so audacious these days.

The process of assimilation also led to the delicatessen, the “temple of Jewish culture,” according to Werden-Greenfield. In “The Deli Man,” a documentary project by Erik Greenberg Anjou, the filmmaker claims that whereas 1500 Jewish delis used to be in existence, there are now only about 150 of them. This is also the message of David Sax’s 2009 book, Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen. Werden-Greenfield disagrees with their dire predictions and their low estimates.

The assimilated generations of Jews have become “bagel-and-lox” Jews or gastronomic Jews who eat the foods of their ancestors as their sole connection to their heritage. The nostalgia for the Old Country have shifted to a nostalgia for the old neighborhoods of immigrants, said Werden-Greenfield, citing the ubiquitous display of photographs and memorabilia from the early 20th century in delicatessens and restaurants. As further illustration of their place in our Jewish consciousness, she recited this poem:

“By the rivers of Brooklyn, There we sat down, yea we ate hot pastrami, as we remembered Zion” by J. W. Savinar, in a play on Psalm 137:1.

Kosher became “kosher-style” where kashrut is negotiable. “How do we make sense of a young Jewish man opening restaurants [in Brooklyn] named Treife [non-kosher] and Shiksa [non-Jewish woman]?”, asked Werden-Greenfield.  “He’s still engaging with kosher laws. He’s being naughty while confirming his discomfort with his heritage.” Werden-Greenfield also asked: Which is more Jewish? Matzah that is not processed according to Jewish dietary laws, or kosher-for-Passover bread? “Jewish food,” she concluded, “is always changing, always evolving.”

Bryn Mawr Vgë Café Gets Kosher Certification

— by Hannah Lee

I first wrote about the vegan Vgë Café in Bryn Mawr when it just opened last spring. On a visit some time later, the Brazilian proprietor, Fernando Peralta, expressed to me his interest in obtaining kosher certification because his customers were asking for it. I advised him to speak with the owners of other vegetarian establishments. Lo and behold, I was delighted to hear right before Pesach that he is indeed now certified kosher.

The kosher supervisors are Rabbis Eli Hirsch and Zev Schwarcz from the International Kosher Council, the same agency that certifies other local establishments such as Singapore Vegetarian Restaurant, Blackbird Pizzeria, and Sweet Freedom Bakery. The IKC is based in New York (it supervises the popular Blossom restaurants) and they’ve recently expanded to Mexico, Portugal, and Ukraine. It was Rachel Klein of Miss Rachel’s Pantry who led Peralta to IKC.

More after the jump.
“We are a vegan restaurant and already had proper procedures in place for cleaning vegetables, so the process was quite simple,” said Peralta. He only had to change the balsamic vinegar that he was using. The inspection covered all the ingredients and products used in his establishment. His café will be inspected on a biweekly basis, with no advance notice. Being non-Jewish, Peralta was not asked to close on Shabbat.

Vgë Café, located at 845B West Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11:30 AM to 8:30 PM and Sundays, from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Catering is available. Phone: (610) 527-3091.  

New Product for Passover: Matzola – Matzo Granola

If you are bored with your usual Passover snacks, There is something new for you this year: Matzolah — matzo granola. It is a sweet, crunchy, and nutty Passover treat.  Matzola was the winner of Best New Kosher for Passover Product at Kosherfest 2012.

Distributed by Streit’s Matzo Company, Matzolah is made with matzos, Vermont maple syrup, California raisins, almonds, walnuts, and pecans. It is sodium and cholesterol free, and is claimed by the distributor to be a good source of fiber. This granola was invented by a family with the appropriate name Foodman of Decatur, Georgia. Matzolah will be available this year at Whole Foods Markets.

Purim From Bakery29: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Tel-Aviv-based Bakery29 enables you to send a gourmet Purim gift package to your family and friends in Israel, with all profits going to the  Friends of the IDF’s IMPACT program, a college scholarship program for low-income combat soldiers.

You may order online. You may also create your own mishloach manot with any of Bakery29’s products.

Bakery29 is kosher dairy, with certification from the Tel-Aviv Rabbinate.

More images after the jump.  


Very Israeli Stuffed Vegetables

— by Margo Sugarman

Stuffed vegetables are prevalent in many Middle Eastern and  European countries, each with their own twist and their own flavor profiles. The Greek gemista stuffed veggies will use pine nuts, cinnamon and mint; Italian verdure ripieni include Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs; filfil rumi mahsi, Egyptian stuffed peppers, use allspice, currants and tumeric; Balakan stuffed peppers (names vary by country, but are called punjena paprika in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro) are characterized by their use of paprika; and Ashkenazi stuffed cabbage, naturally, has a sweet sauce.

The full recipe after the jump.
My favorite are Israeli stuffed vegetables. I think that the version we make in my house (my husband is the stuffed vegetables master) is a combination of the best of all the recipes, with all the exciting and palate tickling flavors that define Israeli cuisine. The addition of hot paprika, cumin, chili and coriander give this recipe its distinctive Israeli character.

Admittedly, making stuffed vegetables is a bit of a project, but the results are mouthwatering. The combination of meat, vegetables and rice all in one dish also means that once you’ve made this, you don’t need a whole lot more to round out a full meal, so it may take some time, but it really is a meal in a pot.

The Israeli version does not discriminate when it comes to the vegetables. Any vegetable that can be scooped out or can wrap around the filling can be used in this dish. We generally use peppers, zucchini and onions, but you can also use tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant, or any other vegetable that can be stuffed. This recipe can also be made as vegetarian by simple omitting the meat. It’s just as delicious without it and is a great vegetarian main course.

ISRAELI STUFFED VEGETABLES
Ingredients

  • Vegetables to stuff: About 6 red peppers; 4 thick zucchinis halved; 1 large onion. (Quantities will vary depending on the size of the veggies)
  • ½ kg (1lb) minced beef
  • 1 cup raw long grained rice (Basmati is best)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions finely chopped
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 100 g (4 oz) tomato paste
  • 1 grated carrot
  • ½ small chili chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ¼ hot paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup chicken stock

For tomato broth:

  • 1 800g (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes
  • 200 g (8 oz) tomato paste
  • About 4 cups of chicken stock (or as much as required to cover the vegetables once they’re in the pot)
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Prepare the vegetables: For the peppers, slice around the top of the pepper, near the stem and remove the “lid”, setting aside. Remove the seeds and pulp. For the zucchini, from the cut side, using a very small teaspoon or an apple corer, remove the seeds making sure you don’t pierce the bottom. For the onion, place the peeled onion in a pot of boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes. Then make a cut from the top to the bottom of the onion and carefully remove as many of the large outer layers of the onion as you can and set aside.
  2. In a large wok or skillet, heat up the olive oil. Saute the chopped onion until soft. Add the garlic and saute for less than a minute, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the mince and cook until there is no longer any pink meat. (For vegetarian, omit the meat) Add the 100g tomato paste and mix. Add the rest of the herbs and spices and saute for another few minutes until it’s all releasing lots of wonderful aromas. Add the stock and mix.
  3. Remove from the heat and add the rice, mixing well till combined. Add some of this mixture to each vegetable – fill to no higher than 1 cm from the top of the vegetable and fill it loosely as the rice will expand when cooking. For the onion, place one or two sheets of onion on a clean surface and put about 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle and loosely wrap the onion around the filling so that there is a double layer of onion around the filling. You can do the same for cabbage leaves that you have also boiled in water for a few minutes.
  4. Place the peppers bottom side down in a large, wide pot, and place the “lids” of the peppers back on top (this is just for show). Add the rest of the vegetables in the spaces, making sure the openings are facing upward.
  5. Mix together the ingredients for the tomato broth and pour over the vegetables, making sure the liquid covers all the vegetables. This is essential to ensure that all the rice cooks.
  6. Cover the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the rice begins to overflow from the peppers and the vegetables are all cooked.

Serves: about 6-8.

Margo Sugarman is the creator of The Kosher Blogger, a celebration of keeping kosher and loving good food.

Smolensk: First ever kosher food store

—By the staff of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS

Following the grand opening of its new Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Community of Smolensk in Russia last week celebrated the opening of the city’s first ever kosher store on the premises of the new center.

More after the jump.
Mr. Gershom Gulitsky, the store manager said,

I have been receiving many phone calls from Jews and non-Jews alike, who have seen my phone number on the store truck as it drives through the city and are interested to know all about our new specialty kosher products. I hope my store helps people who want to keep kosher at home.

The store was assisted by the “Super Kosher” company in Moscow which imports and distributes kosher food products throughout Russia.

Wynnewood Giant Supermarket’s New Kosher Section

— by Ronit Treatman

The community has spoken, and Giant Supermarket has listened!  The Wynnewood store’s grand opening will include an improved and expanded kosher section.  Here is what is in store for us.

More after the jump.
Supervision

Keystone-K will provide supervision.  Rabbi Shlomo Caplan will be in charge of this kosher store-within-a-store.

Bakery

There will be a greater variety of kosher baked goods brought in from a larger assortment of vendors.  Giant’s in-store kosher bakery will prepare fresh pareve cakes and cookies.

Deli

The deli department will prepare a greater variety of fresh salads.  Kosher sandwiches will be available.  Kosher rotisserie and fried chicken will be offered.  Kosher sushi and fish will continue to be purveyed.  There will be a full kosher meat department.  Takeout Shabbat appetizers, dinner entrees, and desserts will be sold.  Kosher prepared pizza is in the works.

Israeli Products

Giant Supermarket is committed to providing a larger selection of Israeli products.  Among other new additions there will be a fine selection of imported kosher cheese from Israel.

Giant Supermarket is hoping that its kosher department will be a one stop destination for us.  The kosher grocery section will have 800 new items that were not previously available.  If there is anything that the community would like them to supply that they do not have, please do not hesitate to comment at the bottom of this article.  Giant’s management will be reading your comments.  

Venetian Passover Dishes: A Taste Of Multiculturalism From The Past

Venice Grand Canal— by Ronit Treatman

Visiting Venice is an incredible adventure!  Architecturally, it is one of the most sumptuous cities in the world.  Its Jewish history goes back to the tenth century, when Jewish traders first came to Venice to engage in commerce.  By the 1500s, Venice had the world’s first ghetto, in which Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German Jews coexisted.  The community practically disappeared after World War II.  Currently, only about 500 Jews live in Venice.  It is possible to sample some Jewish Italian specialties in Venice’s only kosher restaurant, which is run by the CHABAD in the Ghetto Nuovo.  In order to really savor Venetian Jewish specialties, I turned to Alessandra Rovati, one of the few Jews who is originally from Venice.  She shares her family’s Venetian Jewish recipes on her Dinner in Venice website.

More after the jump.
Trying to find kosher food in Italy can be daunting.  When we visited Venice, I confidently asked our waiter in Italian about the ingredients in a sauce.  “Does it have pork?” “A porco?” I queried.  He threw his napkin down angrily and stomped off in a huff!  I had no idea why this question would have insulted him, until another waiter explained that “porco” is a slang word with many off color connotations.  I should have said “maiale.”  Trying to find authentic Jewish Italian food is just as hard.  It is possible to find Jewish artichokes, or “carciofi alla giudia” in any Jewish neighborhood in Italy.  We sampled these crispy, lemony artichokes in the Gam Gam kosher restaurant.  If you would like to taste genuine Jewish Venetian recipes, there is nothing better than getting yourself invited to a Jewish Venetian family’s home.  

In her site, Ms. Rovati invites us into her virtual home to share some unique Jewish recipes from Venice.  These recipes have been passed down in her family.  They are healthy, colorful, and full of Mediterranean vegetables.  Here is an adaptation of her Venetian spinach frittata.  Its ingredients reveal that it came to Venice with the Jews of Turkey and Catalonia.  This frittata is pareve, and kosher for Passover.

Venetian Passover Spinach Frittata
Adapted from Alessandra Rovati

  • 1 lb. baby spinach leaves, pre-washed, in a microwavable bag
  • 1 Spanish onion
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of matza meal (you may substitute
  • ground almonds to make this gluten-free)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Granulated sugar
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 4 tablespoons of raisins
  1. Place the raisins in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Cover the bowl, and allow the raisins to absorb the water.
  2. Cut the onion in half, and chop up one half of it.  Reserve the other half for another dish.
  3. Pierce the bag in three spots, and microwave the baby spinach for three minutes.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a pan.  
  5. Sauté the chopped onion for about five minutes.
  6. Add the steamed spinach to the onion and stir well.
  7. Season with salt, pepper, and cinnamon to taste.
  8. Set the spinach aside and allow it to cool.
  9. Drain the raisins.
  10. In a bowl, blend the four, eggs, matza meal (or ground almonds), one tablespoon of granulated sugar, a pinch of salt, a pinch of cinnamon, raisins, and pine nuts.
  11. Mix the spinach into this batter.
  12. Take a large frying pan, and heat some olive oil in it.
  13. Pour the spinach batter into the frying pan.  Lower the flame to medium, and allow it to cook for a few minutes.  You can check the bottom to see when it turns brown.  When the bottom is brown, flip the frittata over.  
  14. Place the spinach frittata on a serving platter, and sprinkle it with some confectioner’s sugar.

This eggy, spinachy dish is a little bit sweet, and a little bit savory.  It is very satisfying, and works well as a vegetarian main course or a side dish.

All of Ms. Rovati’s recipes are straightforward, without too much fuss.  The featured ingredients are healthy, and the resulting dishes are both delicious and exotic.  This year, add a historic Venetian accent to your Passover Seder.  If you visit Ms. Rovati’s Facebook page, you will note that there are many discussions in Italian about different recipes.  Fortunately for us, her website is in English.  This will help us avoid both pork and vulgar affronts!