Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kosher kitchen: Observant Jewish cooks don't cut corners on dietary laws or on flavor

Published March 7, 2012 in the Commercial Appeal

Unlike larger cities, Memphis has very few kosher options for dining out. To keep kosher in Memphis, one must know where to shop, what to buy, and be willing to cook, a lot.

Lisa Kaufman, an Orthodox Jewish mom of four who lives in East Memphis, grew up in a traditional Jewish home and became even more observant later in life. She doesn't eat out, preferring to stay consistent with her faith's dietary restrictions by cooking and eating at home.

According to Jewish dietary laws, meat and dairy food must be prepared and consumed separately, and parve food (which has neither meat nor dairy ingredients) can be eaten with either meat or dairy dishes.

Meat must be bought from a kosher butcher and cooked separately. Kaufman says it is OK to eat milk before meat, but not after. Depending on someone's background, he or she may wait one to six hours after a meat meal to eat any dairy products. Fish and milk can be eaten together, but only certain kinds of fish are considered kosher.

Kaufman has separate areas in her kitchen for preparing meat and dairy dishes, including separate sinks and dishwashers. "I realize that not everyone has this luxury," she says.

Fruits, vegetables and items in their natural state, like rice or beans, are considered parve.

"Pantry items aren't as questionable," Kaufman says. "My pantry looks like anyone else's." She buys canned goods from places she trusts and relies on kosher symbols to make her purchasing decisions, since there are differing levels of strictness. "The 'K' is not copyrighted, so there can be questions," she says. "Most everyone goes with the 'OU.'"

The OU symbol belongs to the Orthodox Union and is one of the strictest kosher standards on the market today. Kaufman said if there is any question as to a product's suitability, a rabbi should be consulted.

Rivky Klein is an avid cook. She grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved here 18 years ago to start Chabad Lubavitch of Tennessee with her husband, Rabbi Levi Klein. They have seven children.

The family is strictly kosher, and Klein has to cook all of their meals, since kosher restaurants in Memphis are scarce. "I never get a break," she says, noting that Ricki's Cookie Corner at 5068 Park in the Eastgate Shopping Center has kosher baked goods and the Holy Cow inside the Jewish Community Center has some kosher deli items.

Klein not only cooks at home, but she also frequently cooks at the synagogue. "Every single thing we do at Chabad includes serving great food. Food is the way to the heart, and it brings people in the door," she says. Klein says it is a big deal for her to be able to make a good kosher meal for people to enjoy without compromising on quality or taste.

She learned to cook from her mother, whom she describes as a fabulous self-taught cook. "My mother made a gourmet Shabbat dinner every week. She baked fresh challah, made seven to eight salads and prepared fish, chicken and beef dishes."

Even though she learned a lot from her mother, Klein says she continues to perfect her skills and works hard to improve her dishes. "I'm always looking for new ideas and trying new things," she says.

Like Kaufman, Klein has two kitchens in one. "I built my kitchen in a convenient way so that there are separate sides for dairy and meat. It makes it simple." She has different patterns in silverware and dishes for dairy and meat.

Klein says almost anything can be kosher, except meat and dairy together. Some tricks Klein uses are substituting soy milk in recipes that are being served with meat, using margarine instead of butter and substituting other nondairy products like Tofutti sour cream.

When they entertain, they almost always have meat meals, so Klein is always looking for nondairy dishes to serve. "I make a chocolate mousse cake that is completely nondairy. People always say, 'But we just ate meat.' They can't believe it's kosher," she says.

Klein says that years ago, Manischewitz was the only kosher brand available. "What's out there today is unbelievable," she says. When Klein goes back to New York to visit, she looks for new products and has them shipped back. "Memphis doesn't even come close to New York," she says. "When I'm there, I'm like a kid in a candy store."

In Memphis, the Kroger on Mendenhall has the largest selection of kosher goods, including specialty items and products imported from Israel. Klein also notes there are a lot of products that most people use that are kosher, like General Mills cereals, Heinz ketchup, Hellmann's mayonnaise and La Choy soy sauce.

Klein says there is also a kosher co-op in town. Several families are members. The co-op allows them to order from out of town by the case or in bulk at a lower cost.

Iris Harkavy is an artist who has been keeping kosher for 53 years. "I love to cook. My Friday night meals have 22 people when all of my children and grandchildren are together," she says.

Harkavy describes her kitchen as kosher, but not extreme. "I don't have two dishwashers, but I wash my meat and milk dishes separately," she says. Harkavy buys all kosher products and also has separate plates and utensils. "That's who I am."

Keeping kosher is easy once you know where to shop and what products to buy, Harkavy says. "Kosher meats are different," she explains. "The cuts must come from certain parts of the cow." She says there used to be several kosher butcher shops in town with skilled butchers, but not anymore. "Many people order from St. Louis, Atlanta and New York," she says. "Every three months, a truck comes."

However, she is impressed with the newly renovated Kroger on Mendenhall, which now includes a fresh kosher meat department. "Kroger really has gone the extra mile. The kosher meat department is an amazing thing," she says. Harkavy also mentions the Kroger on Truse Parkway for its small kosher deli and kosher bakery.

She says cheeses also need to be inspected, because sometimes the aging process involves sheep and pig products. Orthodox Jews rely on the local Vaad, or council of rabbis, to oversee all of the kosher food in Memphis.

"I'm not nearly as limited as I was 53 years ago," Harkavy says. She is especially thankful for the bounty of soy products available.

Harkavy admits that keeping kosher can be complicated if you aren't used to it. "With me, it's second nature because I've learned the secrets."

Nondairy Chocolate Mousse Cake

7 eggs, separated

1 cup granulated sugar, divided use

1 stick margarine

7 oz. chocolate chips, parve

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 (8 oz.) carton nondairy whipped topping

4 tbsp. confectioners' sugar

Chocolate chips or sprinkles, for garnish

Beat egg whites with 1/4 cup granulated sugar until stiff.

In a small saucepan, melt margarine and chocolate chips. Beat egg yolks with remaining granulated sugar and vanilla. Add chocolate chip mixture to yolk mixture and mix well. Fold in egg whites. Pour half of the mixture into a spring form pan. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Refrigerate remaining half of mixture. When cake is cool, pour refrigerated mixture over it, then freeze.

Beat whipped topping with sugar and spread on top of cake. Sprinkle with chocolate chips or chocolate sprinkles and return to freezer until a few hours before serving.

Basic Kreplach (Jewish Wonton)


13/4 cup flour

2 eggs

1/2 tsp. salt

3 tbsp. oil


1 small onion, diced

2 tbsp. oil

1 cup ground cooked beef or chicken

1 tsp. salt

For dough: In a large bowl, combine flour, eggs, salt and oil. Knead and roll out thin on a floured board. Using a glass, cut into 3-inch circles, (or in 3-inch squares).

For filling, sauté onion in oil and add ground beef or chicken and salt.

To assemble, place a teaspoon of filling on the center of your squares or circles. Shape into a triangle or crescent, and press the edges to seal firmly.

To cook, boil them in hot salted water for 20 minutes or until they float to the top, or for a crisper version, sauté in heated oil on medium heat until golden brown on both sides. Serve in chicken soup.

Yield: 18 kreplach.

-- Recipes from Rivky Klein

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