Understanding Jewish Tradition Oct/Nov 1978

The Kosher Kitchen
“May I have a bagel and cream cheese?” was my request to the waitress. “What’s a bagel?” was her reply. “It’s a doughnut-shaped roll,” I answered. “Never heard of it. Would you like a sweet roll?” she asked, while pouring my coffee.

Walking into a local supermarket I asked the cashier, “Can you tell me in which aisle you keep the matzo?” “Matzo, never heard of it!” was her reply, as she kept clicking away on her cash register.

I was talking to my friend George the other day when he said, “You know Mark is really kosher!” Inquisitively, I asked, “George, what do you mean, Mark is kosher?” “You know, he is a squared-away guy,” was his reply.

Often we hear terms used in Jewish cooking, but we seldom know what is meant by them. Come with me, and we will cook up some answers for you from the “kosher kitchen”.

The word “kosher” refers to foods which are “fit, proper, or ritually acceptable” for human consumption according to Jewish dietary law. God has stipulated which foods are proper to eat and which are forbidden in Leviticus 11:1-47 and Deuteronomy 14:3-21. Utensils and dishes used in the preparation and serving of Jewish foods are said to be kosher as well, if used according to dietary practice.

Only animals slaughtered according to the laws of Judaism are considered to be kosher. The slaughterer (Heb. shohet) uses a sharp knife free from all ridges. He makes one quick clean cut to the jugular vein which causes instant death without pain of the animal. The meat is soaked in water and salted to make sure all the blood has been removed. Jewish people are forbidden to eat meat containing blood (Lev. 3:17; 7:26, 27; 17:10). The reason for this is twofold: First, since blood is the source of life, it may not be consumed, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11); secondly, blood was to be used in Israel’s sacrificial system to make “atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11).

Those keeping a kosher home may not cook or serve dairy (Heb. milkhig) and meat (Heb. flayshig) products together. This necessitates the use of two sets of cooking utensils, dishes and silverware which are kept for dairy and meat products. Jewish law forbids the partaking of meat and dairy products within four to six hours of each other. This tradition was erroneously developed from Moses’ command, “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother’s milk” (Exod. 23:19).

The word “trayf” is used to describe foods that are forbidden by Jewish law, animals rejected because of disease or unfitness, animals which have not been slaughtered properly, and utensils which are unfit for serving according to dietary laws.

Here is a list of the more common Jewish foods that you are most likely to hear about. You may want to clip the list, slip it into your cookbook and refer back to it as the occasion arises.

  1. Bagel: A doughnut-shaped hard roll made with yeast, boiled, glazed and baked. It is often toasted and served with cream cheese.
  2. Blintzes: Thinly rolled pancakes with various fillings, especially cheese.
  3. Cholent: A vegetable and meat stew served during the Sabbath.
  4. Cholla (Heb. Hallah): A braided loaf of white bread, sprinkled with poppy seeds, prepared especially for the Sabbath.
  5. Gefilte fish: A stuffed fish made in the shape of a roll or loaf.
  6. Hamantaschen: Triangular-shaped pastries filled with poppy seeds, prune and other fillings. They are served at Purim, recalling the triangular hat worn by Haman. Also called Haman’s pockets.
  7. Knishes: Pockets of thin dough, filled with chopped seasoned meat or mashed potatoes, fried or baked. They are often served with soup.
  8. Kuchen: A type of coffee cake.
  9. Kugel: A type of pudding made from potatoes or noodles.
  10. Latkes: Potato pancakes served at Hanukkah.
  11. Lox: A smoked salmon, many times served with bagels and cream cheese.
  12. Matzo: A flat unleavened bread eaten at Passover.
  13. Quenelies: Dumplings made of various meats.
  14. Strudel: A pastry made with a sheet of thin dough rolled up with filling and baked.

(U: This sign on the package of Jewish food indicates that it is kosher.)

Are you tired of the same old humdrum recipes every week? Why not purchase a Jewish cookbook and put some spice into your cooking. Pick one of the above foods and prepare it for your family. As the old saying goes, “Try it, you’ll like it!”

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