Eating kosher & vegetarian
The Jewish Internet with Mark Mietkiewicz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
Kosher and vegetarian. Sounds easy: just drop the meat and dig right in. Cutting meat from your diet — and from your kitchen — may simplify things, but there still are kashrut pitfalls out there, as we’ll see.
Keep in mind that looking for a reliable kosher certification is the surest way to not inadvertently consume a food that might seem to be vegetarian but in the end isn’t kosher.
For a people whose traditions revolve around foods like chicken soup and gefilte fish, finding vegetarian replacements can be a bit of a challenge.
But help is at hand. How about a steaming bowl of Not-Chicken Soup (bit.ly/jveg40) and a generous piece of Mock Gefilte Fish? Based on the illustration, it’s amazing what you can do with onion, celery, carrot, garlic, chickpeas, dulce flakes, kelp, cayenne pepper, olive oil and some know-how (bit.ly/jveg46).
But Jews don’t live by Not-Chicken Soup and Mock Gefilte Fish alone. You can feast on more than 1,000 kosher vegetarian recipes at the Joy of Kosher site (bit.ly/jveg48).
At the Jewish Cuisine newsgroup, there are more than 150 recipes including Buricche with Eggplant Filling, Mushroom Schnitzel, Quinoa Pilaf and five varieties of good-old mock chopped liver (bit.ly/jveg49).
Taking meat out of your diet and kashrut is simple, right? Simpler perhaps, but just because a product seems to be meat-free doesn’t mean it’s necessarily kosher.
These days, unless you have a degree in advanced biochemistry, it can be daunting trying to understand the origin of the chemicals that go into our food.
For example, you can go ahead and eat something with dilauryl thiodiproprionate (bit.ly/jveg52). It’s a synthetic preservative that doesn’t require kashrut supervision.
But watch out for alpha amylase. It’s sometimes used in flour to break down starches and it comes from hog pancreas. Check out the story behind more than 100 other tongue twisting ingredients and their uses (bit.ly/jveg53).
Two confusing ingredients for vegetarians who keep kosher are rennet and gelatin.
Gelatin is a tasteless, odorless substance extracted by boiling bones, hoofs and other animal tissues. It is often used as a gelling agent for thickening in foods (bit.ly/jveg54).
Some points of view maintain that since gelatin is so far removed from its original form, it does not need to be derived from a kosher animal. (bit.ly/jveg55). However, Orthodox certifications require it.
And vegetarians should be aware of yet another twist. Gelatin from kosher animals is considered pareve and is labelled as such (bit.ly/jveg56). Some kosher gelatins, though, are derived from vegetable-based agar (bit.ly/jveg57).
Rennet is a substance containing an enzyme used to coagulate milk and create cheese (bit.ly/jveg58).
A common source of rennet is the stomach of slaughtered newly-born calves, although microbial enzymes are used in kosher cheeses. As with gelatin, some people maintain that rennet is so far removed from its origins that it is permissible from any source.
Even if a cheese has rennet that is microbial in origin (or is rennet-free), it will not receive Orthodox certification unless it was manufactured under Jewish auspices (bit.ly/jveg59).
Specifically, the Talmud requires hard cheeses to be produced with the setting of the enzyme supervised by a Jew.
Soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese, don’t require this. Even so, they need kosher supervision because there are issues at hand such as the equipment used and non-kosher additives. But there doesn’t need to be a rabbi present at each production, as with hard cheese.
Kosher vegetarians may not have to worry about having two sets of dishes but they do have to worry about insects, which are not kosher. Like those aphids in the artichokes or the thrips in the strawberries.
The COR Produce Inspection Guide lists 75 vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices and fungi with instructions for what to look for and how to make sure what you’re about to eat is bug-free (bit.ly/jveg60).
If you’re not in the mood to check your veggies tonight, you may want to take in a kosher vegetarian restaurant. The Kosher Restaurant Database has information about establishments around the world where you can enjoy a kosher vegetarian meal (bit.ly/jveg61).
And if you really want to be pampered, there’s the Israeli vegetarian village of Moshav Amirim. Located in the Upper Galiliee, Amirim was founded more than 50 years ago by a group of vegetarians and vegans, and was declared the country’s first tourist village.
You can frequent several vegetarian restaurants, bed and breakfasts or rent a cottage with a kitchenette (bit.ly/jveg63).
I’ll leave the last word to a tale about the power of a vegetarian lifestyle that I found on the Amirim home page, which is in Hebrew (bit.ly/jveg64).
Amirim guest: “Excuse me, may I ask you a question? They say that this village is so clean, quiet and relaxed, and the food is so healthy, you can recover and get stronger here. Is that true?”
“Absolutely. When I arrived, I was all bent over and weak. I couldn’t even speak and stand on my feet. I had no teeth, and I barely had hair…and just look at me now!”
“Wow, that’s amazing! How long have you been here?”
“I was born here.”
Mark Mietkiewicz may be reached at email@example.com.