Cooking Like It's Treif

Keeping kosher doesn't mean your meals have to lose out on style and taste.

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For many people, cooking kosher means dusting off their grandmother's cookbook, scouring through family recipe cards from the 1960s, and stealing ideas from the Temple Sisterhood. This may feel "retro-cool" for a minute, but when the Food Network, Anthony Bourdain, and Martha Stewart are pushing ham-and-milk-sauce to go with your shrimp-and-a-side-of-bacon, it can be enough to drive a foodie to the dark side of treif, or toward settling for a life of mediocre falafel.
 
However, enterprising amateur (and professional) kosher chefs need not despair. Here are some tricks for how to deconstruct treif recipes, and turn forbidden meals into something deliciously Jewish.

The Art of Substitution

In the event that a recipe calls for a non-kosher ingredient, the easiest thing to do is to look up its chemical substitution online. The best example is gelatin, which generally comes from the connective tissues of non-kosher animals. It is a key thickening agent in sauces and baking, as well as a glaze for traditional French desserts like fruit tarts.
cooking good kosher food
There are certain kinds of vegetable gums used in commercial food manufacturing and processing--guar gum, agar, and gum acacia--that can be used instead of gelatin. All of these are kosher and can be purchased online or at larger health food and Asian grocery stores. Agar, in particular, is a great substitute because one teaspoon of agar can replace one teaspoon of gelatin.

Flavor Profiling

When chefs create new recipes, they consider the flavor profile that they wish to achieve. The idea of a flavor profile is that what makes a dish taste good is more than just the sum of its ingredients--it is a delicate balance of separate tastes, odors, and other impressions, such as silkiness in the mouth, aftertaste, heat, and spiciness.
 
When you come across a non-kosher recipe that intrigues you, consider how you can modify it with fresh herbs, spices, and non-traditional ingredients--and still stay true to its flavor profile. Expand your repertoire by visiting international grocery stores, spice markets, and farmers' markets, where you can find a wide variety of culinary tools not readily available at the local supermarket.

For example, look out for high quality risotto, which is dairy-free but has a milky, cheesy quality. Another great piece of food magic is the variety of non-dairy "milks" available. You've probably heard of soy milk, but what about almond milk? This tastier version of non-dairy creamer is perfect for gravy or mashed potatoes.

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Patrick Aleph

Patrick Aleph (also known as Patrick A) is a freelance writer and activist, using technology and pop culture to bring Jewish spirituality to people who are disconnected from traditional Jewish life. Aleph is also the singer for the punk rock band Can!!Can and founder of PunkTorah.com.