Founded by the late Daniel Rogov, welcoming foodies to discuss the dining scenes in Israel and abroad, along with all things related to kosher food.
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Kashrut and "Substitutes" - A Rant

by Daniel Rogov » Fri Nov 26, 2010 3:09 pm

Yesterday I received an email informing me of the newly founded newkosher.org food related internet site. That the site promotes kashrut is fine with me but I do have a problem with the content, especially the recipes. There are traditional Jewish recipes (stuffed peppers, latkes, etc) and those are fine so long as you accept the use of a good many tinned, frozen and other pre-packaged products instead of using fresh ingredients.

My real problem comes in with recipes that are attempt to reproduce traditionally non-kosher dishes in kosher form and that is a serious problem indeed for a great many of the recipes rely on the use of substitutes that not only change but diminish the nature of the dish being prepared. Among other examples – the use of soy milk, parve margarine, vegan cheese, "bacon" made from beef, lamb, duck, turkey or even tofu, tofu cheese.. And of course there are recipes calling for surimi shrimp, lobster, calamari and crabmeat. And then there is something called a "vegan cheese burgers.

As should be clear to all, I have no problem whatever with those who keep kashrut. I am, however, firmly convinced after years of sampling such substitute-based foods in too many kosher hotels and restaurants, that these substitutes are often so abysmal that I would rather skip a meal than have some of them on the table in front of me.

With all due respect let me therefore point out to my kashrut observant readers that tofu, in any form whatever, is not, will not be and cannot be a substitute for meat; bacon made from anything other than pork does not look like real bacon, does not smell like real bacon and does not taste like real bacon; shrimp, calamari or lobster imitations made from a slurry of North Sea Pollack may be forced by large machines into the shape of the things it is imitating but will never have the richness of flavor or aroma that those things offer. More than that, I can assure one and all that sautéing beef in parve margarine is nothing more than a second way of killing the steer that died to give you its meat. I will go so far as to say that I would prefer a Hell in which I would be damned eternally to eat McDonalds' hamburgers than to have to eat another tofu burger in my life.

It is clear that keeping kosher places certain limits on what one can eat. That is fair enough. The truly good news is that there are literally thousands of traditional French, Italian, Austrian, American, Caribbean, North African, and South American dishes that are perfectly suited to the laws of kashrut without the use of any substitutes whatever. As a single example, that some use non-dairy creamers because they choose to have "cream" based dishes such as ice cream or even whipped cream cake as their dessert after a meat-based meal is not the fault of the laws of kashrut. It is the fault of the diner, for I can assure one and all that there are a plethora of desserts that contain not an iota of milk products that can be consumed with great pleasure after a meat based meal.

Substitutes (with the exception of people whose diet is restricted because of health reasons) will take us to no place good in the culinary world. As a single example, let me point out the ingredients in two of the products of Rich, one the most popular non-dairy cream for use in coffee and the other a substitute for whipped cream are made from diglycerides, sodium stearoyl, lactylate, polysorbate 50, dipotassium phosphate and sodium acid pyrophosphate. While it is ture that these products also contain such normally edible items as water, corn syrup and soybean oil, they also have the nearly unpronounceable hydropropylmethylcellulose. More than that, in order to give us the illusion that these things are real food,they also contain artificial color and taste materials, without which they would probably taste similar to the plastic bags we receive in the supermarket. Personally, I would rather see these ingredients in the engine of an automobile than in my stomach.

Enough said. The internet site in question can be found at http://newkosher.org/

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Re: Kashrut and "Substitutes" - A Rant

by Daniel Rogov » Sat Nov 27, 2010 11:11 am

Well worth reading the thread started by Robin Garr on the main forum, that regarding the "thing" called Tofurkey, a vegan/vegetarian substitute for turkey. I have never tasted a Tofurkey. Let it suffice to say that on my next trip to the U.S.A., I have no intention whatever of so tasting!

That thread is located at viewtopic.php?f=5&t=36007

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Joel D Parker

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Re: Kashrut and "Substitutes" - A Rant

by Joel D Parker » Sun Nov 28, 2010 5:50 am

Daniel, hi,

In all seriousness, I do think that substitutes can be used within reason. Even the best chefs may have to use a substitute now and then (probably especially the best chefs, for some of the most exquisite recipes call for the most ridiculous ingredients for which they would have to improvise or run to and fro to the furthest ends of the earth. On the other hand, I have a good cookbook that says you can use vermouth in the event that you don't have a bottle of open white wine and you only need a couple of tablespoons, etc...). The key is to limit their use, and only do it, when like breaking traffic rules, it can be done without causing a catastrophe. The real culprit then, is not so much kashrut, but the willingness to cut corners on things that really matter, as you say, like freshness, quality, and the use of artificial ingredients and chemicals that would make any dish abominable.

I, for example, stopped eating pork a few years ago, but I know what various pork products taste like, and are supposed to taste like. I would never cook a dish that was based mainly or substantially on pork derived material and substitute other ingredients. However, I can assure you that my bolognese sauce is more than edible when using just a bit of turkey bacon instead of actual bacon as a minor ingredient in the whole, and by using lamb, chicken and beef instead of lamb, pork and beef. The other ingredients are all market fresh, and the cooking process is slow, using good wine, etc. Is the sauce 100% authentic? No. Do I enjoy eating it? Yes.

The examples go on, but ultimately there is a certain amount of arbitrariness to the idea that some dishes can ONLY be cooked a certain way. The more you get into the fine points of cooking, you realize there are literally dozens of choices for almost every ingredient in a recipe, and the chef has to decide what's best in balance with what's feasible...

On the whole, though, I'm with you. Margarine is of the devil...and if you don't eat seafood, never, ever, eat fake seafood.

J
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Re: Kashrut and "Substitutes" - A Rant

by Daniel Rogov » Sun Nov 28, 2010 1:31 pm

A story I like to tell about one of the non-dairy substitutes for sweet cream.

Quite some years ago when this particular product was first released I wrote in my newspaper columns that one had to be either palate or brain-dead not to be able to recognize the difference between this substitute and the real thing. The producer decided to sue me. That of course meant suing my publisher, my editor, the whole kit and kaboodle.

The case was close to getting to court when I received a phone call from my the newspaper's law firm. The company wanted a meeting. At that meeting they suggested that the would bake 12 cakes, twins in a sense except that six would be based on their product and six on the basis of whipped cream. I accepted the challenge but gave several conditions:

(a) There would be someone from a neutral attorney's or accountant's office in the kitchen while the cakes were being baked so that no tricks would be played. When the cakes were brought to the table that person left without any contact whatever with me.

(b) That right or wrong I would write about the results in my next column and

(c) That I would bring a television crew to film the tasting and we would screen the results that night, no matter what the results.

The company agreed wholeheartedly.

On the day of the tasting the twelve cakes were laid out on a long marble table. What they expected me to do was to take a slice of each cake to eat it. I'm not that stupid, because with a slice one would also have the chocolate, cocoa, raspberry sauce, creme patisserie and whatever else. Knowing that television time is very quick time, I made my way rather rapidly around the table, simply using a finger to sample the cream on top of or as the filling of the cake. I then returned to the head of the table, stood there for perhaps five seconds and then rapidly walked around the table again, forcibly throwing six of the cakes from the table. Those cakes landed on the floor, on the walls and in one case on the jacket of a nearby lawyer. Afterwards, I took a huge slice of one of the cakes and said: "The cakes on the floor contain your product. What is on the table and I am eating is real sweet cream".

They pleaded with us not to show it on television. They had, however, signed the agrement and that night it was screened. As promised by Ultra Violet (and not Andy Warhol as is usually thought), I had my fifteen minutes of fame.

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Re: Kashrut and "Substitutes" - A Rant

by David Raccah » Mon Nov 29, 2010 1:15 am

Awesome! Reminds me of the story you once wrote about butter and margarine and some French food critic, if I am correct. Totally agree that there is no reason to try to substitute things - when there are SO MANY wonderful recipes out there that require no milk and meat or shell fish, the most common issues in kosher cooking.

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Charlie Dawg

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Re: Kashrut and "Substitutes" - A Rant

by Charlie Dawg » Mon Nov 29, 2010 1:39 pm

I think in today’s world, where we are super connected and things that were unheard of even 15 years ago, are available at a click of a button people are going to want those things, whatever they are, food is being one of them. Also since there are a sizable number of people that are starting to keep kosher today, they want the same food they are used to eating. As long as this is happening chefs will try to accommodate the requests. People who always were keeping kosher also see and like to try new stuff, for them for sure it makes no difference if you use butter or margarine since they have never tried meat dish with real butter.
I see and agree with your point completely, Rogov, the only thing, I think this post should be addressed to chefs who come up with those, sometimes ridiculous ideas, instead of, like you said, adapting dishes that do not require the bunch of nonsense type foods, i.e. soy cheese. I do have to admit, I eat fake crab meat all the time, but I also have to say I do like Pollock (sp?) fish, as my mom used to make it a lot when I was little, so I am used to the taste.
To expand your point I also would like to add that I see some chefs taking traditional Jewish foods to the “next level” and making them into “Nouvel cuisine” (sp?). Which in a lot of cases just as ridiculous as the use of some “substitutes”.
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Re: Kashrut and "Substitutes" - A Rant

by Charlie Dawg » Mon Nov 29, 2010 1:51 pm

Just out of curiousity I checked out the site and clicked on one of the recipes, oh, my. Without even going into the recipe (I did not like it at all) it was not done appropriatly from the kosher stand point.
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