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Kosher Heaven

December 1, 2005 By:
Ethel Hofman, JE Feature
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The whole world's gone kosher! At least that's how it appeared in mid-November, at New York's Jacob Javits Convention Center. At Kosherfest 2005 - the kosher food-and-wine trade show - some 10,000 buyers, marketers and producers jammed the aisles, jostling to hone in on the grand extravaganza of new and improved kosher products displayed in 425 booths.

Kosherfest 2005 is also an essential destination for supermarket and specialty-store buyers, as well as a splendid outlet for manufacturers of kosher foods. Menachem Lubinsky, founder of this event - which skyrockets in expansion each year - is the world's leading marketing authority on the kosher-food industry.

He notes that "five years into the new millennium, we now know that kosher was not just a 20th-century phenomenon - kosher has become one of the nation's leading specialty-food categories."

Statistics bear this out. In recent years, kosher-food sales have increased annually by 10 percent, while overall food sales have increased by only 1 percent to 2 percent. Who would have thought in our grandmother's times that future generations would be able to choose from 88,000 kosher-certified products in markets where approximately 40 percent of all products have a kosher certification?!

The Jewish market is just 44 percent of the kosher-food industry. Roughly 19 percent is purchased by other faiths, such as Muslims and those who observe dietary laws similar to Orthodox Jews, and 39 percent of all kosher sales are made by other consumers for reasons that have nothing to do with religion. This includes vegetarians, at-risk health groups, and those who perceive kosher products to be purer, healthier and safer.

The prestigious Mintel research group recently reported that the majority of kosher consumers are now even younger, thus influencing kosher-food production.

So, what's hot? Low-carb has now fallen by the wayside. In its place have come natural and organic foods (which, of course, have been popular with health-food advocates for decades). People love the thought of buying better fare for their families, and the proliferation in kid-friendly foodstuffs has simply exploded. All-natural juices, cereals, fruit snacks, crackers - and organic milk, yogurts and cheeses - are selling at an all-time high.

Markets will be stocking foods with low glycemic index, whole-grain products, shelf stable items, and "grab and go" convenience items. Gluten-free products may now carry a certified label noting that the product has met independently verified safety standards. And vegetarian items are flying off the shelves.

Gourmet items come in fancy packaging, and displays of foods and wines from 18 countries are capped by a large pavilion from Israel, headed by the Israel Export Institute.

Here are some of the highlights of this year's Kosherfest. If not in your market already, they will surely arrive soon.

Dairy and Pareve Items

Ruthie and Gussie's Latke Batter - No more scraped knuckles! This is the easy way to dish up a platter of hot, crisp latkes. Just defrost the batter, drop spoonfuls into hot oil and fry. They're 100-percent kvetch-proof!

For those away from home, send a Ruthie and Gussie's Latke Gram. Packaged in a reusable Styrofoam container, each latke gram contains two 28-ounce packs of sweet and traditional latke batter, a jar each of applesauce and sour cream, a dreidel and a gift card for next-day delivery, mailed anywhere in the United States.

Echo Falls Smoked Sockeye Salmon Cream-Cheese Spread - This is a winner! No dyes or preservatives, and tantalizing taste from salmon smoked over apple and oak woods.

The Israel Dairy Board presented an amazing variety of cheeses from kibbutz and moshav cooperatives, where cows, sheep and goats are raised. Strict quality-control procedures are followed to ensure stringent international standards. From low-fat, spreadable creamy cheeses - and hard and semi-firm cheeses like Edam, Gouda and Swiss - and boutique goat's milk and sheep's milk cheeses, they're all tantalizingly delicious.

Sabra produces many cheeses and dips, but one of the best and newest is its White Soft Cheese Spread, in full- and low-fat varieties. Spoon it from the container, and top with preserves or diced fresh fruits for a delicious dessert.

Healthy Times Baby Foods, founded by a young mother, Rondi Prescott, are USDA organic. No fillers, such as flour or tapioca, are used, and gluten-free dinners are available. Items such as Teddy Puffs come in wheat, dairy and nut-free.

Soy 7 Enriched Pastas are all-natural and fortified with 7 grams of soy protein per serving. They contain about 17 percent fewer carbohydrates than traditional varieties. Cook like any other pasta.

Marukan Organic Rice Vinegar is an all-natural vinegar with a mellow flavor. Use in salad dressings and dips. A splash added to canned soups refreshes and brightens the end result.

Mimi's Gourmet Vegetarian and Vegan Chilis are infused with authentic flavors from a blend of aromatic spices. The chilis are 100 percent certified organic, with no pesticides, preservatives, or artificial flavors or colors used in growing or in food preparation. It's also gluten-free.

Real Foods Corn Thins come from an Australian company. These one-quarter-inch-thick discs with a popped-corn taste are more addictive than potato chips. Use for sandwiches, hors d'oeuvres or snacks. The five flavors include original corn, soy and linseed, multigrain, sesame organic, and rye and caraway.

Marcy's Croutons look and taste just like homemade ones. Light, crunchy and slightly spiced, these won the 2005 Kosherfest Best Baked Goods, Bread or Cereal items Award.

Franny's Organic Jumbo Raisins are inch-long sweetmeats with fresh-from-the-vine flavor. Plump, soft and juicy, they're delicious simply eaten out of hand. No synthetic chemicals or artificial fertilizers are used in their vineyards.

Fish and Meat

LaBruite Self-heating Meals contain a patented, flameless food heater made of magnesium and iron. The meals can also be warmed without the heating element by microwaving for about a minute, or by immersing in boiling water.

Varieties include chicken primavera with noodles, vegetarian peppersteak and cheese ravioli.

Shetland Smokehouse Smoked Salmon - The kosher certification is recognized even in the most northerly Scottish islands. Sea-caught and farm raised in the pristine waters of the Shetland Islands, the fish is smoked over oak chips from old Scotch whisky barrels.

Low-Carb Salmon Gefilte Fish from A&B Famous is sweetened with Splenda; it comes frozen in a 22-ounce roll.

Wise Organic Pastures produces certified organic poultry and beef. All poultry are certified organic and kosher - fed only organic feed, with no antibiotics given. They are free-range and raised humanely by family farmers - and the result is some very tender poultry with exceptional flavor.

French Onion Soup
[Dairy]

From a recipe from Haolam Cheese Co.

3 Tbsps. olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 tsps. sugar
11/2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
6 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1/2 cup dry, kosher red wine
1 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
11/3 cups grated Gruyère cheese
11/3 cups croutons
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar. Sauté until onions are soft and golden.

Sprinkle the flour over onion mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the stock, wine and soy sauce. Bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook for 10 minutes longer. Ladle the soup into 4 ovenproof bowls. Top each with 1/3 cup grated Gruyère, then 1/3 cup croutons.

Sprinkle with Parmesan.

Place in the oven and bake till cheese is bubbly, 7 to 10 minutes. Let stand 4 to 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 368; protein, 16 g; carbohydrates, 15 g; fat, 26 g; cholesterol, 45 mg; sodium, 456 mg.

Shakshouka
[Dairy]

This spiced egg-and-vegetable dish is an Israeli favorite, which originated in North Africa. Serve as a brunch or supper dish.

2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 bell peppers, red, green and yellow, seeded and diced
2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/4 cup parsley sprigs, packed
1 Tbsp. fresh or frozen chopped dill
1/4 tsp. red-pepper flakes
salt, ground pepper and paprika
6 eggs, beaten
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.

Add onion, peppers, tomatoes, parsley and dill. Reduce heat, and cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are still slightly crisp. Sprinkle with the pepper flakes.

Add salt, freshly ground pepper and paprika to taste. Pour the eggs over top. Sprinkle with feta cheese.

Cover the skillet. Cook at medium-low for 10 to 15 minutes, or until eggs are set.

Cut into wedges; serve with a salad.

Serves 4.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 284; protein, 15 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 23 g; cholesterol, 357 mg; sodium, 411 mg.

Smoked-Salmon Tartare
[Pareve]

This is a variation of steak tartare, a dish that originated in the Baltic provinces. Aquavit is a strong, colorless, Scandinavian liqueur distilled from grain or potatoes, and flavored with caraway seeds.

3-4 oz. smoked salmon, cut in 6 pieces
1 Tbsp. finely snipped fresh dill
1 Tbsp. finely chopped red onion
1 Tbsp. aquavit
2 tsps. lemon juice
freshly ground pepper to taste
8-12 slices party pumpernickel
1 hard cooked egg, finely grated

Place the salmon in a food processor. Process by pulsing until minced. Do not overprocess.

Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the dill, onion, capers, aquavit, olive oil, lemon juice and pepper to taste. Chill.

To serve, spread on rounds of party pumpernickel. Garnish with hard-cooked egg.

Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 83; protein, 6 g; carbohydrates, 10 g; fat, 2 g; cholesterol, 39 mg; sodium, 476 mg.

Buckwheat Banana Bread
[Dairy]

From the Canadian Special Crops Association. Buckwheat - a native of Russia - is an herb, not a cereal. The triangular seeds are used to make buckwheat flour. Buckwheat groats or kasha are the hulled crushed kernels. This bread is a gluten-free version of a family favorite.

2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsps. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 cup mashed banana
1 cup sugar
21/2 cups buckwheat flour
2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350?.

Spray a large loaf pan, approximately 81/2x41/2x21/2-inches, with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the buttermilk, oil, vanilla and almond extracts, banana and sugar. Mix well.

Sift the buckwheat flour, baking powder, soda and salt into the banana mixture. Mix well.

Stir in the nuts. Pour into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until brown and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center. Cool for a few minutes on a baking rack.

Loosen sides with a round bladed knife before turning out.

Cool completely before slicing.

Makes 1 large loaf or 15 servings.

Approximate nutrients per slice: calories, 252; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 31 g; fat, 14 g; cholesterol, 28 mg; sodium, 196 mg.

Greek Yogurt With Honey-Almond Topping
[Dairy] 1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta
1 Tbsp. confectioners' sugar
1/2 tsp. orange extract
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsps. Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur
1/2 cup slivered almonds

In a bowl, beat together the yogurts and ricotta. Add the confectioners' sugar and orange extract. Mix well.

Divide equally between four dessert dishes.

In a microwave-safe bowl, stir the honey with the Cointreau.

Microwave for 1 minute at medium. Stir in the almonds.

Spoon over cheese mixture.

Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 335; protein, 12 g; carbohydrates, 46 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 16 mg; sodium, 123 mg.

Ethel G. Hofman is a cookbook author and a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

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