A few years ago when I was first dating my Orthodox husband, we were invited to dinner at an ultra Orthodox Rabbi’s strictly kosher home. My mother raised me in the style of “we never show up empty handed,” and as a liberal Jew, I was at a loss as to what to bring or how to deal with this situation. Since that weekend, through the process of setting up a kosher kitchen with my husband, I am now aware that there are abundant variations on how people define kosher.
In my travels among observant Jews, I have noticed three basic styles of kosher dietary observance in practice. The Strictly Kosher Group will dine out only in kosher certified restaurants, and otherwise require kosher plates, flatware, and stemware, and eat only food with a hecksher, a narrow selection within the list of approved kosher agencies (only OU, OK, STAR-K, STAR-D, and KOF-K), prepared in a kosher kitchen, either at their home or a home of someone known to keep strictly kosher. Partial Kosher Observers keep strictly kosher at home and may or may not require kosher dishes and food with a hecksher in other settings. The last are the Casual Observers. Typically, people in this group abstain from the prohibited foods, dine out in non-kosher restaurants (sometimes only eating vegetarian but not always) and may or may not follow the other dietary practices.
Sharing a dish at a kosher potluck does not have to be a stressful undertaking. I recommend following the Strictly Kosher guidelines to ensure that all guests will be able to partake in your prepared food. The first thing you will need to know is if your host is serving a meat or dairy meal. If the meal contains meat or meat products, your dish must be either a kosher meat dish or a kosher parve (neither meat nor milk) dish. Likewise, if your host is serving a dairy meal, your dish must be dairy or parve. The easiest item to bring to a potluck is a package of high-end kosher cookies, the “almost” homemade type (make sure that they are parve if they will be eaten after a meat meal). Look for brands with a hecksher symbol, usually found on the front of the package, although they can be difficult to find on smaller sized products. Kosher ice cream (see Chalav Yisroel below) or a box of chocolates can also be “easy to find” kosher items to share. If you want to play it 100 percent safe, choose a packaged kosher vegan item!
If you want to take on making a side or main dish, you can purchase all of the ingredients for a simple dish and compose it in your host’s kitchen. Make sure that anything that is used in the dish is either a fresh fruit or vegetable, or that the container has a hecksher symbol on it. If you are using cheese, milk, or milk products, make sure that they are Chalav Yisroel just to be certain that you are following the most stringent kosher guidelines.
Do not take any of the ingredients out of their packages or shopping bag until you are in your host’s kitchen and are ready to prepare the dish using his or her utensils. Your host will be able to suggest specific brands to look for if you are having trouble finding a kosher ingredient. Try to unpack your bag of ingredients slowly in front of your host so that in a subtle way, they can take a quick look to politely satisfy their need to be certain that a non-kosher item is not included. Keep your dish simple by selecting a recipe that has a small number of ingredients and enjoy the opportunity to catch up with your host in their kitchen while you are cooking together.
Please use the comments section below this article to contribute your ideas for items that are the easiest and most delicious to share with your kosher connections.
Be’te-avon (Bon Appetit)!