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22 February 2006

Introducing my mini-series

I frequently write about kosher food on this site, but having gone through my archives I can't see a single example of where I've written about Jewish food and I want to change that.  By 'Jewish', as opposed to 'Kosher', I mean food that is closely identified with Judaism, whether that is for religious reasons or historical and cultural reasons.  What I don't mean, is any old food that is deemed kosher just because it hasn't got anything unkosher in it.  I'm not interested in finding substitutes for non-kosher recipes, in order to make them kosher.  I am a firm believer that there more than enough recipes and concepts in our culinary canon (and other, not specifically kosher recipes) that means we don't need second best substitutes.  I also believe there is a misunderstanding of kosher food as heavy, fatty and relatively bland - a criticism especially levelled at Ashkenazi food.  However, in the wider food community, where the mortal fear of fat is receding in favour of a love affair with confit and the like, I feel the time is ripe for a bit of rehabilitation, for what, if you're a religious person, has to be one of the oldest culinary traditions around.

I appreciate I'm entering a minefield given that what can be deemed Jewish is vague at best, but I'm feeling bullish at the moment and reckon my shoulders are broad enough.  So let me do a little bit of explaning:

If one is an Ashkenazi Jew, what you think of as traditional Jewish food, will be very different to if you're a Sephardi Jew.  This is largely a factor of geography, Ashkenazi's came from Eastern Europe and needed food to get them through the hardships of farming in the frozen wastes of the Pale.  Sephardim on the other hand came from Southern Europe and North Africa.  Their food is far more influenced by the Muslim cooking of the region and the highly spiced local foods - required to overcome rotting meat in the sweltering heat of the Baghdad souk.  Then you've got the added confusion of those groups of Jews that don't fit into the Ashkenazi / Sephardi paradigm, such as the Bnei Roma in Italy.

However, for the purposes of this Silverbrow sponsored mini-series, we don't need to worry too much about all these differences.  I'm going to try to look at Jewish food and recipes in the round, what has influenced Jewish cooking and where Jewish cooking has been influential.  For example, we can thank Portugese Jews for Britain's national dish of fish and chips.  (Before the pedants get too excited, I'm fully aware that the UK's most popular dish is chicken tikka masala, not F&C.  It is interesting though that neither of these foods are generations old, both being introduced to our fair isle within the last 150 years.)  I'm going to do this largely by cooking the food, doing some research and letting you know how it all goes.  I can see that this might take some time, so I had better get started.

There was never really any question about what to start with, empires were built on chicken soup, so I must start there.

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Hi! How in the world do I make Chicken Tikka Masala without using dairy products? I want it to be kosher, but also moderately authentic tasting. Any suggestions for yogurt and cream substitutes?

Please email me at weecat1@yahoo.com if you have any ideas.

Thanks,
Simone

Hi Simone,
Apologies for the delay in getting back to you.

First off, I'm going to be pernickty: You say you want an authentic chicken tikka. If you mean authentic in the sense of how it's made in India, you're out of luck. Chicken tikka was developed in the UK (now our 'national' dish) to anglicise Indian food.

If however you mean chicken tikka that tastes like the one you get in an indian restaurant, that's another matter. However, to make it kosher without substitutes is tricky because yoghurt plays such a crucial part in the marinading process. My suggestion would be not to try to copy it too closely, afterall, I'm guessing you don't have a tandoor oven to cook it in anyway. So, why not make a marinade for your chicken, something such as harrissa?

Or you could use the spices used in chicken tikka as a marinade. I'm no expert on Indian cooking but this Epicurious recipe (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/109308) looks relatively tasty. You just need to skip out the yoghurt bit. I would also suggest that you use the freshest dried herbs and spices possible and you dry toast them before you grind them. By that I mean, put them in a very hot skillet/frying pan without any oil and cook them until you can start to smell them, but don't let them burn. Then grind them together, add some oil (if using olive oil make sure it's light or medium, otherwise it has a smoking point that is very low) and use as a marinade for your chicken.

I hope this helps.

Hi,

I too pose the same question how to make a Chicken Tikka Masala without using dairy ingredients. I would say some coconut cream with some tamarind juice as this would give the texture of yoghurt with the sourness of the tamarind. Alternatively some lemon/lime juice instead of tamarind will give the tanginess.

Yasmin

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