kosher kitchen

Delighting in Asian food


American Jews have always loved Chinese cuisine. Once Jewish immigrants to New York discovered it, they adopted it wholeheartedly. The history of how that happened is interesting.

When the great influx of Jews came to New York, many established fine restaurants did not welcome the new immigrants. Some openly turned Jews away, and others were too expensive. For those who gave up kashrut, Chinese food was the answer. Chinese restaurants welcomed the newcomers, were open on Sundays and Christian holidays, and the food was plentiful, served family style and relatively inexpensive. 

By the middle of the 20th century, Jews made up about 60 percent of the white patrons of all Chinese restaurants in New York City and its environs. In addition, those who kept kosher now had their choices of kosher Chinese restaurants throughout the city and beyond — into Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and more. Kosher cookbooks included Asian recipes, and some were even totally devoted to Asian cuisine. The love affair with Asian cuisine only intensified with this new ability to make these dishes at home. Kosher cooks bought woks, and production of these strangely-shaped vessels ramped up dramatically. 

Today, that love continues. Many Asian food companies have products that are certified kosher, and kosher markets have Asian sections that grow larger each year. There are even kosher for Passover products that can help cooks create Asian dishes with the leftover chicken from Passover soup!

Yes, you can order your food from a local kosher Chinese restaurant, but it’s also fun to make some in your own home and have the kids help with the meal prep.

Sesame Scallion Pancakes

(Pareve or Meat)

2-1/2 cups unbleached flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

1 cup boiling water

2 Tbsp. corn oil or warmed schmaltz, if you like

2 cups finely minced scallions

Canola oil for frying

Stir the flour, salt, and onion powder in a bowl. Add the sesame oil and boiling water and stir with a wooden spoon until blended and coarse dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 to 6 minutes or until smooth. Add up to 1/4 cup more flour as needed. Cover with a cloth and let rest for an hour.

Lightly flour the work surface and cut the dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a thin circle, about 8 to 10 inches. Brush with melted schmaltz or corn oil and sprinkle with about 1/4 cup of scallions. Roll up the circle away from you into a thin cylinder and coil the cylinder. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and continue with the rest of the dough. Let the coils rest for 15 minutes. 

Dust the work surface with flour and roll each coil into a 5 to 6 to inch pancake. Stack them with a piece of parchment between each pancake. Heat a skillet and add one Tbsp. of canola oil. Fry each pancake, adding more oil as needed, about 3 to 4 minutes per side until deeply golden, flipping often as needed to keep the scallions from burning. Serve with Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce. Makes 5 scallion pancakes. 

Soy Ginger Dipping Sauce (Pareve)

1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce

1/3 cup Chinese black vinegar or rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced

1 to 2 tsp. finely grated ginger, to taste

1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely minced, to taste

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

2 to 3 tsp. sugar or honey, to taste    

Combine all ingredients and stir until sugar dissolves. Adjust seasonings, but wait a bit before adding more pepper flakes, as their flavor intensifies with time. Makes 1 cup.

Traditional Fried Rice (Parve)

4 Tbsp. canola oil, divided

2 eggs, beaten

1 small onion, finely minced

2 Tbsp. minced garlic, more to taste

2 to 3 Tbsp. grated or minced ginger

1 cup finely diced celery

1 cup mung bean sprouts 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced

3 to 4 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce

1/2 to 1 tsp. sesame oil

4 to 6 cups cold cooked white, brown or fragrant (jasmine or basmati) rice

OPTIONAL: 1/2 to 1 cup baby peas

1/2 cup medium shredded carrots

Heat a wok or large deep skillet. Add 2 Tbsp. of the oil and then add the beaten eggs. They will puff up. Let them set about 5 to 10 seconds, and then, with a wooden spoon or spatula, push the uncooked egg toward the middle. Continue until all the egg is cooked. When done, slide the egg onto a plate and cut into tiny pieces.

Add the rest of the oil to the pan and add the onions. Stir until translucent and then add the garlic, ginger and celery. Add the sprouts and any optional veggies you like and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes or until the veggies are hot and crisp-tender. Add scallions, and the rice and stir until hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and minced egg and heat through. Add more sesame oil or soy sauce if needed. Serves at least 8.

Spicy Chinese Long Beans (Pareve)

1 lb. green beans or long beans, trimmed, cut into 2- inch pieces if desired

2 Tbsp. Canola oil

1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

2 to 3 Tbsp. dark brown sugar

1/2 to 1 tsp. hot red pepper flakes

1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tsp. sesame seeds for garnish

Place the beans in a bowl and add the oils. Toss to coat. Heat a wok and add the beans, stirring, 2 to 4 minutes, until they become bright green. Add sugar, pepper flakes, and garlic and toss to coat. Stir another 1 to 2 minutes, add the sesame seeds and stir. Serves 4 to 6.