The popularity of Asian flavors beyond the standard Chinese and Japanese dishes has skyrocketed over the past few decades in North America.
“The American palate and sophistication have changed tremendously since I was a kid,” says Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Memoir, Recipes and More. Jacob’s parents were Iraqi-Jews born and raised in China. While her mother cooked Chinese and Japanese foods when Jacob was growing up in Vancouver, Canada, Jacob now makes Thai, Cambodian, Filipino and Korean dishes, too.
Fortunately, Asian cooking is very adaptable: to the changing seasons, availability of ingredients and the cook’s or diner’s preferences. Plus, since dairy products are rarely used, Asian recipes are easily modified for the kosher kitchen. Seasoned cooks offer tips on cooking Asian recipes in a kosher kitchen.
Substitute the Pork
Beef, veal or lamb make excellent substitutes for pork. Food blogger Molly Yeh recalls that her family always “stuck to chicken. Instead of making steamed pork buns, we’d make chicken buns,” she says. Yeh also makes potstickers with ground turkey.
Freelance writer Allaya Fleischer combines ground turkey and ground beef in a one-to-one ratio to mimic pork. “I add a little bit of extra sugar, some Bragg’s Liquid Aminos and nutritional yeast to help give it a boost,” she explains.
Flavorings and Sauces
Many brands sold at Asian markets don’t have a hechsher (kosher certification), so it can be challenging to find kosher products.
Wendy Bazil, a cooking coach and instructor, recommends shopping at a mainstream supermarket or kosher market for a decent selection of kosher-certified products. “I also focus on what we can have, not what we can’t,” she says. “Making some of the sauces yourself…is a great way to have foods contain what you want…and omit what you don’t.” Bazil prefers to use spices, herbs and aromatics like ginger, garlic, Sichuan peppercorns and sesame seeds. She even grows her own Thai basil and shiso leaves.
Although fish is pareve, Red Boat is the only fish sauce brand (known at the time of writing) to have kosher certification. In Thailand, where Fleischer was born, her family owned a farm and was self-sustaining—they even made their own fish sauce! Living in a tiny New York apartment now, she doesn’t make fish sauce, but she does offer this kosher substitute: “I substitute fish sauce with one part shiro (white) miso to two parts Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. In this combination, the miso adds the fermented ‘fishiness’ quality, and the Liquid Aminos provides the saltiness while rounding out the flavors.”
Shellfish are quite popular in Asian cooking. However, fish fillets (sole or flounder) are just as nice in a dish like lobster Cantonese without sacrificing flavor or texture. Mock shrimp, crab and scallops (made from fish or vegetables) are also great stand-ins.
A popular condiment, oyster sauce is not kosher. But mushroom sauce is just as tasty. Bazil suggests combining roasted mushrooms with any dish where one might use oyster sauce, like with baby bok choy or cabbage.
Fish and Meat
If you choose not to mix fish and meat in the same dish, the simplest option is to use vegetable broth instead of chicken when cooking fish, and substitute soy sauce for fish sauce (or make a vegan fish sauce, below) in meat dishes. However, things can get tricky as fish sauce is an essential ingredient in many Southeast Asian recipes like pad Thai and Vietnamese pho to pull off the delicate flavor-balancing act.
Given the choice, Fleischer would much rather skip the meat and keep the flavor (when kosher fish sauce is available). Bazil uses a white fish, tofu or only vegetables in these dishes. “Lots of people don’t mind skipping meat these days,” she says. “I love pad Thai with tofu.”
Make it Meatless
Tofu is neither dairy nor meat, and can be used in the kosher kitchen with any meal. Some companies sell prepackaged tofu labeled pareve.
Jacob likes to make her mother’s version of zongzi (rice dumplings usually made with pork filling) without the filling. “There is no filling. It’s like having pancakes for dinner, but with fluffy, hot, sticky rice and sugar. So good!”
Picky eaters can stick closely to “plain, carby foods,” like blogger Yeh did as a child. “(They’re) pretty common in both Ashkenazi and Chinese cuisines—matzah balls, challah, noodles and dumplings were my jam.”
Of course, you can make kosher cooking much simpler by just cooking plant-based meals. See the Recipe Collection for some recipes from my new cookbook, Farm to Table Asian Secrets—Vegan and Vegetarian Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season.
Buying Kosher Products
Wendy Bazil cites these kosher brands: “Eden, Marukan, San J, Pearl River Bridge, some Trader Joe’s items. I always check the labels as sometimes a company changes and either stops providing a kosher product, or begins to.”
Allaya Fleischer keeps the following items in her pantry: San-J reduced sodium tamari, Roland roasted sesame oil, Roland coconut milk, sriracha chile paste, Lee Kum Kee vegetarian hoisin sauce.
Dianne Jacob suggests Joyce Chen Foods.