Pastrami, lox, borscht, bagels, babka, lekach (honey cake) and other traditional Jewish dishes have become part of our daily life. But besides these more traditional foods, there’s a new generation of Jewish cooks who want to bring kosher food to the masses by experimenting with new techniques and different cuisines. Karla Schaus, founder of kosherkar.com, shows us how to cook delicious kosher recipes for everyone.
Let's start with the basics: what is kosher?
For me, kosher is both dietary and spiritual: every type of food and drink that I consume has to be kosher. I am not alone, it is estimated that over 300,000 Canadians also keep kosher to some extent. Kosher is defined as a set of food rules that determine what Jewish people can eat.
This diet entails that animals must be harvested and prepared in a specific way, while certain creatures such as pigs and shellfish, are forbidden altogether. With new food products being released every day, it is easier than ever to abide by the Jewish dietary laws enforcing consumption of inspected foods. In order for a food product to be kosher, the item has to be inspected by an authoritative rabbi to ensure that the Jewish dietary laws have been met.
What’s the story behind kosherkar.com?
I decided to start a kosher food blog to connect with others around the world through a shared interest in cooking. Having an online community of friends is truly one major factor that motivates my blog.
Growing up, I was immobile in the sense that I was forced to work with the ingredients that I had close by. I wanted to travel to try new and foreign delicacies but at the time I couldn't.
However, this did not stop me from purchasing cookbooks so that I could try food from every culture without ever leaving the kitchen. Once I began university, I felt like I had a phenomenal understanding of different cuisines. As a result, I have been able to connect with so many of my friends through their culinary heritage. I’m so fortunate that I’m able to cook for the people that I love, while showing others the incredible joy that one feels while learning with food.
Could you name three Toronto restaurants that can’t be ignored?
1) Centre Street Deli- This restaurant is technically in Thornhill, 20 minutes from the downtown core. It has been in business since 1988, and it rests on a foundation of classic family recipes for wonderful deli-style food. This is the place to get the best matzo ball soup in Ontario!
2) Aroma Espresso Bar- I’m a huge fan of the Aroma franchise. Aroma originates from Israel but it is now accessible in Canada, the United States, and abroad. Currently my favorite
Aroma in the city is the one on Avenue Road. It features a gorgeous patio in the summer. All of the pastries in every Aroma are kosher so it is nice to have consistency. Right now I’m helping with a ”behind the scenes” take on the new kosher dairy establishment on Bathurst
3) Tov-Li- I like this restaurant because it is both casual and authentic, just like a pop-in restaurant that one might find in Israel. There are a lot of Middle-Eastern items to choose from. I would definitely recommend the falafel pita. It is a big portion but they do offer the option of a half-order for a light lunch.
Best meal you have eaten while travelling?
1) Ichiban Steak and Sushi- I have family members that live in Atlanta, Georgia. I have visited many times before and I was to a point where I felt as if I had exhausted my options. That is, until my family took me to Ichiban. It is a hibachi restaurant, meaning that a chef prepares all of the food right in front of you on a large grill. It is beyond entertaining, the chefs show off a variety of astonishing culinary skills while preparing your dinner. I had the vegetarian special which included a flavorful blend of grilled vegetables served over rice.
2) Andreas - I spent a summer studying at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. This was when I discovered the delicious Greek option on Thayer Street, Andreas. I had the penne pasta marinara. It is a fresh made penne pasta baked with fresh mozzarella and Feta cheese, olives, and basil.
3) Buon Gusto - This destination is not far from Toronto. It is located in Guelph, Ontario and the pizza here is phenomenal! Chef Dave Manno takes great pride in selecting the finest ingredients for the entrees at this restaurant. My favourite item is the Fontina pizza with bechamela, fontina cheese, roasted mushrooms, thyme, and caramelized onions.
If I would come over to your house for diner, what would you serve me?
For my family, meals are a time to visit and discuss current events. So naturally, dinner would take place over the course of a couple of hours! I would start by serving my favorite Brie and tomato crostini with balsamic glaze. For the main entree I’d make one of my most popular pasta dishes, my tomato and Mozzarella rigatoni. Finally, I would serve a comforting helping of peach crisp, topped with French vanilla bean ice cream.
Currently I’m working with a publisher on an everyday cookbook with a variety of recipes that happen to be kosher as well. Instead of sharing all of my personal stories behind the collection of recipes, I am challenging the reader to write his or her own. Every time a recipe is prepared, a memory is created. It might be a memory of a particular event, a particular family member or friend, or maybe just a positive connotation related to a particular taste. This book is inspired by my own personal desire to create wonderful dishes to share amongst friends and family. Whether you are new to cooking or an experienced master of the culinary arts, the book that I’m working on will provide the tools necessary for creativity in the kitchen!
Tomato and Mozzarella Rigatoni
1-1/2 cups uncooked rigatoni or penne pasta
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
2 cups spaghetti sauce
2 cups diced tomatoes, drained
3 tablespoons cream cheese
2 cups Mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1. Heat oven to 375f.
2. Cook pasta as directed on package, adding spinach to the boiling water prior to draining.
3. Heat olive oil and basil in a large skillet on medium-high heat for 20 seconds.
4. Stir in spaghetti sauce and tomatoes, bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. Add cream cheese.
5. Drain pasta mixture; return to pan. Stir in sauce mixture and half of the Mozzarella. Spoon into an oven-proof dish and bake for 20 minutes.
6. Top with remaining cheeses and bake for an additional 5 minutes.