Book Review: From pizza to Web sites, Kosher Companion delivers

Looking for kosher antacids, kosher Mexican food or kosher mouthwash? How about kosher aluminum foil or bleach?

Your search for anything kosher under the sun need go no further than "The Kosher Companion," a new book by New York author Trudy Garfunkel.

Promoted as the "first consumer guide to the ever-growing world of kosher food and kosher products," the book is a useful primer, especially for those who have not grown up in a kosher household. Raised in a kosher home herself, the author now lives in Kew Garden Hills, Queens, which she describes as a magnet community for young Orthodox families.

"The Kosher Companion" is a departure for Garfunkel, whose prior nonfiction books, published one per year since 1994, all focus on dance.

Garfunkel believes that her new book addresses a widespread hunger for more information on the topic — and not all those hungry readers, she asserts in her preface, are Jews.

Only 25 percent of the consumers who purchase kosher food in the United States are Jews, she points out. Some 5.5 million Muslims in this country follow dietary laws similar to those of Orthodox Jews, and another 800,000 Seventh-Day Adventists are encouraged to follow the biblical dietary guidelines that form "the basis of kosher," according to Garfunkel.

She notes that many health-conscious consumers also favor kosher products, believing "that since kosher certification is given by independent, non-government agencies…it represents a kind of extra `Good Housekeeping' seal of approval."

What this adds up to, she writes, is that "kosher is big business" in this country, comprising a $3 billion-a-year market.

Direct and understandable, but never boring, Garfunkel methodically covers just about anything you'd want to know about kosher, including resources for additional information.

Beginning with the basics, including a glossary and chapters titled "What is Kosher?" and "Understanding the Kosher Symbols," Garfunkel moves on to interesting and diverse topics like "Kosher and Healthy," "Kosher for Vegetarians," "Wine and Spirits" and "For the Lactose Intolerant."

More a handbook than a cookbook, "Kosher Companion" nevertheless provides 33 relatively easy recipes, gleaned mostly from the author's family and friends. Again, Garfunkel reaches out to a variety of readers, offering traditional favorites such as "Mom's Good-for-What-Ails-You Chicken Soup With Heavenly Light Matzo Balls" and "Harry's Sweet Noodle Pudding" as well as exotica like "Portuguese Fish Bundles" and "Zena's Coleslaw, Cajun Style."

Readers in any given region might have a few more items to add to Garfunkel's list of kosher establishments and services throughout the United States and Canada. But at 52 pages the list is ambitious, naming restaurants, caterers, bakeries, butchers, markets, hotels, resorts, travel agents and tour guides catering to the kosher market. Garfunkel tells how to order kosher meals on domestic airlines, and points out that while many resorts do not have their own kosher dining rooms, arrangements can be made for guests to be served kosher meals.

Kosher mail-order offerings include seasonings, vitamins and free-range venison. Also on the list are Fairytale Brownies of Scottsdale, New York Flying Pizza Pies and Kosher Connections, a Pacific Northwest firm that will send alder-smoked salmon, fresh berry preserves, dried Oregon cherries and low-fat delicacies.

The list concludes with organizations, foundations, magazines and web sites of interest to the kosher consumer.

"The Kosher Companion" deserves a spot on the shelf of any kosher kitchen — right next to the matzah meal.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.