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The Vegetarian Bentsher From the South

If you’ve ever been to an observant Jewish wedding it’s likely that you’ve come home with a bentsher, a small prayer book used to say blessings after a meal. Your party favor might have even had a cheesy logo on the front – maybe it was the couple’s Hebrew initials intertwined to form a rose. New Kosher’s “community bentsher” is nothing like that.

Instead of the standard Hebrew or Hebrew-English, New Kosher, a website and organization which works to make kashrut more accessible to all, breaks the mold by mixing prayer with stories, poems and even recipes. “If you don’t keep kosher, you don’t see a point or it’s archaic to you, but you want to understand it, the resources available are complicated. So, we took an idea, stripped it down, tried to present it in a way that’s easy to understand and related to daily life,” explains Patrick Aleph, founder of New Kosher, Punk Torah and lead singer of an art/punk/grunge band Can!!Can.

While Aleph and New Kosher’s creative director Michael Sibini crafted much of the bentsher, the poems and recipes come from a wide swath of people including author Matthue Roth, and Leon Adato, who runs EdibleTorah.com, a site that helps coordinate potluck dinners for Shabbat.

The recipes are an eclectic mix of very Jewish (noodle kugel), very American (butternut squash pancakes), and very vegetarian southern (Kentucky fried “chicken”). There is a decidedly vegan/vegetarian bent to them, with only one fish recipe straying from the pack. A piece called “Top Reasons to Go Vegetarian Are Jewish Values Too,” written by Michael Croland of the now defunct Heebnvegan blog, is exactly what it sounds like: an argument that Jewish laws support being a vegetarian.

New Kosher’s ethic is not just about the laws of keeping kosher, though the site offers visitors a “kosher starter kit.” It’s also about being mindful about what you eat, which for Aleph means Jewish vegetarianism. “The Talmud says that you should only eat meat when you crave it,” explains Aleph. “Growing up, meat was always available, all the time. It was cheap and disgusting, so I just ate it. But becoming kosher reprogrammed me.” Though Aleph doesn’t advocate Jewish vegetarianism for all: “there’s a point where you have to study for yourself and develop your own opinions.”

What better way to celebrate kosher and vegetarian from the south than with fake fried chicken? Here’s a recipe from the back of New Kosher’s bentsher:

Kentucky Fried “Chicken” (Vegan/Parve)

By Rivka Bowlin

Use either well drained Tofu or Seitan cutlets. I find 1/8 to 1⁄4 inch thick slices work best.

Breading:
1⁄2 Cup Flour (for extra spice use Kentucky Kernel Seasoned Flour)
1⁄2 Cup Cornmeal
1⁄4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1⁄4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 Teaspoon Cajun or other spicy seasoning
1⁄4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1⁄4 Teaspoon Pepper

Note: These spices are to taste and it is encouraged to spice things up.

Batter: 1⁄4 Cup Soy or Almond milk
1⁄2 Cup Flour (for extra spice use Kentucky Kernel Seasoned Flour)
4 Tablespoons Brown or Spicy Mustard
Salt and Pepper to taste

1) Add flour and cornmeal, then yeast and spices in a bowl.

2) In separate bowl, combine batter ingredients.

3) Take “chicken” pieces (tofu or seitan), dip in batter then lay both sides in breading.

4) Fry in canola oil until brown on both sides.

5) Serve with gravy for best effect.

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