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Columnist Puts Kosher Cooking on the Front Burner

When Lisa Huriash decided at age 6 that she wanted to become a journalist, she never dreamed that she’d be reporting about cherry kugel.

Nonetheless, Huriash’s “Kosher Connection” column, a regular feature in the Food section of South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, is now a local favorite and is frequently picked up by other newspapers through the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire service.

Huriash, who was raised in a kosher home in Florida, has made kosher cooking a subject that reaches far beyond the kitchen — all the way to Hollywood, Calif. She has interviewed celebrities about their favorite kosher foods. Ed Asner described his mother’s greasy latkes; Judith “Judge Judy” Scheindlin reminisced about the potato knishes sold on Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, N.Y., and professional wrestler Bill Goldberg lamented that he could not adequately reproduce the matzo and eggs his grandmother used to make him every Saturday and Sunday morning. Huriash even talked to Ariel Sharon’s spokesperson Ra’anan Gissin about the Israeli prime minister’s eating habits: Sharon’s favorite food while working is sushi, she reported, but when visiting the United States, he always says to Gissin: “Ra’anan, get me a hot dog with relish.”

Huriash, 32, has been a staff writer at the Sun-Sentinel for more than a decade. A metro news reporter focusing on local government, she had little experience writing about food, but a few years ago she asked the paper’s food editor, Debbie Hartz, for a chance to write for her section. When Huriash mentioned that she could not test some of the recipes since she kept a kosher home, Hartz decided to create a kosher food column, using Huriash and her kosher kitchen as the testing ground. “Kosher Connection” launched in the spring of 2001.

“I consider myself pretty lucky,” Huriash said. “The kosher cooking thing was really a shocker, because I always wanted to be a metro news writer and this thing just worked into something regular and fun.”

Hartz, her editor, told the Forward: “There’s no question that there’s an audience for this column.” Hartz added that the presence of a significant Jewish community in South Florida gave the column instant readership: “We have a very large Jewish community, and we’re big on diversity. Lisa being kosher — she has a school of knowledge that I don’t.”

Ira Sheskin, director of the Jewish demography project of the Miller Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Miami, said that the Jewish community of South Florida is the third largest in the country, after New York and California. During the winter, or “high season,” the number of Jews living in South Florida swells to 581,000, he said, estimating that around 16% of Jewish households in South Florida keep kosher.

“If we dug further, we would find that some of the people who say they don’t keep kosher, they still keep kosher style,” Sheskin told the Forward. “So their life is still culturally affected by the kosher rules.”

Most of the recipes Huriash includes in “Kosher Connection” come from locals or from her “kosher cookbook of the month.” Huriash’s kosher culinary recommendations include mushroom-barley casserole, pineapple kugel and chocolate biscotti — which, Huriash points out in her column, is the same as mandelbrod.

“I bring a lot of the things into the office for people to sample, and they are always surprised that it tastes good and it’s kosher,” she said, adding: “You bring journalists food, and it goes pretty fast.”

Huriash covers everything from warnings about faulty kosher labeling of supermarket products to kosher pet food. A reporter by training, she has written about gritty topics such as kosher food at shelters for victims of domestic violence and kosher food for foster children. In an effort to educate her readers, Huriash wrote a column dispelling kosher myths. Among the tall tales that Huriash disproved were the notion that all kosher food is blessed by a rabbi, and the fallacy promulgated by the Ku Klux Klan that there is a kosher food tax, the proceeds of which benefit Jewish organizations.

Huriash’s columns have dealt with kosher lunches for school, kosher summer camp options, keeping kosher with diabetes, kosher hospital food, keeping kosher in the military, kosher chili competitions, keeping kosher while camping and how to keep kosher in the first place.

“The primary question I get is people who have just moved here asking for a kosher butcher near their house,” Huriash told the Forward. “People will also call asking for recommendations for kosher restaurants.” Thanks to her status as the Dear Abby of kosher cooking, Huriash has become something of a local celebrity herself, getting recognized at kosher restaurants and at the mall. “I was in a department store, and the perfume woman asked if I was the Kosher Girl,” Huriash recalled with a laugh. “I was floored.”

But the best part of writing her column, said Huriash, isn’t talking to Hollywood types or getting recognized on the street. “The benefit for me is, it’s forcing me to cook, which my mother thinks is funny,” she said. “We’re cooking together. I know that if I ever have kids, they won’t starve to death.”

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