Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Footloose and Dairy-Free

A good friend of mine is trying to eliminate, among other things, all sources of dairy from her diet. She was soliciting advice for substitutes and alternatives to dairy products, as well as non-dairy versions of her usual recipes. One thing she specifically requested was a recipe using ground beef that was non-dairy, because they were moving in a few days and needed to use up the ground beef in their freezer.

This was surprising to me, because in my own personal context, I would never cook ground beef with dairy to begin with, and I couldn't fathom a world in which you wouldn't know how to make a dish without dairy. It occurred to me then to suggest to her that she invest in a kosher cookbook, because any meat recipe in there would be guaranteed dairy-free. I also told her to look for kosher symbols that indicated that a food was pareve, because, again, guaranteed dairy-free, without having to decipher a long list of ingredients for dairy “code words.”

My father, too, has been dairy-free for quite a while now, and he has found the kosher symbols particularly useful. My father doesn’t keep kosher, and my friend is Christian and thus doesn’t need to keep kosher, and yet, one aspect of kashrut became useful to them for health reasons.

I suppose the thing that struck me most was not knowing how to cook without dairy. I understand that most people very much enjoy dishes that involve both meat and milk products all mixed together, like cheeseburgers, burritos and enchiladas and quesadillas, Egg McMuffins, and so forth. It’s one thing to be used to eating such foods, but quite another not to know how not to eat them. I suppose, the fact that I’m used to mentally rewriting recipes to be kosher (see my bacon post a few weeks ago) makes it easy for me to see a world without dairy. But for someone who has always been able to eat whatever is put in front of her, without having to ask after the ingredients, it must be a big, scary new world.

This dairy-free issue came up with another friend and reader (*wave*) as we were discussing cake recipes. There are degrees of strictness when it comes to keeping kosher, and she is quite a few degrees above my own level of observance. For people at her level, it is almost mandatory to make desserts pareve. One reason is that many strict kosher-keepers will only use dairy products that are chalov yisroel, meaning that a Jew has watched from start to finish to ensure that only kosher milk went into that product. It can be hard to find chalov yisroel products, depending on where you live, and so it’s easier just to avoid the dairy altogether. Another reason is that since typically at least one meal per day will be meat, it is useful to have a dessert that can be served afterward (i.e., not a dairy dessert). (Feel free to let me know if I’m off the mark with what I just said here…)

Anyway, she knows all kinds of dairy substitutes. I made a red velvet cake for myself for my birthday, which involves butter, cream cheese, and buttermilk (among other decadent ingredients). I have no idea how the cake would taste if you substituted margarine, Tofutti, and rice milk and vinegar, respectively, for those ingredients, but I suspect not quite the same. Last week, I made a Paula Deen Mississippi Mud Cake, which was also heavy on the dairy. My friend told me all the substitutions she’d make, and we were discussing whether it would taste as good. I think it would work out.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that Duncan Hines cake mixes are largely non-dairy and kosher pareve, so if you’re into the cake-mix scene and have to go dairy-free, you’re good to go.

I’m not saying it’s easy to be dairy-free. We’re a cheese-loving country (and, heck, I’m a cheese-loving person!), heavy on the dairy products in general, and dairy sneaks into places you’d never think to look for it, like breadcrumbs. You never know when a restaurant might be using a dairy product where you wouldn't expect to see one. Sometimes, even items marked as “non-dairy,” like non-dairy coffee creamers, are not actually 100% non-dairy. But with a little savvy, you can find that dairy is not as necessary as it seems. And if you need to know some good dairy substitutes or non-dairy brands, I know someone you can ask!

Judaism has given a lot to this world, and it’s always exciting to see new ways in which Jewish observance impacts non-Jews in a positive way.


Anonymous said...

Interesting issues here! Apart from the kosher angle of not mixing meat and milk, I'm curious as to why someone would want to avoid dairy (I mean, unless they're actually lactose-intolerant).

Maybe it's being from Wisconsin, but I LOVE cheese, yogurt and milk, and buy them in low or nonfat versions. Calcium, baby!

Cookies WITHOUT milk--tragic!!! 8^)

Jessica said...

There are many people who are lactose intolerant or intolerant to other milk proteins, such as casein. I hope she doesn't mind my using her as an example, but in my friend's case, she is nursing a young baby, and the baby is showing a strong reaction to something in her milk, so she is eliminating certain foods from her diet to see if the baby's health improves.