UAE: Your guide to kosher food

UAE: Your guide to kosher food

Always wondered what makes food kosher? Read on for all the rules, plus 3 recipes

Kosher food
Kosher food Image Credit: Shutterstock

Central to Jewish life are a set of dietary laws that govern the food Jewish people can eat, called kosher. To keep the kitchen kosher, there are various dietary laws of Judaism, called kashrut.

We asked Rabbi Levi Peilymskyi Faierman and Chef Reslan Mersel Ichtay from Armani/Kaf restaurant, the first kosher certified dining destination in the UAE, to tell us a bit about what makes food kosher.

Months after stronger UAE-Israel ties post a historic peace deal, kosher food is now much sought after in the UAE, but still retains its challenges. “So far, Kosher cuisine is limited in the UAE, due to the lack of availability of high-quality kosher-certified ingredients,” the Kaf team told Food by Gulf News. “For example, the barbeque sauce we use comes from Nebraska in the US, but sometimes they run out of stock. The supply chain still isn’t that great.” So much so that a phenomenal amount is spent on air freight at times for ingredients. Which means the preparation of kosher food is one expensive deal. “Everything involved in the process, right from kosher certification to hiring a rabbi and sourcing ingredients involves quite some cost.”

Rabbi Levi Peilymskyi Faierman and Chef Reslan Mersel Ichtay from Armani/Kaf restaurant
Rabbi Levi Peilymskyi Faierman and Chef Reslan Mersel Ichtay from Armani/Kaf restaurant Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

Despite these supply challenges and some very strict guidelines, kosher food remains popular with UAE residents. Here are guidelines on what keeps it kosher in the kitchen:

The supervisor

When the chef is cooking at a kosher establishment, a Jewish person must be present to ensure everything is in fact kosher. He is responsible for supervising all cooking and procedures. Examples include checking for small insects in fruits, vegetables and nuts. Or checking fresh eggs to ensure there are no blood spots.

The origin or source of ingredients is also important and there are different standard/practices that vary from rabbi to rabbi. This is because every sub community has its own rabbi and certain principles can be subjective.

The cuts of meat that make the cut

Only certain types of meat are allowed in the kosher dietary framework. The animal eaten must have split hooves. And it has to chew the cud – such as the cow, sheep, goat and deer. And the way of slaughtering the animal matters too – it should be killed humanely, and shouldn’t be scared or in pain. Blood is forbidden to be consumed - all traces of blood have to be removed from meat before it is eaten, a process usually done by salting.

Only certain types of meat are allowed in the kosher dietary framework. The animal eaten must have split hooves. And it has to chew the cud Image Credit: Shutterstock

The hind part of the animal isn’t eaten – so no to flank steak, yes to rib-eye. “Other beef cuts that are allowed include brisket, short ribs and minute steak. Chuck roll, too, and it is used mainly for burgers. Kosher does not allow the use of tenderloin cuts [a part beneath the ribs, next to the backbone],” says Chef Ichtay.

Neither is pork allowed, nor is camel meat.

The vegetables and fruits: checking for bugs

The majority of plant-based foods are allowed. Exceptions are broccoli and some types of asparagus, and raspberries due to them being prone to insect infestation. “With vegetables like broccoli, you cannot find out if insects are present due to their very tiny holes. Raspberry too. But strawberries are fine as they have bigger holes. This also depends on the season – in summer infestation is more prevalent, in winter not that much.

Lettuce and herbs are given a very thorough check. “In Israel, lettuce is grown in green houses so they can monitor and control for insects. Whereas when we buy lettuce locally, we have to clean it several times, put it through a UV light machine, and inspect them for bugs or insects,” says Chef Ichtay.

Lettuce and herbs are given a very thorough check for insects Image Credit: Shutterstock

What’s the dish on fish?

Fish is considered kosher if it has fins and scales – such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. No shellfish can be consumed.

Salmon is kosher.

Of milk, meat and mixing

Various food combinations are prohibited in kosher food.

dairy and meat
Dairy and meat aren't allowed to be mixed together according to kosher guidelines Image Credit: Shutterstock

Fish and meat cannot be consumed together – “someone next to you can eat meat and you can have fish, but they cannot be on one plate,” says Rabbi Levi.

Dairy can’t be mixed with meat. “Either it’s a restaurant that serves dairy or it’s a restaurant that serves meat. Plus the dairy has to be kosher. If I eat meat I can have dairy only after six hours. If it’s some light dairy, such as milk, you can consume meat after five minutes. But with a heavy dairy such as cheese, you have to wait 30 minutes.”

Fish, however, can be mixed with dairy.

This is less about health reasons, and more about eating for the soul and the mind, says Rabbi Levi. “If you’re eating something healthy but it’s not kosher, you’re going against religion and traditions, and you’re not cleaning your heart and soul.”

The table at Sabbath

Food also plays an integral role during Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest from sunset to sunset, Friday to Saturday every week. All traditional dishes and culinary rituals are based on the holy book Torah, says Rabbi Levi. The traditional meat and vegetable stew cholent is usually eaten for Sabbath during which a source of heat is forbidden – Jewish law prohibits lighting a fire and cooking (many Jews also refrain from using electronic devices after sunset). The dish is placed in the oven and left to cook overnight, so it fills the home with wonderful aromas in the morning.

Challah bread, quite often referred to as special occasion bread, is traditionally served for Friday dinner.

Challah bread
The braided challah bread is integral to Sabbath meals

Another dish associated with the Sabbath meal is gefilte fish. “During Sabbath you can’t even remove the bones from the fish, because we say you cannot separate the good from the bad. It’s considered a job to remove bones so that isn’t allowed during the day of rest, when you are forbidden from doing any work or using the phone or the TV. Before Sabbath the fish is deboned and a mince is made with the remaining fillet of fish, like a cutlet. This is done before Sabbath and it is eaten during Sabbath.”

The influences

Jewish cuisine derives influences from all over the world, say Chef Ichtay and Rabbi Levi. “We cook a salad (recipe below) that’s very similar to an Arabic salad made in Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon,” says Chef Ichtay. “In a kosher kitchen ingredients are omitted from what’s used usually – for instance, no cheese is added to salads. In risotto the butter and Parmesan are left out (recipe below). The cuisine imbibes influences from many cuisines, which are then adapted to fit into kosher rules. Jewish cuisine has taken a bit from almost every cuisine, from almost every land and culture. In Israel you can find Arabic, Asian and European cuisine with kosher preparation. Olive oil is often used instead of cream and butter.”

Want to try some kosher food? Here are the five dishes to try:

Gefilte fish – deboned and ground fish, typically served as a starter

Cholent – a traditional hot steaming stew with meat, potatoes, beans and barley prepared overnight

Tzimmes – a traditional sweet stew made of carrots and dried fruits such as raisins

Khatsilin – baked eggplant

Kugel –a baked casserole, mostly made from potato or noodles

Want to try making some kosher dishes at home instead? Here are three recipes by Chef de Cuisine Reslan Mersel Ichtay of Armani/Kaf:

Israeli Salad

Israeli salad
Israeli salad Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

Serves 2


1 medium sized cucumber

1 fresh tomato

1 medium sized white onion

3 lettuce leaves

Lemon juice, olive oil, salt and black pepper, to taste


1. Slice cucumber in length and dice it into small cubes

2. Chop tomato into small pieces

3. Chop white onion into small pieces

4. In a serving bowl add the chopped cucumber, tomato and onions.

5. Add 2 tbsp lemon juice

6. Add olive oil to taste

7. Add salt and black pepper to season, as per taste

8. Mix well.

9. Place cleaned lettuce leaves in the serving bowl and place the mixed salad over.

Note: Some people like chopped lettuce too, so you can add them chopped on the side of the salad.

Bolognese Arancini

Bolognese Arancini
Bolognese Arancini Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

Serves 4


Risotto rice:

1 tbsp olive oil

40gm margarine

1 white onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

330gm Acquerello rice, aged for 1 year

1litre vegetable stock

Salt and crushed pepper

Bolognaise sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil

100gm beef mince

1 small brown onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

50gm celery stick, chopped

50gm fresh leek, chopped

100gm tomato sauce

1 tbsp tomato paste

Salt and crushed pepper

Tomato relish:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

500gm vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 tbsp tomato paste

Salt, crushed pepper and sugar

To fry:

Breadcrumbs, flour and 2 eggs for dipping



Coriander Leaves


1. To make risotto: heat oil and half of the margarine in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic until soft, then add the rice and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the stock, 1 ladleful at a time and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Continue, 1 ladleful at a time, for 20 minutes until rice is tender yet firm. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining margarine, season and spread the risotto onto a tray to chill completely.

2. To make bolognaise sauce: Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add beef mince, and stir for 3 minutes or until browned. Add the vegetables, stir for 5 minutes or until soft. Add tomato sauce and tomato paste, stir for 2 minutes or until thick and well cooked. Spread the bolognaise onto a tray to chill completely.

3. To make tomato relish: heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic. Stir for 3 minutes or until browned. Add the chopped tomato. Stir for 5 minutes or until soft. Add tomato paste, stir for 2 minutes or until thick and well cooked.

4. To make the arancini: Place the breadcrumbs on a tray. Place the flour on a plate. Crack the eggs into a bowl. Wet your hands and shape the risotto into a ball. Press your thumb into the centre of the ball to make an indent. Place a teaspoon of bolognaise sauce in the indent, then mould risotto around the sauce to enclose. Roll in flour and shake off excess. Dip in egg, then in breadcrumbs, pressing to coat. Place on a baking tray in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill.

5. Deep fry at 170C.

6. Spread the tomato relish on 4 plates, place arancini balls over, pipe some mayonnaise on top and sprinkle with coriander leaves.

Beef Minute Steak

Beef Minute Steak
Beef Minute Steak Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

Serves 4


4 minute steaks

Crushed potato:

2 whole potatoes

1 tbsp olive oil

50gm margarine

Salt and crushed pepper

A few black olives, chopped

Brown beef sauce:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 brown onion, cut into cubes

10 garlic cloves, crushed

1 celery stick

1 fresh leek

2 carrots

1 tbsp tomato paste

1l vegetable stock

50gm fresh thyme

Salt and crushed pepper


Baby carrot

French beans


1. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Sear the beef in oil for about 60 seconds per side.

2. Sauté all the vegetables until soft, then add the tomato paste and stir for 5-6 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and stir until it reaches a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

3. Place the meat in a tray and cover it with the stock. Place thyme sprig on top of the meat and put the lid on. Cook on low temperature for 3 to 4 hours in a slow cook oven or stove top until meat is tender. Remove the meat and set aside. Strain the stock and reduce it to saucy consistency.

4. To make the crushed potato, peel the potatoes and cut to cubes, then boil with some salt for 20 minutes. Take the potato out from the water, add olive oil, margarine, salt and pepper, then add the chopped black olives.

5. Serve the beef minute steak with the baby carrot and French beans, and slowly add the brown beef sauce on top.

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