If you make it through even the most basic levels of Hebrew school, you know that mixing meat with dairy products of any sort is simply a no-go for Jews. We’re not all perfect tzadikim, but even a great portion of secular Jews get squeamish when it comes to the idea of of topping a meat dish with cheese, bechamel, or any type of cream sauce (even if they’ll follow the meal with a cappuccino).
Jews are lovers of delicious tastes and textures far and wide, perhaps as a result of our travels through many lands, and that certainly doesn’t stop at meals that include meat or poultry— and for that, we’re left really with only one perennial favorite, the giant tub of Hellmann’s mayo that sits in every Jewish home’s fridge as if it’s some sort of unofficial condiment mezzuzah.
We all grew up on the stuff— it’s thick, creamy, shelf-stable (our moms all bought 3 or 4 tubs at a time, because hey, you never know when you might run out), and obviously kosher parve. Parve, for my kosher cuisine newbie friends, means any food substance that is both 100% meat and dairy free. The world of parve foods is a magical one, because parve is a sort of ‘get out of meat jail free’ card when we’re trying to make it 6 hours between food groups. All fruits and veggies are obviously parve, while a giant ice cream cone loaded with chocolate sprinkles is most certainly not (unless it’s soy ice cream or something, but that’s another story). The list of truly delicious foods that ‘count’ as parve is relatively short. Tons of imitation versions of milk chocolate exist, but they’re never the same as the real thing. Tons of ‘meat-flavored’ consommé options exists, but they too are poor versions of the real thing. Mayo is perhaps the only deliciously satisfying and authentic parve item that’s available just about everywhere and has the potential to breathe life into otherwise boring foods.
Let me give you an example.
You’re cooking Shabbat dinner for your in-laws and your friend from work. The chicken is in the oven, the potatoes are crisping, the challah is rising, and you’re cutting veggies for a fresh salad when you realize that you have no dessert prepared. Wouldn’t an apple pie, loaded with butter of course, be the most delicious thing to hit your table since the creation of tables? Yes, obviously it would be, but if the laws of kashrut mean anything to you, that’s not going to happen.
In walks your jar of Hellmann’s, presumably dressed in a little blue cape like any good condiment superhero would be, winking at you in an I-got-this-rich-fat-without-dairy kind of way. You replace the melted butter in your recipe with equal parts mayo, and boom, crispy, flaky pie crust that leaves your guests wondering how on Earth you pulled off pie magic. My friend, Julie Feldman of OrchestrationsInc.com, has sworn by using a heap of Hellmann’s in her apple crumble recipe for years, “People say it’s the best crisp they’ve ever had AND it’s parve!”
She swiped this recipe from the Hellmann’s site and never looked back. If you see Julie on the street pretend you don’t know that it’s not actually her recipe, OK?
The same replacements are had with side dishes like baked potatoes next to perfectly grilled steaks. Instead of loading the potato up with butter and sour cream, many top Jewish and kosher-friendly chefs will simply scoop out the baked potato’s innards, whip ‘em up with a little Hellmann’s, salt, and fresh chives or sliced red onion, and throw the mixture back into the skins for an out-of-this-world no dairy side dish. For those who are lactose intolerant, mayo is also basically modern day taste bud manna (leading us to believe the fridge mezzuzah concept, but we can focus on the spirituality of mayonnaise later).
I feel like a modern day Bubba Gump in all the ways I can name mayo playing a major supporting role at my totally kosher table, but I suspect you have ideas of your own, too. The Jewish cooks of Long Island have been professional level macaroni and potato salad makers since way back, the chefs of New Jersey have been making their own homemade creamy vinaigrettes with it, and my friends in California and the deep south have been coating the outside of their toast with it before popping their sandwiches in the panini press to make that perfect golden crunch. My own Sephardic family in Israel swears a homemade babaghanouj cannot be properly made without fire-roasted eggplant, fresh lemon juice and chopped parsley, several cloves of fresh garlic, and a nearly-shocking level of mayo in the bowl. Nothing more than a fork to mix it all together and a slice of challah to shovel it into one’s mouth is needed. Similar dinner table salads are whipped up with chopped roasted peppers instead of the eggplant, or just entire heads of roasted garlic smushed up and turned into a spreadable paste with the addition of a squeeze or two of Hellmann’s.
Another friend of mine, Sarit Chalamish, has perfected the art of tricking her family into thinking they’re having a creamy, dairy-laden egg bake. “Mayo just adds so much creamy texture, and if you mix it in before the dish cooks, the kids will think there’s cheese or something inside,” she explained to me before sharing her coveted broccoli egg bake dish that’s a healthy dose of both fibrous veggies and protein. Genius, because what kid doesn’t want to eat a dish that tastes like the solid form of cream of broccoli soup?
Mayo, much like the Jewish soul, has a very specific purpose— to live and coexist anywhere, but to always make the world around it a much better place.
Sarit’s Creamy Broccoli Egg Bake Recipe:
2 lbs cooked broccoli
0.5 cup Hellmann’s mayo
2 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk
3-4 tsp mushroom or onion soup mix
salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350F
Cook broccoli (either thaw the frozen variety in the microwave or cook the fresh stuff in boiling water).
Mix mayo, milk, eggs, soup mix and salt and pepper in a bowl.
Place broccoli in a 7×11 inch greased pan.
Pour batter over broccoli.
Bake for 20-30 min until golden and solid.
I recognize some vegans may disagree, but don’t worry, we’ll talk hummus in another article soon.