Kosher foods are those that are considered fit for human consumption and prepared according to the laws of kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws. The laws of kashrut are extensive and complex, yet the basics of preparing kosher dishes are relatively simple. There are four main types of kosher dishes — meat, dairy, pareve and Passover kosher. Special holiday foods are prepared during Hanukkah, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Tu B’Shevat, Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. In addition to the type of food and preparation methods, the actual pans and utensils used for cooking and serving the foods also must be kosher.
Traditional Jewish households that keep their home and kitchen kosher have a minimum of three complete sets of kosher dishes, including separate eating utensils and dishes, and those used for cooking and serving. The three sets of kosher dishes include one set for meat dishes, one set for dairy dishes and another set used only during Passover. Some families keep a fourth set of kosher dishes and utensils for pareve dishes.
Regarding food dishes, kosher pareve refers to all foods and dishes that do not contain any meat or dairy products. Pareve foods include all fruits and vegetables; kosher types of eggs, such as chicken, duck and turkey eggs; grains and legumes; and kosher types of fish. These include fish with both fins and easily removed scales.
Pareve foods that are cooked using meat or dairy utensils and pans are considered meat or dairy, even if they are prepared without meat or dairy ingredients. Meat dishes include any meal prepared with kosher meat products, including poultry, beef, lamb or other kosher animals that chew cud, have cloven hooves and have been slaughtered according to the laws of kashrut. In kosher dishes, pareve foods can be prepared with either meat or dairy, but meat and dairy products cannot be combined. Dairy dishes include all dishes made with milk and milk products, such as cheese, yogurt and butter. Kosher for Passover dishes have additional guidelines pertaining to chametz, or foods forbidden during Passover, and these often include special Passover cakes, cookies, macaroons, farfels and kugels made with matzah and matzah meal.
Other special holiday dishes follow the same laws pertaining to meat, dairy and pareve, and they are generally eaten only during the specific holiday. Challah is a special braided bread loaf prepared each week just before Shabbat, the Sabbath. Special Hanukkah latkes, or potato pancakes, and sufganiyot, or doughnuts, fried in olive oil are eaten during the week of Hanukkah.
On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, dishes made with apples and honey are customary, as is a round Challah. Shavuot is a holiday in which many Jewish families refrain from eating meat, and rich dairy dishes — especially cheesecakes — are customary. Tu B’Shevat is the Jewish New Year for Trees, and kosher meals generally revolve around fruits and nuts during this holiday.