Just in time for Passover, Tachyon Publications presents The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals. This slim and silly volume is the ideal gift for anyone who has tried to make a saving throw vs. petrification using a dreidel.
A few years ago the writer/editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer were hiking in the woods. It was getting close to Passover and, what with all the Wandering in the Wilderness, the conversation turned to that most Hebraic of topics: "So, what are we going to eat already?" Being the hardened vets of speculative fiction they are, The VanderMeers began wondering about the kashrut, or Kosherness, of various animals from fantasy and legend. This calm and totally rational discussion followed them home and naturally ended up on the Internet. First on Jeff's own Estatic Days, it soon spread like pickled herring to other blogs, even that famous one –what's it called, Sproingy, Bong bong? You know, the one that the guy who wrote Ragtime started. Now in dead tree form, The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals has joined the likes of bestiaries by Pliny the Elder, St Ambrose, Jorge Luis Borges, and Gary Gygax*.
Although the VanderMeers' by no means comprehensive guide may not conform with the classical literature it really is darn funny. There are thirty-four creatures described here; the expected dragon and unicorn are joined by more obscure beings from the folklores of Japan, South America, and other lands. There are even representatives from current urban legend and a certain flaccid freak from outer space with a phosphorescent finger (that Spielberg, such a nice Jewish boy). After each brief and well researched description (when they didn't just make stuff up), there follows a dialogue between Ann and Jeff's, Evil Monkey. They banter back and forth, an exasperated Ann explaining Kosher Laws while the sinister simian needles her. An example:
Ann: "...you cannot eat anything that crawls on its belly."
Evil Monkey: "Does that mean an injured kosher animal that is crawling along isn't kosher anymore?"
Ann: "Yes, because you can't eat an animal that's been injured or is sick."
Evil Monkey: "It's a wonder you haven't all starved to death."
There is something quite romantic about this. No matter how weird you are, there is someone out there that will put up with your shit and the two of you will be doomed to spend the rest of your lives together.
Evil Monkey has a point though. Only seven animals in the Guide are established as kosher and out of those, three of them have only a single member each. They are Behemoth, Leviathan, and Ziz; the supreme beasts of Land, Sea, and Air created by the Almighty as examples of things that are mind bogglingly huge. Jewish legend tells that there will be a epic smackdown between these ultimate kaijew. After destroying one another, their flesh will be served to the righteous at a killer BBQ in The World to Come. I suppose all us non-righteous will be sitting at the kid's table crying into our plates of Linguini Carbonara and Oysters Rockefeller.
The Guide concludes with an interview between Ann and Food Network star Duff Goldman. The host of Ace of Cakes discusses the kashrut possibilities of Wookies and Tribbles. He also explains that anything served at a Chinese restaurant is automatically kosher. Especially at Christmas. In a final dazzling act of gastronomical hubris, Goldman offers the proper culinary preparation of the Loathy Lord Cthulhu. While this omnipotent mollusc may be treyf as all get out, he suggests a sweet white wine would balance out the Unspeakable Evil. A nice Galatian Albarino, perhaps.
While there are no recipes in The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, publisher Jacob Weisman told me he'd love to do an actual cookbook if this Guide proves popular. I so need to see this happen. Until then, as a special treat I'll share with you a recipe from Ann VanderMeer's secret files. It is of an animal that while certainly not kosher, it is (sorry, pseudoscientists) very imaginary.
Grilled Mongolian Death Worm Maki
4-5 lbs. of Mongolian Death Worm meat
2 cups Sushi Rice
2-3 Nori sheets (seaweed wraps)
I Cucumber, sliced into long thin strips
Fresh Mango, diced
First, you will need to de-electrify the creature. The best way to do this is to zap it with a taser (and ignore it if it says, "Don't tase me, bro." It is NOT your bro). If you don't have a taser (and why don't you? It's a dangerous world out there, bubele), you can use static electricity. Simply put on a pair of pantyhose and walk across a carpet, making sure your legs are as close together as possible. Once you've built up enough, touch the thing and hope fully you will see sparks. (Note: this second method is very dangerous. We recommend instead that you just go out and buy a taser.)
Soak it in salt water overnight (this will kill any of the acid residue, we trust). Grill the Mongolian Death Worm in soy sauce until it is nice and tender – there is no way you want to eat this stuff raw. You will notice that the meat shrinks up, which is why you must start out with a large amount in order to have enough once it is cooked. Then cut into small pieces. Place the nori sheet on the bamboo sushi-mat. Spread the rice on top of the nori, not too thick, leaving about an inch on the top and bottom of the nori without any rice. Place a strip of cucumber across the rice, then place the mango and Mongolian Death Worm meat across as well. Make sure the left and right sides are even, Slowly roll up the nori from the bottom, You will have a nice firm sushi roll. Cut into pieces. Serve with sake (preferably chilled), and the daikon and wasabi on the side.