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A Vegetarian Cookbook for Shabbat

Why is Korean-style barley salad in “The Vegetarian Shabbat Cookbook”? This barley, mushroom and veggie salad is topped off with a soy sauce–sesame dressing. It received rave reviews at an independent minyan’s vegetarian potluck this past Sabbath, and the service leader asked for the recipe. Perhaps a good vegetarian Sabbath dish is one that wows people at a vegetarian Sabbath potluck, which is a rather all-inclusive approach to Sabbath cuisine.

Authors Roberta Kalechofsky and Roberta Schiff would add two more reasons. They note that the barley salad is good for “working cooks” because it can be prepared in advance and served chilled or at room temperature for lunch Saturday. Many of the book’s recipes are “designed around food that is interesting and delicious, which does not have to be cooked on Shabbat.”

The authors also have an ideological stance as to why tasty vegetarian foods should be served on the Sabbath. This cookbook very much advocates vegetarianism to families who celebrate the Sabbath. Of course, vegetarianism seems more palatable when a variety of dishes — beyond the realm of traditional Jewish food — are part of one’s recipe repertoire!

The authors passionately make their case for the Sabbath (“the most successful social revolution in human history”), vegetarianism and the joining of the two. While this advocacy may help educate some readers, others might be turned off by the cookbook’s preaching to the choir. The connection between plant-based food, nature and the Sabbath is an important point, which they argue eloquently. Given the context of glorifying the Sabbath, though, even sympathetic vegetarians might be put off when reading about a “dismembered from nature” factory-farmed chicken and how “it is a desecration to the Sabbath to place the meat and soup from this chicken on one’s lips.” None of this will surprise fans of Kalechofsky’s earlier works, such as “Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb, but for others, let the reader beware.

All courses and components of Sabbath meals are covered in “The Vegetarian Shabbat Cookbook,” and the suggested variation of many dishes means that there’s something for everyone. For example, the gingered cauliflower and carrot soup was fantastic, but the carrot-cauliflower soup in the same chapter is a simpler alternative that might appeal to time-strapped cooks.

Of the five different cholent recipes, I tried the mixed-bean cholent with tempeh. The tempeh did not add much on its own, as vegetarian cholent is iconic in its own right and does not require a subpar meat analog. Furthermore, a dish boasting three different types of beans is not calling out for an additional source of protein. Next time around, I would nix the tempeh. The authors themselves offer several variations of this recipe, involving tomato sauce, cauliflower or cranberries. And if readers do not feel that any of those varieties of cholent speak to them, they will just have to settle for the vegetarian stew cholent, the curry cholent, the eggplant ratatouille Cholent or the leek, eggplant and squash cholent.

Some recipes in the book breathe new life into familiar dishes. The spicy oven-roasted potatoes have inspired me to add Dijon mustard to my standard roasted potatoes more frequently. The baked oven tofu finger steaks recipe showed me how to turn extra-firm tofu, tamari, flour and seasoning into a tasty tofu entrée — one that I had long enjoyed but never made in my own kitchen. With both of these recipes, be sure to follow the cookbook’s instructions and actually marinate the core ingredients in the sauce in order for the dishes to turn out best.

The desserts are all vegan, so they have no cholesterol and tend to be low in fat. There is a good mix of healthy and sugary desserts. I enjoyed the harvest pumpkin pudding. A pumpkin pie without the pie, it’s perfect for the coming autumn.

The Vegetarian Shabbat Cookbook isn’t a must-have for vegetarian chefs (see Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s catalog or a comprehensive resource of vegetarian dishes from Jewish communities around the world (see Gil Marks’s Olive Trees and Honey). But for vegetarian-oriented cooks who are always looking for more Shabbat options, The Vegetarian Shabbat Cookbook is a welcome addition to the kitchen bookshelf.

Michael Croland was editor of heebnvegan, a Jewish-vegan blog, from 2005 to 2010.

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