I almost always get the same reaction when I say that I became a vegetarian seven months ago. Everyone wants to know: Does this mean that I won’t cook for them anymore? Of course, I haven’t stopped cooking, in part thanks to The Vegetarian Shabbat Cookbook by Roberta Kalechofsky & Roberta Schiff (Micah Publications, Inc. $26).
Integrating the values of vegetarianism and Judaism, this new book is a thorough and helpful resource for both the beginner and the more experienced. As a relatively recent vegetarian, I appreciated the extensive background information on the merits and preparation of a variety of foods such as tempeh, seitan, beans and vegetables. Though this book is technically a vegan cookbook, each recipe gives a sense that it belongs in a wholesome meal at a warm Shabbat table. Simplicity of preparation and an appreciation of what ingredients work well together creates dishes that will impress and satisfy guests without killing the chef in the process, and good-tasting food is one of the best ways to explain to others why being a vegetarian does not mean sacrifice.
The book is organized by course and prefaced by chapters on the basics of food preparation and Shabbat observance. Every chapter begins with a short introduction to that course, its merits and possibilities as well as some information about common ingredients. There are no pictures of the dishes, though there are some nice Shabbat-themed illustrations on some pages. While all of the recipes I tried came out well, I particularly enjoyed the Chickpea and Pasta Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Bread Crumbs. The White Bean Stew With Caramelized Onions was also delicious and relatively simple to prepare.
I was surprised that Kalechofsky and Schiff weave into their pages a range of perspectives on Shabbat yet none on the issue of vegetarianism. It’s as though the book’s vegetarian recipes are an extension of the values of Judaism and therefore don’t require additional history and explication. As someone who originally became a vegetarian because of the environmental and ethical implications of the modern meat production industry, I believe that this concern for living more ethically is an extension of my Judaism. The more I learn about both the values of vegetarianism and of Judaism, the more I see them as harmonious. Both require a consciousness of choice, a purposefulness of action, and an effort to improve ourselves and the world around us.
Having grown up in a Jewish but non-observant home, I appreciated the chapter on Shabbat’s origins and customs as well as the lovely meditations on the joy of Shabbat interspersed throughout the book. Commentary on the Talmud and tidbits about how Shabbat is observed around the world, these snippets contribute to the sense that Shabbat is something special, that these meals will elevate your table, and that what really matters is the time you spend reflecting and resting with family and friends.
Mara Friedman is a senior at Johns Hopkins University majoring in Writing Seminars.