A New Kind of Synagogue Cookbook
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A New Kind of Synagogue Cookbook

During the pandemic, Congregation Beth Jacob’s Sisterhood joined together remotely to create a health-conscious kosher cookbook.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

New cookbook “L’chaim” contains more than 200 recipes by Beth Jacob home cooks
New cookbook “L’chaim” contains more than 200 recipes by Beth Jacob home cooks

Many Congregation Beth Jacob home cooks are known for distinctive weekday and Shabbat recipes. Home cooks are also interested in nutrition and expanded kosher food options. It turned out that the COVID pandemic, which resulted in homebound cooks preparing non-stop meals, led the Beth Jacob Sisterhood to create a new kosher cookbook, “L’chaim.”

Sarah Faygie Berkowitz, Beth Jacob communications and marketing manager, stepped up as editor. She remembers, “Congregant Chantza Lawrence had the idea of a health-conscious cookbook, and when Sisterhood co-president Tziporah Wayne and I discussed pandemic programming, she loved the idea. We thought that, during the COVID summer of 2020, women would appreciate working together on a project from the comfort of their homes, to create something useful and lasting. We put together a committee with backgrounds in food, nutrition and serving large families, and started divvying up tasks.”

Sarah Faygie Berkowitz edited and designed the cookbook.

The cookbook committee consisted of Berkowitz, Wayne, Tanya Robbins, Mindy Caplan, Robin Saul and Temima Oratz. The women were of different ages, family backgrounds, interests and stages in life, a diversity that produced a broadly representative group of recipes. Berkowitz managed the project, employing her years of cooking demonstrations and media and writing production “with countless hours of labor, and also a lot of fun.”

Recipes were solicited via an email campaign, reaching current and former Beth Jacob members in Atlanta, other states, and Israel. Most recipes are original, and recipes adapted from previously published recipes are credited. The committee limited the number of submissions per family and was overwhelmed and delighted by contributions from women and men of all ages. The result was over 200 recipes, categorized into salads, soups, fish, meat and chicken, vegetables, dairy, desserts, grains and legumes.

Twins Maia and Yaffa Hurwitz were the youngest members of the cookbook team.

“Teen twins Maia and Yaffa Hurwitz were our youngest contributors, and they assisted with the cookbook in many ways,” Berkowitz notes. “We received some really delicious-looking recipes that didn’t fit this cookbook’s health-conscious guidelines. We developed a vetting process and are saving those for our next gastronomic production.”

The first run of 200 copies is almost sold out. Wayne said the financial goal was to break even, with copies costing $25 each. The project netted a few thousand dollars for the synagogue, she said. Beth Jacob members were invited to sponsor a cookbook section in honor or memory of a loved one, turning the cookbook into a family keepsake. Several Beth Jacob members who live in Israel sponsored sections, and cookbooks were sent to them.

Cookbook tasks included design, layout and copy; editing, recipe input, obtaining food photos; proofreading, taste testing, and producing a catchy and attractive cover. When the project was nearing completion, the fully masked committee met for a “tasting” (not easy during COVID), and Russy Tendler took pictures, which are featured on the cookbook’s cover and inside pages. Spiral binding was selected because it lays flat. Berkowitz jokes, “You don’t need to put a big can on a page to hold it down! Cooks like that.”

The most popular recipes are the salads, the two- to four-ingredient section, and the healthy substitutions. The committee launched a semi-private L’chaim Facebook group for feedback, comments and photos of recipes they made. An advantage of a home-grown cookbook is that people with questions about a recipe are comfortable reaching out to a contributor, and those who do not know the author can post a question on the Facebook group.

Here’s a sample of the recipes:

Gluten-free brownies are a cookbook favorite.

Gluten-free Black Bean Brownies
Sarah Faygie Berkowitz

15-ounce can black beans
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
3 eggs

Streusel topping:
1 cup gluten-free baking mix
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Earth Balance or coconut oil

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease an 8-by-8 square pan. If doubling recipe, use a rectangular brownie pan.

Rinse and drain beans. Pour into food processor.

Add coffee, vanilla, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and oil. Process until beans are completely ground and ingredients are blended.

Add eggs to processor bowl and beat well.

Pour into baking pan.

With the back of a fork or your fingers, mix until combined and coarse crumbs are formed.

Sprinkle over brownies.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until brownies are fully set. Doubled recipe in rectangular brownie pan will need 45 to 50 minutes

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