A plant-based, healthy Shavuot
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FoodCelebrating Shavuot vegan style

A plant-based, healthy Shavuot

Dairy-free celebration

Photo by Martin Keiler/istockphoto.com
Photo by Martin Keiler/istockphoto.com

On Shavuot — and throughout the rest of the year — I eat neither dairy nor any other animal foods. As a Type 1 diabetic, my goal is to arrest the progression of this chronic degenerative disease.

In 1981, after having read a book by the Nathan Pritikin, a layman and pioneer in lifestyle medicine, I spent a few weeks at the Pritikin Center in Los Angeles. Pritikin’s story and his program inspired me. After suffering a heart attack and having all his blocked coronary arteries replaced in his mid -60s , he soon started to relapse. Pritikin was determined to improve the quality of his life, read the medical and nutritional literature and discovered the connection between food and health.

While at the Pritikin Center, I developed a dietary plan to keep myself healthy while I watched others reverse their heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, arthritis and other disabling and lethal conditions.

So, if your ideal diet is plant-based whole foods, what do you do about the tradition of eating dairy and meat meals on Shavuot?

Above all else, Judaism affirms and values life. In the beginning of the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish Law, one is urged to be healthy in order to learn Torah, serve G-d and fulfill the mitzvot. In fact, one of the 613 mitzvot, as written in Deuteronomy 4:9, is: “But beware and watch yourself [lit. your soul] very well.” While this verse has been interpreted as relating to the giving of the Torah on Shavuot — be careful not to forget the day of the giving of the Torah —the rabbis also interpret it to mean that a person is responsible for safeguarding their own health and well-being.

More than a thousand years ago, the great sage (and physician) Maimonides commented: “Since
maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of G-d — for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator if he is ill — therefore he must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is helpful and helps the body become stronger.”

The Creator set up the world so that humans are required to eat, and we have the choice to eat in a way that can maintain our health. Over the last 100 years, evidence from scientific studies has shown that eating exclusively plant-based whole foods can help prevent, arrest or reverse chronic degenerative disease. Science partially reveals the order of the universe that the Creator made so perfectly.

Well, if I have to eat this way, it has to be delicious. So over the last 40 years I have learned to cook, and with my wife’s help, founded VegOut Cuisine, a Pittsburgh-based kosher personal chef and catering business, in 2011.

For Shavuot this year, VegOut prepared several dishes that are a respectful nod to the dairy tradition and the excitement of special holiday foods. I do caution you that some ersatz dairy dishes can be as harmful as what one is trying to avoid, such as those utilizing refined oils, protein extracts, coconut (the only plant-based source of cholesterol) and avocados (high in saturated fat). Most use either soy or nuts, both of which are relatively high in natural “good” fat but are best used in moderation to avoid the “fat vegan” syndrome. But don’t worry: the Creator has given us a cornucopia of jewels to consume if we look for them.

Chag sameach (have a happy holiday), kabolat hatorah besimchah ubepnimiyut (receive the Torah with joy and sincerity).

Roasted pepper and tomato vegan quiche with sweet potato crust
Adapted from a recipe from immigrantstable.com
Servings: 8 | Prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients:
Crust:
2 medium sweet potatoes, 3 cups grated
2 tablespoons tahini sesame butter
1/4 teaspoon sea salt and pepper

Filling:
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 bell peppers — red, yellow or orange
10 to 12 oz. block drained firm tofu (see note)
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
3 tablespoons hummus
3 large garlic cloves minced
1 teaspoon cumin
3/4-1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
black pepper to taste
red pepper flakes optional

Instructions

Grate sweet potatoes (by hand or w food processor), mix with 1/4 teaspoon salt and squeeze until dry.
In a large bowl, mix sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons tahini, salt and pepper. Use a non-stick pie dish or place baking parchment paper inside a pie plate, and arrange sweet potatoes in the shape of a pie crust. Roast on high heat (450 F) in the oven until the sweet potatoes begin to scorch in places, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.

While crust is baking, place parchment paper on a baking sheet or use a non-stick baking sheet for this step. Arrange tomatoes and whole bell peppers in a mixing bowl, drizzle or mist a small amount of water and a healthy pinch each of salt and pepper and toss to coat. Place on the baking sheet in the 450 degree oven with the crust. The tomatoes with be done just when they start to shrivel and turn brown slightly. Remove tomatoes and continue baking peppers, turning peppers over to ensure all sides darken evenly. Place peppers into a resealable plastic bag, seal and allow to sweat for about 10-15 minutes. Peel peppers and cut them into strips. (These two stages can be done in advance).

To prepare quiche filling, add drained tofu (see note) to a food processor with nutritional yeast, hummus, garlic cloves, cumin, sea salt and pepper and optional red pepper flakes. Process until smooth.

Add roasted peppers and tomatoes to a mixing bowl and top with the tofu mixture. Toss to coat. Fill quiche crust with mixture, spreading it into an even layer and smoothing the top.

5. Bake quiche at 375 degrees for a total of 30-40 minutes, until top appears golden brown and firm. If the crust browns too quickly, loosely cover the edges with foil. You can check the crust after 15 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn.

6. Let cool briefly before serving. To reheat, place in a 350F degree oven for 5-10 minutes, taking care not to burn the edges.

Note: To drain tofu, place the tofu block on a cutting board with an object underneath to make the water drain off into a sink or within a larger holding pan. Place a tray or flat plate on top of the tofu and put a heavy object on top of the tray or plate. Let this sit for 30-60 minutes. Since I discovered Trader Joe’s firm tofu, I have had no need to squeeze out the tofu: just open up and put it into the food processor. pjc

Moshe Barber is a chef and co-owner of VegOut Cuisine, a kosher personal chef & catering company.

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