The Sisterhood at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Maryland, has run the synagogue’s food preparation since it was founded in 1951. Through this organic testing, many successful recipes were collected, and by popular demand, the Sisterhood produced its first cookbook in the 1960s. Mothers passed well-loved copies of the book to their children so much that a second cookbook, Dor Va’Dor, was published in 2003. Meaning “from generation to generation,” the cookbook contains members’ favorite family recipes. However, as much as we love our grandmothers’ recipes, our tastes and diets have shifted. So Beth El’s Sisterhood has made a third cookbook, Eat in Good Health, with an emphasis on what members eat today.
What makes this cookbook different from all other Temple cookbooks? The title embodies the emphasis on modernized kosher recipes. It has markers for vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan recipes to accommodate these popular diets.
The magic of the book is that it blends the past and present with fresh twists on old favorites: Gluten-Free Challah, Cabbage Soup (Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage), Poached Salmon with Salsa Verde and a delightfully creamy Chocolate Mousse made with only two ingredients: chocolate and silken tofu.
In the last few decades, we’ve become increasingly aware of the delicious treats that come from the Spanish Diaspora. These recipes are part of the Mediterranean diet, which has repeatedly been found to be among the healthiest. The cookbook is generously sprinkled with Sephardic recipes, including Carrot Salad with Mint; Empanadas; Eggplant and Meat; Fijones (Great Northern Beans with Chuck); Persian Chicken with Mint, Parsley, Chives and Dried Fruit; and six variations of lentil soup.
Beth El’s Sisterhood is using this cookbook not only as a fundraiser, but also as a way to engage people and build relationships. The Sisterhood wanted everyone—men, women, teens, clergy and staff—to contribute, which has solidified membership by getting people involved.
Recipes include the name of the contributor and his/her personal anecdotes about why the recipe is special. People are encouraged to “cook it forward” and email the contributor when they’ve tried a recipe. The recipes and anecdotes are a great icebreaker when meeting someone new.
Every Sisterhood event and many Shabbat Kiddush gatherings this year featured refreshments made from recipes in the cookbook. During Sunday-morning religious school, recipe demos took place alongside programming. In the fall, the clergy offered samples of some of their personal favorites. Chanukah and Israeli foods were presented during an Israeli Affairs event in December. Cookbook recipes were featured at the Sisterhood membership dinner, a Sukkot event, a Social Action tea, a Sisterhood spring brunch, a Havdalah social and the Women’s seder. Each event gathers congregants together to find new connections while trying new recipes.
In the 67 years of breaking bread and schmoozing, Beth El’s Sisterhood has preserved and inspired fellow home cooks with Jewish cooking from our Ashkenazi and Sephardic history, shifting with new tastes, new food preferences and diets and a wider variety of products available in grocery stores. Just as your great-grandmother may have said to your grandparents to “Ess gezunterheit,” she would want you to eat in good health, too.
Eat in Good Health can be purchased online here and either be shipped or picked up at the synagogue. Stay tuned—an e-cookbook is in the works.