Plant Powered Shabbat: Samantha Gross and Elizabeth Biener
Plant Powered Shabbat is a OneTable series that celebrates the Jewish values of nourishing ourselves and the world around us through plant-based cooking and eating. Hear from OneTable hosts and guests how they’re bringing these values to the Shabbat table!
Miami Field Manager, Naomi Davis (they/them) sat down with two passionate plant-based hosts, Samantha Gross (she/her) in Boston and Elizabeth Biener (she/her) in DC. With different reasons for creating vegan Shabbat dinners and their own unique callings to this topic, we wanted to share their voices with you in the hopes that you too feel empowered to bring your interests and beliefs to creating ritual and community that resonates with you!
Tell us a bit about you!
Samantha: I’m a journalist who recently moved to Boston from Miami. I’m excited to meet new friends and explore my neighborhood — otherwise, you’ll find me at home with my cat, Frankie!
Elizabeth: I’m a grant writer in the DC region who loves exploring the city (having lived here a while, I’m getting into the super-niche museums/areas now) and learning languages (Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese).
What inspired you to go vegan?
Samantha: After having been vegetarian for a few years, I decided to make the leap in 2019 with the goal of reducing my carbon footprint and my harm to the animals harmed by the dairy industry.
Elizabeth: I’m not actually vegan, but I enjoy eating plant-based dishes! I have a few family members who are vegan or vegetarian, and I’ve gotten really into cooking from plant-based cookbooks. I think everyone should have a few favorite vegan recipes and patronize vegan restaurants, whether or not they are vegan themselves – it’s its own cuisine worthy of exploration and elevation.
How is veganism connected to your Judaism?
Samantha: I think the Jewish teachings of tikkun olam (repairing the world) resonate with my veganism. I’m always striving to not only bear responsibility for my own welfare but also the welfare of society at large, including animals.
Elizabeth: When I host OneTable Shabbats, I think having an intentional and Jewish experience around plant-based food expands the mental definition of a Shabbat meal, which traditionally often centers around meat or fish. As someone who keeps kosher-style, vegan cooking also facilitates my meal planning and increases my connection to this aspect of Judaism.
What does Shabbat mean to you?
Samantha: Shabbat to me is a time to set aside for unplugging from the stress of a work week and be intentional about how I spend my time, whether it’s to connect with others or to reflect. Shabbat comes with culinary traditions that carry meaning, and being vegan has also given meaning to what I’m putting in my body. I like to make vegan challah and while I don’t have a go-to recipe, I like any water challah recipe that calls for brushing the dough with aquafaba, or chickpea water. It gives the challah a shinier exterior usually achieved with egg white!
Elizabeth: At each moment in my life, Shabbat has held different meanings for me. When I grew up it was all about family time, in college it was centered around the services, and when venturing out on my own it became creative and ever-changing week to week. In DC in particular, it’s been a way to meet people and get connected with my Jewish identity. When I host a Shabbat with OneTable, it’s usually focused more on the food and enjoying the process of creating something to share with my friends.
Recommendations from Elizabeth:
- I Can Cook Vegan by Isa Chandra Moskowitz is a great stepping stone for those who haven’t cooked vegan before, but its simplicity should not understate its phenomenal recipes. It has an ample pasta section and several great bowl ideals (such as the sushi bowl with five-spice tempeh and a carrot-ginger dressing). Some other restaurant-quality dishes include the tofu banh mi and the lemon yuba rice (the extra-firm tofu substitute is perfect if you can’t find yuba near you!)
- Veganomicon is a well-known vegan cookbook “bible,” and has just about everything! Some Shabbat-suitable recipes include a delicious pumpkin-baked ziti with cashew ricotta and vegan takes on some Ashkenazi classics like latkes, kugel, and cholent!
- Food52 Vegan is a 60-recipe cookbook that has a well-balanced exploration of American vegan cuisine. Its hearty mains include a carrot-fennel pot pie (with a particularly delicious pastry crust!) and a butternut-squash mac and cheese. To top a salad or as a dip, the herbed cashew cheese accompanying the lentil-arugula salad is a delight!
- Love and Lemons cookbook series, while not wholly vegan, is great for non-vegans who want to incorporate more plant-based thinking into their diet. The recipe for a Caprese Eggs Benedict (in the Love and Lemons Everyday cookbook) has the expected poached eggs, but uses a cashew-based vegan sauce for the hollandaise and suggests baked smoked tofu as an egg replacement. Likewise, some of the baked goods include eggs, but use vegan instead of dairy milk. In addition to the addictive hollandaise sauce, the potato, leek, and artichoke chowder, and the date-based brownie recipe in the Everyday cookbook are my favorite vegan recipes from the book so far!