Tweaking Traditional Jewish Recipes for Today’s Healthy Eater

Written by Jackie Feldman on . Posted in Food/Dining

Paula Shoyer, local celebrity chef and baker, recently released a new cookbook, her fourth, titled “The Healthy Jewish Cookbook.” Currently a resident of Chevy Chase, Maryland, and a lawyer by training, Shoyer was living in Switzerland when she decided to go to pastry school in Paris “just for fun” and ended up with a catering business in Geneva. Her first cookbook, “The Kosher Baker,” was released in 2010, and “The Holiday Kosher Baker” was released in 2013. When her publisher requested a Passover cookbook, “The New Passover Menu” was born, and Shoyer shifted into writing savory cookbooks.

Her latest book, “The Healthy Jewish Kitchen,” reflects Shoyer’s philosophy that we should eat healthfully “so we have room for dessert.” This cookbook puts a new spin on traditional Jewish recipes to make them simultaneously healthier, easier, and tastier: coleslaw with mango puree instead of mayonnaise; stuffed cabbage filled with brown rice and turkey; and babka, strudel, and rugelach recipes with whole grain flours. International dishes and trends made kosher, such as Korean bibibop and French bouillabaisse, are also included.

Shoyer does cooking demonstrations all over the country, and you can check out her website (www.thekosherbaker.com) and find her on Instagram (@kosherbaker). Shoyer recently shared some thoughts on Jewish cooking, the creative process, and the latest food trends with Kol HaBirah.

What prompted you to write this book?

As a pastry chef who truly loves desserts, I have had to develop strategies over the years to make our family meals healthier to balance out the sweets. For the past few years, both my food and my desserts have been moving in this direction. “The Healthy Jewish Kitchen” reflects how I eat now.

I also wrote the book right after my mother z”l [of blessed memory] passed away, so it was a creative and healing experience for me both physically and spiritually.

How does Judaism inspire your cooking style?

I feel very strongly that traditional Jewish food connects us with our ancestors, and rather than abandon our favorites as we learn that they are bad for our health, I try to find ways to lighten them up. So much of my recipe development is centered around Jewish holidays, when people want new recipes or easier and more modern approaches to holiday favorites. Also, baking is so integral to who we are as a people — we bake for others, not ourselves, and we bake for all the lifecycle events, to celebrate and often to comfort.

What are some interesting trends you’re seeing now in the food world that you love, and what are some that you hate?

My favorite trends in the wider food world are poke (Hawaiian raw fish bowls); sourdough breads; Peruvian food; overall emphasis on vegetables, which we already appreciate from the Israeli approach to meals; and fun cocktails everywhere.

In the kosher world, ethnic cuisines — Korean, for example — are making their way into the kosher world faster than ever before.  I am also loving all the kosher burger and barbeque restaurants in New York — the food is great, and I am thrilled to see more casual kosher places that are not as pricey as the classic, fancier places.

A trend I hate: Putting so much food coloring into traditional Jewish baked goods and posting on Instagram for all the world to admire, and then actual people making and eating these recipes that are so bad for you. I really believe that, ultimately, the most important aspect of food is eating it, rather than how beautiful it can look on camera.

By Jackie Feldman

 Jackie Feldman is a young professional living and working in Washington, D.C. She runs the group “Sephardic Jews in DC,” which hosts events in the metro DC area that celebrate Sephardic culture, religious tradition, and customs. She also has her own food blog that features a healthier spin on many traditional Jewish and Sephardic recipes: https://healthysephardiccooking.wordpress.com/.