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Many traditional recipes can be intimidating for those of us who don’t have experience rendering fat or making soup stock from scratch. Joan Nathan’s latest cookbook explores Jewish cooking in France, where she discovered the very old roots of some familiar dishes. She joins us with tips and shortcuts for bringing traditional recipes to the modern table.
- Joan Nathan Cookbook author, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France
Joan Nathan’s Recipes
Quick Goat Cheese Bread with Mint and Apricots
1/3 cup olive oil, plus some for greasing
3 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 oz grated Gruyére, aged cheddar, or Comté cheese
4 oz fresh goat cheese
1 cup chopped dried apricots
2 tablespoons roughly minced mint leaves or 2 teaspoons dried mint
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with some oil.
Crack the eggs into a large bowl, and beat well. Add the milk and oil, whisking until smooth.
Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper in another bowl, and add to the wet mixture, stirring until everything is incorporated and the dough is smooth.
Spread the better in the prepared baking pan, sprinkle on the grated Gruyére, Cheddar, or Comte cheese, crumble the goat cheese on top, and then scatter on the apricots and the mint. Pull a knife gently through the batter to blend the ingredients slightly. Bake for 40 minutes. Cool briefly, remove from pan, peel off the foil or parchment paper, slice, and serve warm.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Green Pea Soup with Tarragon
(Soupe aux petits pois á l’estragon)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large shallots, diced
4 ½ cups chicken broth or water
1 potato, peeled and diced
Sea salt to taste
2 pounds frozen peas
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Heat the olive oil in a large pot and sauté the shallots until they’re translucent.
Add the chicken broth (or water), the potato, and a pinch of sea salt. Bring to a boil before adding the peas and the sugar.
Simmer, covered, over a low heat for about 30 minutes, then uncover and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
Pour the soup into a blender or food processor and pureé. Then, if you like, press through a vegetable mill. Serve in big bowls, garnished with the tarragon. It is also lovely served cold in small demi-tasse cups, laced with mint.
Yield: 4-6 servings
French Cold Beet Soup####
2 pounds raw beets (about 4)
1 pound oninons (2 medium)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup sour crème, crème fraiche, or good yogurt
4 tablespoons fresh dill , chervil, or mint cut into chiffonade
Peel the beets and the onions. Cut them into chunks, and toss tem together in a large soup pot.
Pour in about 2 quarts of water, or enough to cover the vegetables by an inch or so. Add the garlic, sugar, and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Bring to a boil, skimming the surface of any impurities that rise. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about an hour, or until the beets are cooked.
When the soup has cooled, ladle the vegetables and some of their broth into a blender, and puree to the consistency of a thick soup. Stir in the vinegar.
Adjust the thickness and seasoning of the soup to your taste, adding more beet broth if you want a thinner soup.
Serve cold in soup bowls with a dollop of sour cream, crème fraiche, or yogurt and sprinkle of the dill, chervil, or mint.
Yield: 6-8 servings.
Eggplant Caviar Dip or Appetizer
3 small eggplants (about 2 pounds), tops removed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if roasting in the oven
Juice of 1 ½ to 2 lemons
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
If grilling over a gas stove, make small slits all over the eggplants. Using tongs, hold them over the open flame, rotating them every few minutes until they are soft and collapsed.
If roasting the eggplants in the over, prick them and put them, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Roast in a pre-heated 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until very soft.
Put the cooked eggplant in a wooden bowl, and set aside to cool. Peel, discarding the skin and any accumulated liquid.
Using a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse the eggplant with the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and freshly ground pepper in short spurts until blended but still slightly chunky.
Serve as a dip to be eaten with French pain de champagne (country bread) or with cut up raw vegetables.
Yield: about 2 cups, or 6-8 servings
Chopped Liver with a Confit of Onions
1/4cup rendered chicken, goose, or duck fat, or vegetable or canola oil
4 medium onions, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
1 pound chicken livers (if you keep kosher, remove all the blood from the liver first)
6 hard-boiled eggs
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
Heat the chicken fat in a frying pan, and sauté the onions over moderate heat, turning frequently, for about 1/2 hour or more, until soft and almost black. You can add a tablespoon or honey to help caramelize them. Remove from pan.
Sauté the chicken livers in the fat in which the onions cooked over very high heat to sear well. Do not overcook. The livers may still be red inside, but resist the temptation to cook them further.
When cool enough to handle, separate the lobes and cut each into two or three pieces.
Chop the egg, and carefully fold in the onions, the livers, salt, and pepper. Serve with toast or crackers.
Yield: 8 servings
(Buckwheat onion latkes)
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
2 cups grated onions (about 2 medium onions)
Vegetable oil for frying
Sour cream or applesauce for garnish
Stir the flour, salt, and baking powder together in a small bowl. Beat in the eggs, mixing well. Then stir in the onions.
Heat a nonstick frying pan and add a film of oil.
Ladle about 2 tablespoons of the flour mixture into the frying pan and heat, frying until golden, then flip and cook the second side.
Can be eaten on its own or with sour cream or applesauce.
Yield: 8 latkes
MS. DIANE VOGELWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Diane Vogel, managing producer of the show, sitting in for Kojo. For the rest of the hour, we're going to be talking to cookbook author and award-winning food writer Joan Nathan. She recently went to France to discover the roots of Jewish cooking there and she discovered hundreds of traditional recipes, many of them familiar, many of them not so familiar. She found quiches and macaroni and cheese. She found soups and traditional recipes of all sorts.
MS. DIANE VOGELWell, most of us love home-cooked foods, though, the real truth is that these days few of us have time to let our bread dough rise once, let alone twice, or to create soup stock from chicken bones. And finding the time to cook a meal from scratch can sometimes seem completely out of reach in a busy life. But these days that are around the holidays and special cook -- and special occasions we start thinking, many of us wishing, that we had that time back, that there was a way to make the soup the way grandma made it.
MS. DIANE VOGELAnd when you think about it, the key is we need some advice. We need someone who can help to tell us what are the good shortcuts we can take and what shortcuts can we not take. So in telling us about the roots of Jewish cooking in France and how to update traditional recipes for the 21st century, we got Joan Nathan here. Her newest book is "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France." Thanks so much for being here, Joan.
MS. JOAN NATHANThanks so much for having me.
VOGELMy pleasure. Well, when I started this conversation, I said, I'm not going to talk about Hanukkah first because today at sundown will be the first night of Hanukkah, people will light their first candles, if you're in a Jewish home. And one of the things everyone will be cooking is something called potato latkes, which many of us, whether we're Jewish or not, are now familiar with. I wasn't going to start with that question, but alas, I am sitting here and there's a plate of latkes in front of me. There's the smell filling the room of beautiful fried oil. There's a homemade applesauce in front of me.
VOGELSo, Joan, please do start. Tell me about what makes these latkes unique 'cause I understand most of us think of latkes as made from potatoes, but you have not done this out of potatoes.
NATHANRight. Well, these are buckwheat and onion latkes. And buckwheat latkes is what preceded potatoes because, don't forget, in the old world, potatoes came from the new world at the end of the 17th, 18th century so they didn't become part of the lexicon of Jewish cooking 'til later. And what did they eat before then? They ate buckwheat. Buckwheat was really one of the wheats that was a mainstay, certainly in Eastern Europe, but also in Alsauslorin (sp?) , and that's where this recipe comes from, very easy. But doesn't it taste surprisingly like potato latkes?
VOGELIt does. I wasn't sure what to expect because the coloring of them is a bit different.
VOGELSo I'm looking at them, they don't seem to have as much fluff.
VOGELOr be as fluffy as a normal potato latke. And the color is dark and speckled almost, in a way, but they do taste surprisingly like potato pancakes.
NATHANAnd they're, you know, very easy -- I think they're delicious, actually. And the applesauce is also very easy to make. You just take some apples -- and this is another recipe that I got from Biarritz in France. And the applesauce is just apples, good flavorful apples, and some green grapes for sugar, sweetness.
NATHANAnd you just cook them down. Very easy.
VOGELWow, I don't think I would have ever thought to add grapes to my applesauce, but you've taught me something already. Well, most of us, when we think about French food, we think about Julia Child or we think about Jacques Pepin and we think about heavy creams and butters and maybe pork or shellfish. Not the things that usually mix well with Jewish cooking.
VOGELSo tell me how do you reconcile French recipes with Jewish recipes? It seems like two different things.
NATHANWell, it really isn't. First of all, when you think about Jewish food, you think about the dietary laws. So of course you're not going to have a cream sauce with meat, because it's mixing milk and meat. You're not going to use shellfish. You're not going to use pork. But taking that aside, for every day cooking in France, you don't need to have the cream sauces.
NATHANYou don't need to have these other dishes. And Jewish food -- that's why I call is Quiche, Kugel and Couscous, because quiche to me exemplifies what is Jewish cooking. It's an Alsatian onion quiche, or tomato quiche, but there's no (speaks foreign language) , there's no ham in the quiche. And that's what makes it Jewish, because it's quiche, which is French, but there's a Jewish touch to it.
NATHANAnd I found that all over France. And many of these recipes are so old. The Jews came to France 2,000 years ago, the first Jews, when the Romans came -- when they came with the Romans from Palestine, which the Romans called ancient Israel Palestine, Palestina. And when they -- that was at the destruction of the second temple.
NATHANSo they came to Rome, and then some of them came to Spain. Some of them came to northern Italy, and some of them came to France. And so they've been living there -- there have been some Jews that have been -- families are there for 2,000 years, pretty amazing. And it's the third largest Jewish community today in the world, after Israel and the United States.
VOGELWell, flipping through your book, I know that a lot of what's in here doesn't fall under the title -- doesn't have to fall under the title of Jewish cooking by any means. And, in fact, the goal of a lot of this is to figure out easy recipes that can be served at the holiday times or year round. And one of the things that jumped out to me was one of the most ancient, you say I believe it dates back to the eighth century, which is, you give a recipe for eggplant caviar.
VOGELAnd tell us how eggplants came to France.
NATHANWell, that's a very interesting story. Jews were merchants. They've always been merchants. They were peddlers, but also they were merchants that went as far as India in the eighth century. And when they went to India, they must have had -- India is the birthplace of the eggplant. So they had dinner with Jews in India because of the dietary laws, and because Jews would have spoken the same language as them.
NATHANAnd when they were there, they probably tasted eggplant. And so they brought the seeds back of the eggplant. You wouldn't bring the eggplant back with you, and they started planting them in villages in the south of France. And what's interesting is, when I visited a lot of these villages and I saw that they used to have public ovens, and the Jews lived in something called a (speaks foreign language) which was the Jewish quarter, always next to a church, by the way, that protected them.
NATHANThey would do their food in their own little kitchen. Of course the kitchen had no stoves in those days, and had maybe a tiny furnace -- fireplace to heat the house. But for cooking, they would walk to the public oven. So they'd prepare their casseroles and walk through town -- or their breads, and have it baked in the public oven. And people would say hey, what is that black and white vegetable or fruit or whatever it is you're eating.
NATHANAnd so they'd share it. They'd share their seeds, or they'd share eggplant. And that's how in the medieval period, food traveled, and how they were transferred.
VOGELYou're listening to Joan Nathan, the author of "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My search for Jewish Cooking in France." She's also an award-winning food writer and wonderful provider of ideas for food shows here at "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." You can join the conversation at 1-800-433-8850. 1-800-433-8850. Do you have any favorite shortcuts for making traditional recipes easier around this holiday time?
VOGELJoan is going to tell us about how to make eggplant caviar, something she calls a poor man's caviar, that involves just, I believe, three ingredients.
VOGELAnd I also believe we've posted this recipe at our website. So if you're looking for it, just scroll on to kojoshow.org. You'll find the recipe for eggplant caviar along with three or four other recipes there. And Joan, tell us how we would make this, because it sounds delicious.
NATHANWell, what you do is, and this is really a wandering recipe, because it started out probably in India, but then it went down to the Middle East, and then it came back up to France through Romania and Russia. And Romanians and Russians brought it with them. They call it poor man's caviar because of the little seeds. And you take a whole eggplant and you put it over a fire or on your grill or your burner, or like me sometimes, I prick the eggplant and pop it in the oven, 450 for 20 minutes until it's soft.
NATHANYou scoop out the interior. The reason that it's nice to burn it is that is chars it and it smells so good, and you get the flavor. But you can do it really in an oven. And then what I do is I scoop up the pulp, mix it with a little bit of olive oil, a little bit of salt. If you want to add an onion you can add it. If you want to add garlic. You can add mayonnaise, you can add roasted peppers. You could add paprika, hot sauce, whatever you want.
NATHANSo -- but the basic one is very simple, and then a little bit of lemon juice. It's really delicious, and you can use it as a dip or on crackers or on veggies. It's wonderful, real quick.
VOGELIt sounds wonderful. I'm thinking too, when it comes time to make holiday meals, there are so -- always so many competing issues. One of, you know, nobody has time anymore to render fat, you know, or leave dough to rise. Maybe take it -- you know, do a two rising steps. I understand you have a number of dishes that may require -- in the past have required multiple steps with yeast and other things. But you've figured out ways to cut it down, make it easier.
NATHANWell, you know, I think the yeasts that we have today are very reliable, and sometimes you can add a little bit more yeast and then you don't have to let, you know, the rule of thumb is four cups of flour to one package of yeast. But you need to use that at all. You can use much less. I mean, you can do that, or you can use a little bit -- well, you can use less and let it rise for a longer time, or you can use a little bit more and let it rise quickly.
NATHANPurists may not like that. I, you know, I usually like long risings. But what I do with my bread is, I will punch it down and I let the bread go according to my -- what I have to do during the day, so that if I have to run out, if I have to do an interview or be on a radio show, I'll make the dough, let it rise, leave it, punch it down, put it in the refrigerator whenever -- which will stop -- it won't stop the rising, but it will stall it.
VOGELRetard it a bit.
NATHANRight, exactly. And so I like to make food according to my schedule. I'll do the same thing with pies. I'll make a pie crust. Maybe I'll make two or three pie crusts at once, freeze them unbaked, and then, you know, I look really good when unexpected guests come because I just fill them quick and bake them up. Or I'll fill them, maybe three or four pie crusts, freeze them, don't bake them, and then I'll bake them off when I need them. And I'll do the same thing with challah or any kind of bread.
VOGELDo you have a secret for keeping things good in your freezer? Because certainly lots of people love the idea of making twice as much of something and putting in the freezer, but a week later or two weeks later it's got freezer burn. What's your secret?
NATHANWell, I don't know if I have a secret. I do have some Tupperware containers and then what I do is first I enclose them in tin foil very tightly and then I put them in the Tupperware, which are really terrific. But I don't freeze them for very, very long. I think that, you know, my mother freezers things for 40 years.
VOGELThat sounds like my husband. He cut out from the newspaper a list of, you know, after two weeks you should throw out this amount, after three months -- he knows I often get distracted here at work and the freezer remains full.
NATHANBut it's really important to enclose it well, because that -- it's that flavor, that freezer-burn flavor.
VOGELWell, speaking of shortcuts, one of the shortcuts that you have and that you recommend in the book that sounds wonderful, is a recipe for something called Quick Goat Cheese Bread.
NATHANOh, I love that.
VOGELAnd you call it a quick bread my understanding is because it doesn't need to rise. It's not a yeast from what I can tell.
NATHANNo. No. No. It's a baking powder bread. That's why it's a quick bread. I mean, that's what people call baking powder breads. And what's really interesting, it's got mint in it, it has apricots, it has goat cheese, or I've used it with any kind of rotting cheese in my refrigerator. And you make it and then you slice it very thin, and you put the slice on the plate. This is so French. You know, Americans would dig into the whole bread.
NATHANBut they give you your individual slice, and I had this at a home with a lot of young girls, and they loved eating it gently, you know.
VOGELIt's sounds to me -- it's funny because you tell the story in the book that there were a lot of kids at this house when you were first served the Quick Goat Cheese Bread with mint and apricots, the recipe for which you will find at kojoshow.org, but you tell the story that the children loved this.
VOGELAnd it's sort of surprising for me how many kids do you think would jump at something made with, as you say, any cheese that's rotting in your fridge along with mint and apricot.
NATHANWell, I think that's the difference between French children and American children. They'll eat what they're served and a meal is not just something where you go and grab food. It's a social event. You're with other people of your age and older people, and you have a conversation which is so important, I think, in eating together. And then, you know, they -- after that they ate mackerel and they all liked it.
VOGELWow. Well, speaking of mackerel, I was also interested to see the herring dishes that you had. Certainly when I think about French cooking, I don't automatically think of herring. I tend to think more Scandinavian when you talk to me about herring. But you say that there are a lot -- that the French and Jewish cooking comes together and one of the most popular daily proteins was herring.
NATHANRight. Well, and it would have like a sauce that has lemon and, you know, and olive oil. It's sort of like a mayonnaisey sauce, but very, very lemony. And it's really delicious. But don't forget that French cooking has always taken food from outside. France is the most riches agricultural land in Europe. And the influences from outside have permeated it forever. So the herring would have come from Scandinavia , it would have come from the North Sea, I mean, from the seas.
NATHANAnd it was man's everyday food. Especially the Jews would have eaten it as everyday food in the middle ages because couldn't eat any pork.
VOGELAnd you talked a lot also in the book about the regional influences, the difference between (word?) and, you know, the Bordeaux region or so on. Can you give us a feeling for what shows up more in Province, versus what shows up more along the German border?
NATHANWell, it's really interesting that you ask that question, because in the beginning, there was just Jewish food, and it was really Mediterranean food. So the Jews of the south of France would have eaten olive oil, they would have eaten wine, they would have -- I mean, drunk wine. They would eaten fava beans and flatbread with onions and olive oil on top of it that would have been really, you know, that would have been food for them.
NATHANSometimes chickpea flour bread. And then when they moved north, they wouldn't have that kind of food. They would have had to use goose fat because olive oil doesn't grow and the olives don't grow in the north. So they started using goose fat. They started using sauerkraut rather than let's say eggplants or spinach that they would have in the south.
NATHANAnd that -- in about the 10th century, maybe a little bit earlier, as Jews went north, Ashkenazi cuisine was born in Alsace and southern Germany. So the Jews ventured north and changed the food that they ate. It was very, very interesting.
VOGELWell, we got an e-mail from Natalie in Bowie, Md., who asks, "On a rainy day like this, is there a soup that you can recommend?" That she's planning to do a dinner tonight for Hanukah, but she's hoping to make a soup to warm everyone's souls. Anything you can recommend?
NATHANWell, there is soup called Gamarti (sp?) soup, and it's really interesting. It's a very, very old recipe, and one...
VOGELWhat's in Gamarti soup?
NATHANWell, basically it's a soup that you make yourself. It's an Alsatian dish and it preceded Vichyssoise, which is a soup with potatoes and leeks. And this soup has leeks and other vegetables, and it also has Cream of Wheat in it sometimes. And I had it actually -- a chef in Chicago Jean Joho had a luncheon for me for my book, and everybody loved it. It's very warm, it's very soothing, and I think it's really easy to make.
VOGELWell, that leek and potato soup, I believe with Porcini mushrooms as well, you first had -- you found the recipe in some teeny museum somewhere?
NATHANWell, in Alsace there is a museum of the Jews of Alsace. And when I saw this recipe, I suddenly realized that as soon as potatoes -- those potatoes came in, many recipes disappeared and you can add potatoes to them, but I just found them so interesting to try these old, old recipes and connect us with our past.
VOGELYou're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." We're sitting with Joan Nathan. And I'm going to ask one quick last question before we go, which is, if there was one thing that you could tell everyone to try, what food or recipe should we not miss out on?
NATHANOh, in my book, or -- well, okay. My favorite recipe is an Alsatian kugel. Kugel means round, circle, and it really originated in Alsace Lorraine, and then went east to eastern Europe. This one has sautéed onions, pears, prunes, and a compote on top. It's really like a -- it's a bread pudding from Alsace and it's absolutely delicious and very easy to make.
VOGELAnd if we can, we'll be putting that one up on the website as well.
NATHANI hope so.
VOGELJoan Nathan is a local treasure. She's an award-winning food writer and author, most recently of "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking In France." You've been listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on WAMU 88.5. I'm Diane Vogel, managing producer of the show sitting in for Kojo.
VOGELThe great team behind "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, with help from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. I'm the managing producer. The engineer today in Andrew Chadwick. Dorie Anisman's been on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs, and free transcripts are all available at our website. Thanks for the listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Join us tomorrow.
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