Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The New American Cooking - Joan Nathan

Joan Nathan is not your average cookbook author. In fact, her books are not your average cookbooks. Yes, her recipes are wonderful...they've graced our Jewish Holiday table often over the years.

Probably our all time favorite is this Praline "Lick your fingers" Kugel from Jewish Cooking In America. There would be a serious rebellion if it didn't show up to break our Yom Kippur Fast.

I own three of the ten books she's produced over the years, many winning prestigious awards - like James Beard Foundation, Silver Spoon and IACP (to name just a few) and I love them all. But back to what makes Joan stand out, which takes us back to her university days. She actually earned two masters degrees - one in French Literature and the other in Public Administration and went to work in Israel for the Mayor of Jerusalem and then for the Mayor of NYC, co-founding the Ninth Street Food Festival. That interest in the people as well as the recipes led to her PBS cooking shows and all the fantastic cookbooks.

Her books are so much more than sharing great recipes. They take you into the homes of people around the world, exploring their culture, their kitchens and their ways to celebrate the holidays.

Most of Joan's books document Jewish experiences around the world. How they adapt their cultural traditions to the customs and foods of the countries they live in. She writes their stories so vividly and naturally, shares their recipes.

I admit, I was expecting her latest book, The New American Cooking, to be more of the same with a more modern, perhaps healthier slant. And it is very healthful, interviewing organic farmers and artisan bread & cheese makers. But it goes way beyond that. This book reflects not only Jewish migration to the US, but that of people of different backgrounds who emigrated from Asia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Middle Eastern countries, Latin America...where ever they've come from...their stories AND their recipes for all of us to enjoy.

In flipping through the book, I found a very unique recipe for cabbage soup. I love cabbage soup - with meat, without, with beets, without, but I admit I've never seen a recipe quite like this one....or the story that goes with it.

The story goes (she tells it so much better than I - on Page 141), that back when Haiti was a French colony, many French citizens owned plantations and would serve this soup at their New Year celebrations. It's flavored with Creole spices, allspice, butternut squash, cabbage, beef, carrots....the list of ingredients is awesome...and the Haitian slaves were forbidden anything but the aroma. Since the Haitian liberation in 1804, this has become the traditional meal of Haitians around the world. And it is delicious.

As I said It's not only a great collection of recipes, it's a wonderful read!

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