Thursday, January 6, 2011

Quiches, Kugels & Couscous

Joan Nathan has been one of my favorite cookbook authors for a very long time. I own several of her other works including The New American Cooking (I'll have to share my thoughts with you about the others. I'll save that for another time). Bottom line, Joan isn't just about the cooking, she's a social anthropologist... at least, that's how I see her. She writes about the history and background of cultures from the perspective of the food... which is always where my head, heart and stomach start.

Her latest book Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France has been high on my list of "must haves" since it came out in the Fall. And a big thanks to my Honey for buying it for me. For one thing, I have a jar of homemade Preserved Lemons in my fridge and haven't found enough recipes to use them. Since many French Jews are Sephardic and come from North Africa, there are a wonderful number of recipes in the book that call for it... like the side dish of Carotte Confites (candied carrots with preserved lemons) that will be wonderful with fish or roast chicken. Speaking of chicken... this Honey Coated Baked Chicken with Preserved lemons, some white wine and black Nicoise olives and the Moroccan Chicken with Olives & Preserved Lemons with turmeric and cilantro have me drooling.

In addition to Jews of North African heritage, there is a large population of those who emigrated from Northern Europe, especially to hide from the Nazis during WWII and brought their Ashkenazi style of cooking with them, including recipes like Chef Daniel Rose's Brisket with Ginger, Orange Peel & Tomato or classic German kugels.

Whatever your Jewish roots are... and even if you have none, this is a wonderful book, that is thoroughly investigated. Joan digs deep when she's researching. She even found a recipe for roast lamb Jewish style (Membre d'Agneau a la Judaique) that dates back to a 1656 cookbook and still sounds wonderful - with ingredients like anchovy fillets, garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage, potatoes, vegetables and some grated orange zest, what's not to love.
I have so many pages flagged to try, but one I did get to make is Chef Daniel Rose's Fennel & Citrus Salad which definitely brought "Summer" to a cold New Year's Eve Pot Luck Dinner... not that the dinner was cold... but the weather certainly was. The salad was a huge hit and will be one made often.

Beside the history lessons and delicious recipes, I love discovering how migrating people not only bring their heritage (especially the food heritage) with them, but adapt and blend it into the culture they've adopted. In this case, it's wonderful French cooking with the flavours of the various regions.

Bottom Line: if you're a fan of stories behind the recipes, stories about the root of recipes, this is a fabulous book to add to your collection.

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