On a Thursday morning, Joan Nathan is at her home in Washington, D.C., preparing challah bread and chocolate babka for her son’s wedding. At the same time, she's arranging a culinary excursion to France that explores Jewish foods’ influence on French fare. Amid this flurry of activity, I catch up with the author to chat about two recipes that appeared in her latest cookbook, King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.
“You’re doing two of my favorite recipes,” she says at once.
Nathan, one of the most respected cookbook authors specializing in Jewish cuisine, is referring to her cumin-spiced hummus and double lemon chicken set on a bed of roasted vegetables. Both recipes denote comfort and the warmth of family, and use one of Nathan's preferred ingredients: preserved lemon, often found in Moroccan cuisine. The condiment, which can be find jarred in specialty stores, is made by salting sliced lemons and curing them with lemon juice, olive oil and a few bay leaves.
Nathan has 11 cookbooks to her name, with her most recent released this past April. (Her publisher is pushing for yet another, themed “Essential Joan Nathan,” citing landmark recipes from throughout her career.) King Solomon's Table follows the threads of history as the Jewish people traveled the globe, fleeing persecution or seeking new opportunities—and tasting and influencing varied cuisines along the way.
Consider the Jewish pastel, Nathan writes. This handheld pastry is typically stuffed with meat or eggplant. In Greece, its cousin, the rodancho, is stuffed with pumpkin; in Iraq, the sambousak features chickpeas. And yes, in Latin America, this savory hand-pie is known as the empanada. For the upcoming High Holidays, Nathan’s cookbook is a great source of inspiration and learning, as the author, who has spent years traveling the globe researching the subject, delves into the rich history of Jewish cuisine.
Nathan's hummus recipe is based on the one she had at her wedding in 1974 (though that was before she began using preserved lemon in her cooking). When making this creamy dip, Nathan acknowledges that canned chickpeas are an option, but she avoids them. “I’ve never used canned chickpeas. It just seems purer to me,” she says. (She notes that canned foods typically have preservatives in them.)
The time it takes to cook the chickpeas to a soft texture varies. “Some people do it for like two hours. I cook mine until they’re soft. It usually takes about an hour. I think the real key is, in the olden days, [people] would use a mortar and pestle and pound them out. I just throw them in the food processor, but I really process them, so they’re really smooth.” She adds preserved lemon to the hummus, which she also uses when cooking the chicken.
“Chicken and lemon just seem to go together to me. I think it adds a great tang to everything.” She chuckles. “I think my son’s fiancée likes [the hummus] so much she's going to have it as one of the dishes at their wedding.”
In the cookbook, Nathan shares that she, like so many others, learned how to make a classic roast chicken from Julia Child. Along with the preserved lemon stuffed inside and around the bird, Nathan sometimes places fresh lemon on the exterior too. “When you cut the regular lemon thin so it gets brown, that’s really lovely,” she adds.
The chicken and hummus dishes are classics, not tied to one specific celebration. But, Nathan notes, “For Yom Kippur, to break the fast, hummus would be great. Or even before the fast, because it has protein.”
To serve with these mouthwatering dishes, Wine Spectator recommends 10 recently rated kosher red and white wines below, from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Franc, to suit guests' differing tastes.
The High Holy Days begin Sept. 21 with Rosh Hashanah, and Nathan will be celebrating with her husband at the couple's house in Martha's Vineyard. “I love going to the synagogue. What I'm going to do is a kind of potluck, a harvest meal after the service, at our house.”
I leave Nathan to continue her babka preparations, but not before she reveals another exciting bit of news to brighten the celebration of the Jewish new year: “I’m going to become a grandmother—with twins!”
Excerpted from King Solomon's Table by Joan Nathan (Random House, 2017). Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Note: If using canned chickpeas, skip the first step.
1. Put the dried chickpeas in a large bowl with cold water to cover and soak overnight. The next day, drain and rinse them, then put them with the baking soda in a large heavy pot with enough cold water to cover by about 3 inches. Bring to a boil, skimming off the scum that accumulates. Simmer, partially covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the chickpeas are soft and the skin begins to separate, adding more water as needed.
2. Drain the chickpeas (dried or canned), reserving about 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid or water. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the chickpeas with the tahina, preserved lemon and its liquid, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin and at least 1⁄2 cup of the reserved cooking liquid. If the hummus is too thick, add more reserved cooking liquid or water until you have a creamy, pastelike consistency.
3. Heat a frying pan and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Spread the pine nuts in the pan and stir-fry, browning on all sides.
4. To serve, transfer the hummus to a large, flat plate and, with the back of a spoon, make a slight depression in the center. Drizzle the remaining olive oil and sprinkle pine nuts, paprika or sumac, and parsley or cilantro over the surface.
5. Serve with cut-up raw vegetables or warm pita cut into wedges. Yields about 4 cups, or 6 to 8 servings.
Note: Leftover hummus tends to thicken; just add some water to make it the right consistency. After a few days, freeze any uneaten hummus.
Excerpted from King Solomon's Table by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2017 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Note: For accompanying roasted vegetables, prepare one of the two groupings below.
1. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, za’atar if you like, and sumac. Then rub the outside with the olive oil.
2. Put the chicken in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Fill the cavity with half the preserved lemon, 2 garlic cloves and a sprig each of the thyme, rosemary and sage. Cut up the remaining preserved lemon and scatter it with the remaining cloves of garlic, the onion and the rest of the thyme, rosemary and sage, as well as the regular lemon slices, around the chicken. Add enough wine just to let the chicken sit in the liquid. You can do this the night before and cover with tin foil in your refrigerator.
3. When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator for about a half hour to return to room temperature. Here is where you can be creative. Add cut-up celery, carrots, zucchini and/or fennel; Brussels sprouts, black olives and sun-dried or fresh tomatoes; or leave as is.
4. Preheat the oven to 375° F, then roast the chicken until it is golden-brown and crispy, about an hour and 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature says 160° F.
5. Cut the chicken into roughly 8 pieces, place them on a platter, spoon the vegetables and juices with the preserved lemon and lemon slices over and around the chicken, and serve. Serves 6–8.
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good kosher wines from recently rated releases. More kosher wines rated in the past year can be found here in our Wine Ratings Search.
TABOR Adama II Storm Galilee 2013
A muscular, full-bodied red, sporting plenty of currant, boysenberry and herbal flavors flanked by toasty elements. Licorice and mineral notes are edged with firm tannins into the finish. Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. From Israel. Drink now through 2022. 1,300 cases made.
COVENANT Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain Lavan 2014
Aromas of pithy citrus, green apple and tangerine are rich and full on the palate, remaining lively and persistent throughout. From California. Drink now through 2020. 352 cases made.
FLAM Syrah Galilee Reserve 2014
A full bodied, concentrated red brimming with raspberry tart, savory spice and meaty aromas that are well balanced with iron and bay leaf details. Full but integrated tannins linger into the milk chocolate-tinged finish. From Israel. Drink now through 2022. 1,000 cases made.
GUSH ETZION Cabernet Franc Judean Hills Lone Oak Reserve 2011
Mature-tasting, with roasted plum and tealike flavors supported by fresh acidity. Beefy notes lingers on the savory finish. From Israel. Drink now. 250 cases made.
OR HAGANUZ Cabernet Franc Galilee Marom 2013
Ripe boysenberry, currant and menthol notes are detailed with mocha and licorice accents in this concentrated but supple red. Hints of mineral and herb give interest on the moderately tannic finish. From Israel. Drink now through 2023. 1,000 cases made.
RECANATI Petite Sirah Galilee Reserve 2014
Fresh and supple, with juicy boysenberry, cherry and raspberry notes interwoven with peppercorn, herb and smoke details. Zesty acidity highlights the mineral and mocha flavors on the finish. Assertive tannins. From Israel. Drink now through 2020. 1,125 cases made.
TABOR Sauvignon Blanc Galilee Adama 2016
Crisp and fruity with grapefruit, chive and peach aromas highlighted by fresh acidity and underlying mineral and spice accents. Floral notes detail the finish. From Israel. Drink now. 750 cases made.
TEPERBERG Cabernet Sauvignon Galilee Essence 2014
A rich, full bodied red with raspberry compote and cherry tart flavors edged with licorice and mocha details. Lusciously spicy, this casts floral and tea aromas on the chewy finish. From Israel. Drink now through 2022. 2,500 cases made.
TISHBI Cabernet Judean Hills Ruby 2013
Juicy and rich-tasting, with plenty of dusty and savory notes to the roasted plum and dark cherry flavors. Smoky accents on the finish. From Israel. Drink now. 580 cases made.
BODEGA DEL PALACIO DE LOS FRONTAURA Y VICTORIA Ribera del Duero Nexus One Kosher 2013
Dried cherry, orange peel, herb and cocoa flavors mingle in this firm red, which has solid tannins and tangy acidity. Expressive, if a bit rustic in style. From Spain. Drink now through 2021. 200 cases imported.