Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search For Jewish Cooking In France by Joan Nathan of Washington, D.C., and Chilmark, is a delectable-looking cookbook with hundreds of delicious recipes. And, best of all, since many of them come from the hot climates of southern France and North Africa, you’re sure to be able to find in it just what you want to serve at a mid-summer Island dinner party.
It might be a fennel salad with orange and grapefruit in it from a Parisian chef, or a Swiss chard salad from Morocco, or a Moroccan orange and black olive salad. Or it could be a more substantial fish dish like Turkish Red Sea Mackerel with Tomato and Parsley (using Island mackerel, of course) or Grilled Cod or Tuna with Raito Sauce (of red wine, tomatoes, capers, black olives, garlic and onions and a bouquet garni of fresh Island herbs).
If a chicken entree captures your fancy, roast chicken stuffed with rosemary and thyme might be a good possibility, though of course it would require having the oven on. There’s also a Honey-Coated Baked Chicken with Preserved Lemon that sounds appealing.
If you’ve just come back from the Farmers’ Market with a basket of fresh Island vegetables, you might want to try Sauteed Haricots Verts et Poivrons Rouges (green beans and red peppers) or the Tian of Zucchini, Spinach and Rice. A tian is a layered casserole of vegetables that are a specialty of the south of France. Swiss chard — abundant in Vineyard gardens and at local farms this summer — is, according to Ms. Nathan, a fine substitute for the spinach in a tian.
A refreshing end for a summer meal might be a Tarte au Citron, a lemon tart, or a Citrus Fruit Soup with Dates and Mints. That dessert’s other mouth-watering ingredients include oranges, grapefruit, lemon sorbet and almonds.
But sooner or later, summer will come to an end, and warming fare be what you would like to serve on snowy nights. Germarti Supp, an Alsatian soup of leeks and porcini mushrooms would surely warm the cockles of any guest’s hearts or a fava bean soup with cumin and cilantro. Harissa, a hot chili sauce used in much North African cooking, contributes substantially to this soup’s heartwarming qualities. A nice accompaniment would be challah or Tunisian bejma — Friday night bread. There are many Jewish holiday recipes too in the book.
The author went in search of Jewish recipes in France and lands that were once French-ruled, and she also recounts the history of the Jews in these lands. The first Jewish settlers in France arrived in 39 C.E. with Herod’s son and settled in what, today, is the city of Lyon, we learn from her. Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic Jews came to southwestern France after the Inquisition.
Whether you want to cook, learn history or simply salivate admiring the colorful pictures and the handsome design of Quiches, Kugels and Couscous, pick up a copy this summer. Full of wholesome ingredients as it is, Joan Nathan’s latest book is heavy, but worth its weight.