Wednesday, December 1, 2010

QUICHES, KUGELS, and COUSCOUS By Joan Nathan

PART I: MY KUGEL CULTURE


When I was contacted about receiving a copy of Joan Nathan’s newest cookbook, I was very excited! I recently inherited my brother’s copy of The New American Cooking and had fallen in love with this amazing cookbook, so I was anxious to read and cook from another of Ms. Nathan’s books. And when I saw the title Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous (My Search for Jewish Cooking in France) I just had to laugh. I immediately wrote an e-mail to Ms. Nathan’s PR person exclaiming, “This newest cookbook is the perfect fit for me and my blog – I grew up with the kugel and married the quiche and the couscous!” I knew that this book fit right in with the multi-cultural aspect of my blog…. And how! And what a fabulous early Hanukkah gift!


Growing up in a fairly small, middle-America town where everything and everyone revolved around the Space Center like satellites around a very important planet, I wasn’t surrounded by a large, multi-faceted Jewish community. We were a small, tight-knit and rather homogeneous group. We were all descendents of Russian Ashkenazic Jewish immigrants and what was cooked and baked in our parents’ kitchens and placed on the table before us was all the same, what we thought of and defined as “Jewish” food: chicken soup with matzoh balls or kneidlach dumplings, kishkes and kasha varnishkes, cabbage soup and potato latkes. Mmmm. We knew that the traditional dishes that graced our weekday, holiday and Sabbath evening tables were different than our non-Jewish friends’ meals – while they ate bacon on Sunday mornings we were enjoying bagels and nova lox, while they were eating apple pie we, were eating apple noodle kugel. Gefilte fish, blintzes and Challah were foreign to them yet everyday fare for us, and although we knew it was special to our own culture, we never, beyond that, gave it a second thought. It just was.


And then I moved to France. Over the years I have discovered just how diverse Jewish cuisine is, as diverse as her people: we have dined on the traditional Friday night saffron-infused couscous on Shabbat at our friends’ home and I learned to cook sunny tagine sweetened with prunes and apricots or tangy with olives and preserved lemons. While I grew up on carrot kugel and tzimmes, I am now enjoying carrots marinated in a sweet and spicy olive oil glaze. We were handed down an Old World cuisine, earthy, heavy and warm meant to build up, pad and sustain bodies, protect against the frigid Eastern European cold, a cuisine born of the hard, dense, often ice-incrusted dirt: potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions and chicken were the mainstays of this hearty menu. Even trips to New York to visit family meant potato knishes, huge hot pastrami on rye sandwiches and chopped chicken liver all served up with huge, briny dill pickles. I had known little if anything about this other culture of the Sephardic Jews, one from a land not of cold and grey, but one of sunshine and fertile land. Her colorful culinary heritage is filled to overflowing with violet eggplants, golden orange pumpkin and carrots, deep green zucchini and bright yellow lemons. Dishes are spiced with saffron, cinnamon and coriander, drizzled with honey and flavored with dried fruits and nuts. The same blessings are recited, the same rituals are performed, but this was a Jewish cuisine that was completely new to me!

As our Jewish friends of North African descent have shared their history and the traditions unique to their own culture, I have also learned the fascinating and often turbulent story of French Jews who originate from both Northern and Eastern Europe, stories of ghettos and concentration camps, resistance and rebirth. Stories of war-torn families and les Justes, those non-Jews who risked their own fate in order to help hide and transport the Jews of France to safety during WWII. Yet through thick and thin, they have succeeded in holding onto their gastronomic heritage. I’ve broken bread with these Jewish friends over tables laden with foods from every French Jewish culture from the couscous to the chopped liver, from the Challah to the fish choucroute, schnitzel and kugelhopf. As I sometimes sit in wonderment and think about how unreal it is to be in a country that once deported Jews, refused their admittance to public schools, chased whomsoever could into hiding, I celebrate the survival of and the coming together, the unifying of these somewhat disparate cultures and traditions into one that has succeeded in melding so well into French society, inspiring and allowing herself to be inspired by this separate and unique culinary culture. This is Joan Nathan’s story through both her eloquent words and her mouth-watering, tantalizing, intriguing recipes.


Joan Nathan recounts her fascinating travels through Jewish France and so much of it touches a chord inside of me, parallels my own cultural and culinary voyage through this, my adopted country. Each time I pick up and read a bit more of Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous (My Search for Jewish Cooking in France), I learn just a little bit more, am intrigued and tempted by one or two more recipes, some I am familiar with and some that I, thanks to her, am just now discovering. Once I cooked and baked my first recipes from this book, I knew that one single blog post would not do. As I have discovered these cultures, these culinary treasures one by one, so I have decided to approach the cookbook. For this first post, I selected three recipes, a salad, a main and a bread, starting with my own Eastern European roots: Chicken with Cinnamon and Apples, a recipe from Metz, France redolent of cinnamon and sweet with apples for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (at which time we eat apples dipped in honey for the promise of a round, sweet year), a French Potato Salad with Shallots and Parsley and a Parisian Pletzl, soft, individual disc-shaped breads topped with chopped onions and poppy seeds.


Joan Nathan’s newest book did not let me down. Her stories are fascinating, her recipes as diverse as they are delicious, a wonderful voyage both historical and culinary through this most gastronomic of countries, France. This book, for both Jews and non-Jews alike, is a treasure trove of fabulous recipes and the perfect gift for Hanukkah and Christmas.


(I want to send the recipe for Parisian Pletzl to Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting event!

For all of my European readers, don’t forget to enter the drawing for a fabulous box of luxury chocolates from Hotel Chocolat. Just leave a comment after my last post!

Don’t miss two wonderful holiday recipes I have on Huffington Post: perfect Butter Cookies to cut out in any Hanukkah or Christmas shape you like, including how to build a stunning Christmas Cookie Tree and a spectacular, festive Chestnut and Chocolate layer cake.


A great big THANKS to Lael for making this happen! Happy Hanukkah!)

ROSH HASHANAH CHICKEN with Cinnamon and Apples from Metz

4 to 6 servings


Stunning! We all fell in love with this dish. The chicken was tender and juicy and infused with a tangy sweet flavor of the wine and apples and the fruit, as always, was perfect with the chicken. The leftovers were reheated the following day and it was just as delicious, if not even better. Easy to make, this dish will be a regular on my table.

One 3 ½ - 4 pound (2 kgs) roasting chicken or the equivalent in selected pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 onion, trimmed, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 cup (250ml) chicken broth *
1 1/3 cups (330 ml) white wine *
3 or 4 apples, cored and cut horizontally into 4 slices (I used Reines-des-Reinettes but pippins or Fuji apples are also good)
2 Tbs sugar

* As I realized a bit too late, my baking pan was not large enough so this amount of liquid was too much and my chicken swam. Although the chicken cooked perfectly and the texture and flavor of the meat was stunningly outstanding, I think the next time I will just fill up the roasting pan with enough of the liquid to allow the top third of the chicken pieces to remain above the level of the liquid which should let the skin crisp up.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper as well as ½ teaspoon of the ground cinnamon. Place the pieces snuggly in a large roasting pan with the chunks of onion. Pour the chicken broth and wine over the chicken pieces (see *note above) and roast in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.

After the chicken has cooked for the initial 45 minutes, place the apple slices around the chicken pieces, pushing them under the liquid as well as you can. Sprinkle the chicken with the remaining ground cinnamon and the sugar and return the roasting pan to the oven to roast for an additional 45 minutes or until the apples are very soft and the chicken is cooked through.

FRENCH POTATO SALAD with Shallots and Parsley



When I tasted the sauce, a cross between a vinaigrette and a mayonnaise, I thought it tasted awfully tart and strong, but on potatoes it was fantastic, perfectly balanced with the mellow flesh of the vegetable and delicious. Again, this was a winner in everyone’s book and one salad I will make over and over again.

2 pounds (1 kg) potatoes **
Salt to taste
½ cup finely chopped shallots
1 egg yolk (I used the yolk of a large egg)
¼ cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar
½ cup (125 ml) vegetable or olive oil
Freshly ground pepper to taste
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

** I used tiny ratte fingerling potatoes and ended up cooking just slightly more than half a kilo as the entire recipe would have been too much for us. I only made the mistake of serving them whole rather than slicing them in half so the sauce could soak into the potatoes.

Wash the potatoes under running water and remove any dirt stuck to the skin. Peel larger potatoes but you can leave the peel on the tiny fingerling potatoes if you like. Cut the potatoes in half or quarters, depending on the size of the potato, and place in a pot of water. Bring the water to the boil, add salt to taste, and cook until firm but tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

Toss the potatoes and the chopped shallots together in a serving bowl.

Using a food processor fitted with a steel blade (or an emulsion blender), blend the egg yolk and the vinegar. With the motor running, slowly stream in the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Fold the dressing into the warm potatoes, sprinkle with parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.

PARISIAN PLETZL
Makes 12 Individual Onion Flatbreads


A French version of what I grew up calling a Bialy (short for Bialystoker tsibele pletzl, a flat onion bread from the Polish city of Bialystok), this is much less saltier than the ones I eat in the US. The onions on this, Florence Finkelsztajn’s of the famed delicatessen on Rue des Rosiers in Paris, version add a faintly sweet hint to a wonderfully fragrant, soft bread, perfect for mopping up the sauce on your plate or pairing with cheese. A perfect bread.

1 scant Tbs active dry yeast
4 Tbs sugar
4 to 5 cups (500 to 625 g) flour, more as needed for kneading
2 large eggs
¼ cup (62 ml) plus 2 Tbs vegetable oil
2 tsps salt
2 to 3 cups diced onion (as much as you like)
¼ cup poppy seeds

Pour 1 cup (250 ml) lukewarm water into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast and the sugar until dissolved. Add 4 cups (about 500 g) flour, the eggs, ¼ cup (62 ml) of the vegetable oil and the salt. Mix well and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth, adding more flour if necessary. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl, turning the dough to coat lightly with the oil, cover and let rise for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and grease or line (with parchment paper) 2 baking sheets.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and form into balls. Roll or flatten each ball out into a flat round 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter. Put the rounds on the cookie sheets and press down the center to leave about a slightly higher inch-wide edge all around. Brush the dough with cold water and sprinkle about ¼ cup of diced onion in each indentation. Brush the edges of the rounds with vegetable oil and sprinkle generously with poppy seeds. Let sit for 15 minutes uncovered.

Bake for 20 minutes until risen around the edges and a deep golden brown. If you like, you can slip the pletzlach under the broiler for just a minute to brown the onions. Serve warm or lukewarm.


52 comments:

Nuts about food said...

What a wonderfully interesting post, filled with history and common yet diverse traditions... fascinating. The recipes are enticing, the photographs lovely and I look forward to more posts from your new prized possession.

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

That's a fantastic series of series and yes you are definitely THE blogger to write about this book!

I especially love the look of those pletzls.

Lael Hazan @educatedpalate said...

Terrific post! Mazel Tov! I'm amazed at how you can make a PARISIAN PLETZL look divine. I'm looking forward to your experience of cooking through this book.

Alina said...

Happy Hannukah!

foodwanderings said...

Jammie, Beautiful post as usual, Love how you drew the parallels!! I am looking forward to your next exploration of a recipe from Quiches, Kugels and Couscous as I dive into it as well:). Shulie

Sanjeeta kk said...

Love the french potato salad and the flat bread, perfect for a great dinner.

Baker Street said...

Jamie - What a lovely post!! I'm looking forward to part II :)

Sara@OneTribeGourmet said...

Jamie, lovely post as usual! I love reading about the history & tradions! Happy Haunukkah!

Sarah said...

I enjoyed your flowing and elegant writing and tribute to Jewish culinary heritage. I was raised on both Ashkenazi and Sephardic cuisines and like you never thought too much about it.
Thanks for introducing me to Joan Nathan's book.
Happy Hannukah!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I love Jewish specialities and the diversity of this cuisine! Joan Nathan is awesome. A book I'd like to own.

Everything looks so good! I really like the Pletzl!

Happy Hannukkah!

Cheers,

Rosa

My Little Expat Kitchen said...

Very interesting post Jamie. I love the look of these dishes you cooked from the book, particularly the Pletzl!
Magda

C&G said...

Salut Jamie, merci de ta visite! Cela me permet de découvrir ton blog! Passionnante l'histoire de ta vie, j'ai beaucoup apprécié la lire. je vais me balader parmi tes recette! A bientôt, Giorgia de C&G

Jennifurla said...

Oh wow! What a great post...I am also in love with the potato salad it looks scrumptious.

Peter M said...

Jamie, I'll be going to Caplansky's Deli here in Toronto on Friday for Latkapalooza and their famous smoked meat.

Happy Hannukah!

Barbara @ Modern Comfort Food said...

Kugels, blintzes, challah, and couscous weren't part of my Southern US heritage; my family was more about collard greens, cornbread, okra, ham, catfish, and an occasional quiche tossed in to liven things up. That said, your Rosh Hashanah Chicken has my name written all over it. What a perfect main course for fall and a must-make for me! I'm so happy to have found your wonderful blog.

RamblingTart said...

Wow, no wonder you love this book, Jamie. :-) I'm so intrigued by the recipes and stories, the history behind these foods. Very eager to try the pletzl. :-)

UrMomCooks said...

Enjoyed this post tremendously! You carried me right along on a journey I loved taking! Looking forward to more from this book!

Deeba PAB said...

I'm so glad the book found you dahlin', you are the perfect recipient in so many ways! Love the way you wrote the post...crammed with connect and memories of diversity in culture and cuisine.
Those are some sexy Parisian Pletzls...wow!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

LOL when you said the title that was exactly what I was thinking! Perhaps Ms Nathan has paved the way for your very own Life's A Feast cookbook! ;)

Jamie said...

@Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella : LOL! Funny you! But maybe a Life's a Feast book about my life travels? Ha! We'll see! Just get yours out first!

Jamie said...

@Deeba : Sexy Pletzl? LOL! But they were fab! And yes this book must've been written for me, right?

@Giorgia de C & G : Je suis très contente moi aussi d'avoir trouver ton blog! Les amis sont fait comme ça! Soit la bienvenue!

@Barbara @ Modern Comfort Food : Thanks so much and I'm equally happy to have found yours! You are very welcome here in my virtual home!

Jamie said...

@Lael Hazan @educatedpalate : Thank you so very much!

@Peter M : Oooh I am so jealous! Please have something smokey for me at that deli!

SMITH BITES said...

Another fantastic post Jamie - and yet another cookbook to add to my growing list of 'wants' for my library. I'm so fascinated with food, its culture and its people - and what's so interesting about your article, is that while you grew up on the foods of your culture, those foods were defined by a region. I don't know much about Jewish food but this post makes me want to study more and learn to cook some of these fabulous recipes!

SMITH BITES said...

I forgot to say that I actually prefer this potato salad than the American version which ALWAYS has too much mayonnaise - in my humble opinion!!

Jamie said...

@Smith Bites: What you made me think of is what I wanted to say: the recipes in Joan's cookbook really all have a French twist to them which means less heavy, less salty than what I know of as Jewish cooking. The fact that there is a French influence here adds such an interesting facet to each recipe. I'm learning quite a lot from this fascinating book. Even with all my experience living in France, I love discovering these all new recipes.

Helene said...

Everything looks so good especially the chicken. Sounds like a great cookbook to add to any library.

Sue said...

What fabulous recipes, and cookbook, "made to order" for you:) As a child my best friend was Jewish and her mom served lox and bagels every weekend too, but I always skipped the lox:). Happy Hanukkah, Jamie!

Nicole said...

Jamie, I am also of Ashkenazi descent - grew up with stuffed cabbage and babka, matzoh ball soup and latkes...sadly mom and grandmother died very young, but i am carrying on their recipes. (I have my grandmother's recipe box-- better than diamonds!!!) Now living in Italy, also in a heavily jewish neighborhood but they are all of Sephardic descent. I'm dying to get a copy of Joan's book.
Beautiful post. Happy Hanukkah.

Lisa said...

Jamie, are you sure we weren't the same person as children? As I read through the list of all the foods you enjoyed growing up, as opposed to what your non jewish friends ate, coulda been me! However, I'm so thankful for being introduced to so many different cultures via food by way of friends houses after school.

Having said that, I LOVE Joan Nathan and have been using her stuffed cabbage recipe as of late, with a few twists here and there. I must get that book - have to try that chicken!

Finally, Happy Hanukkah to you too, my friend :) I'm making brisket and latkes tonight..only wish I had a dreidel and some yummy gelt lol

MeetaK said...

when you told me about this book in london i was excited to read your review. the recipes you cooked up here are deliciously tantalizing. this post was brilliantly informative and i enjoyed reading so much about the wonderful history and traditions.
thank you jamie!

5 Star Foodie said...

There are so many wonderful Jewish specialties from different regions of the world, how fun to discover. This book sounds very nice, and I love the sound of those pletzls especially. Happy Hanukkah!

elra said...

Happy Hanukkah to you and your family jaime !

I have one of her book, and always use it each time I have my husband family coming for a visit.

ROSH HASHANAH CHICKEN sound tempting !

Heavenly Housewife said...

Wishing you and your family a very happy Hanukah daaaaaahling.
I am fascinated by the Parisian Pletzel, and may have a go at making it myself. I love biyalis, so I'm sure I would really enjoy this variation.
Wonderful post, as usual, filled with loads of delicious goodies.
*kisses* HH

lisaiscooking said...

I've read the introduction and started combing through the recipes. It's so interesting to learn more about Jewish culture in France. And, I can't wait to get cooking from it. Your chicken looks fantastic!

Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf.ch said...

your kugel culture, my kugel hopf...! ;) i knew i would enjoy this post of yours for so many reasons - you and i certainly have plenty in common, so much so that i am often nodding when reading your blog, so much could be my own stories and words too...

growing up in an entirely ashkenazi culture, i remember being shocked the first time i saw a sephardic jew eating rice pudding on passover. then moving to france, tasting carrots with cumin, challah made with spices, couscous and more.

this book is on my chanukah list for sure, and i certainly hope to have it in my hands one day too, to read about cultural and culinary voyages - some familiar, some new, and add so many recipes to my collection. totally starting with the bread here - i never go to paris without having one of florence (kahn) finkelsztajn's pletzel sandwiches ! yum !

fantastic jamie. looking forward to part 2...

Mary said...

What a lovely post, Jamie. Happy Hannakah! Enjoy the holiday. Blessings...Mary

theUngourmet said...

Such a fun and interesting post. I love the French potato salad and the Parisian Pletzl looks amazing as well!

Junglefrog said...

I'm not very familiar with Jewish cuisine I have to confess but all these dishes look amazing and makes me want to go out and try it straight away!
Happy Hannukah!

Sippity Sup said...

You Married a quiche! You have such a way with words. I guess by your thinking, I'm the quiche that married a Kugel. (A handsome hunky Kugel). GREG

Jamie said...

@Sippity Sup: Aha! You hit the nail on the head! Now I understand how it is we are so alike!

@Kerrin @ My Kugelhopf: You know that I think of you as I write blog posts like this! Our common Great Neck ashkenazi culture! And you and I have lived such similar culinary experiences. Isn't it great?

Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf.ch said...

why yes, yes it is !! :=>

Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf.ch said...

ps - i also thought of you last night when we played dreidel, and had the m&m's in my "j'aime le chocolat" bowl !! :)

Jamie said...

@Kerrin @MyKugelhopf: Oh I want to play dreidl with you guys! I'll bring a bag of M & M's! We also sometimes used peanuts in the shell although M& M's do have more chocolate :-)

LimeCake said...

I had no idea what a pletzl was until now! Everything in this post is mouthwatering!

tasteofbeirut said...

One of my best friends a French-jewish of a family of pied-noirs from Algeria, was telling me once about her brother in law who was researching for the purpose of a book the Jewish community in China!
Most of my Jewish friends and relatives are of sephardic descent or Ashkenazi and I had no idea there was a jewish community so far in the Orient!
This book sounds so interesting and I need to get a hold of it, soon! Love all the recipes you are showcasing especially that bread which I have never tasted, Happy Hanukkah to you and your family.

Jamie said...

@tasteofbeirut: Thanks, Joumana. I learned about the Jewish Chinese community in Claudia Roden's book of Jewish cooking and was fascinated. And then I actually made friends with a woman whose parents were Chinese Jews! Amazing! I would also love to discover the Jews of India.

Lora said...

I loved this post. Just wonderful. I was intrigues b the book, now I have to have it. Happy Hannukah!

Y said...

Fascinating! I saw this book and hadn't made up my mind about getting it. I think you may have convinced me... might have to 'gift' it to myself soon.

A Canadian Foodie said...

What an intensely thoughtful and deeply reflective post about your relationship with your heritage, food and the countries you have lived in. I was completely spellbound. Though I am not Jewish, I have Jewish friends and think I salivate as much as they come Jewish holidays and the incredible ethnic fare presented on their tables. Yes, I am lucky enough to get some treats and invitations! And what you are saying is so relevant to every culture as all traditional food is evolving through travel and migration. I love that in many ways, yet am also a traditionalist in that I believe it is incredibly important to our personal heritage and identity as a family to preserve the foods of our past in their purest form during specific times of the year... just to really understand where we have come from and by whose hand this dish was passed to us. I used to read you regularly years ago - then, bought a new computer, and lost all my feeds... I see you do not have subscribe my e-mail option. Might I ask that you install Feedburner or something similar so that I can subscribe regularly. I don't use readers or feeds. I use my e-mail to receive my "daily readings" and I would absolutely love yours on my list.
:)
Valerie

Jamie said...

@A Canadian Foodie: Valerie, thanks so much for coming back and visiting. I will be adding feedburner asap and I used to have an e-mail subscription space on my sidebar that seems to have disappeared when son redid the blog :-(

I so agree with what you say about conserving food traditions. We have always used food to teach our sons where they came from, their heritage, who they are and being multi-cultural they needed things like that to help them understand. Dishes came with stories about the family and history too. Thank you so very much for your very very kind words, they mean so much to me!

asiangrrl said...

This is another wonderful post, and the food looks fabulous as always. Happy Hanukkah, Jamie.

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

Fascinating post Jamie. I still feel cheated that Nick only discovered his Jewish heritage so late in life - I feel as if he has missed out on such a rich cultural (and culinary!) heritage. Had to laugh at the title - in South Africa, a Kugel is slang for a Johannesburg Jewish Princess - all long nails and flashy car and flicky hair! Oh yes, and please bring me some of those biayli next time you visit :o)

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