King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World

For her new book King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World (Alfred A. Knopf 2017; $35), Joan Nathan, the multiple James Beard award winner, followed in the footsteps of Jewish traders as they circumvented the globe centuries and even millenniums ago. As they traveled, they brought the food cultures from the lands they’d visited before and adapted new ones but keeping close to their dietary laws, traditions and homelands.

Nathan, who has written almost a dozen cookbooks, recounts the culinary history and geography of these early travelers in her sumptuous new book featuring over 170 recipes.

It begins at the Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi, Kerala where Nathan spies an inscription indicating Jewish traders might have crossed the Indian Ocean from Judea to India during the reign of King Solomon. Already a world traveler, Nathan next made her way to Chendamangalam, a hamlet 20 miles north of Kochi surrounded by a lush landscape of mango, coconut and cinnamon trees and pepper and cardamom vines.

“As I walked toward the bank of the nearby Periyar River, which flows into the Arabian Sea, I imagined ancient Hebrew adventurers and traders arriving on the shores and marveling at the lushness of the terrain,” writes Nathan in the introduction of her book.

And so we too are seduced by her journey into exotic lands, looking at how foods and ingredients have crisscrossed the globe originating far from where we first might have thought.

We chat about Malai, a Romanian cornmeal ricotta breakfast pudding that she features in her book and I tell her how I learned to make a polenta-like dish from my Romanian grandmother.

“Oh mamaliga,” she says, like everyone knows about mamaliga.  But then what would you expect from a woman whose book contains five recipes for haroset, a thick sauce or paste typically made of chopped fruits and nuts. It, like so many recipes, has morphed, bouncing back and forth between countries and continents, each time being tweaked just a little and Nathan includes a version from Brazil, Persia, Ferrara and, of all places, Maine.

Asked what recipes she’d recommend for those just starting using her cookbook, Nathan suggests Yemenite Chicken Soup with Dill, Cilantro and Parsley (“a really old recipe,” she says noting that historic records dating back to 12th century the healing power of chicken broth). She also suggests Malai, the Romania dish and Roman Ricotta Cheese Crostata with Cherries or Chocolate, a cheesecake recipe dating back to Imperial Rome in the 1st century. She also included a recipe from her friend, her friend Injy Farat-Lew, an Egyptian-Jew who grew up in Cairo and Paris, for a flourless chocolate cake and one for hard boiled eggs traditionally served ruing Passover on the Seder plate but can be used as a side for any meal.

“This recipe for long-cooked eggs with spinach came from the island of Corfu, Greece to Ancona, Italy, a seaport on the Adriatic coast,” writes Nathan, who first taste the dish in Rome, in the introduction to this recipe which also exemplifies the convoluted origins of food.

As she traveled (Nathan says her quest took her to approximately 30 countries over a six-year time span), the scope of her book changed. But it was all part of her culinary journey and one she continues to take.

Ifyougo:

What: Joan Nathan has two book signings

When & Where: Monday, May 1 at 6:00 pm, Bookends & Beginnings, 1712 Sherman Avenue, Alley #, Evanston, IL. 224-999-7722.

Tuesday, May 2 at 11:30 am-2pm, Standard Club Chicago luncheon, 320 S. Plymouth Ct, Chicago IL.

2:00pm.

 

Advertisements

Matt Moore’s Secrets to Good BBQ

When it comes to barbecue, geography is everything.

That according to Matt Moore, author of the recently released “The South’s Best Butts: Pitmaster Secrets for Southern Barbecue Perfection.” He explains how barbecue differs in the 12 southern states he calls the Barbecue Belt. And just to end the suspense, Indiana is definitely not one of them.

“In Northern Alabama, they combine vinegar and mayonnaise along with other variations to make a chalky white-style sauce,” says Moore, whose idea of a great day is turning up the volume on his favorite Grateful Dead songs, icing a case of beer, firing up the grill, inviting a bunch of friends and making some really good barbecue. “In Tennessee and Kansas City barbecue sauces are tomato-based, sweetened with molasses, and in Northeastern Kentucky it’s very dark, almost black. The reason why there’s a mustard-based sauce in South Carolina is because of all the Germans who settled there.”

Calling barbecue a second way of life down where he lives, Moore’s newest book takes us on a tour of some special pitmasters and their restaurants, sharing their stories and their recipes.

“I was seeking out not only great barbecue but also the best people,” Moore says. “I wanted to showcase the diversity and the ethnicity of this culinary tradition, which started more than a hundred years ago.”

Barbecue is complicated and beyond what to use to sauce the meat, there’s also the question of whether to go wet or dry. Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee, is where dry rubs — a mixture of spices and seasonings without any liquid — became famous. But that’s not all.

“Fuel is flavor,” says Moore, noting there are very involved discussions about what type of fuel is best to use.

And, of course, there’s what Moore calls, “All the Trimmings” in his chapter on side dishes.

Helen Turner, owner and pitmaster of Helen’s Barbeque in Brownsville, Tennessee, tops a lot of her sandwiches, including her smoked bologna and pulled pork with her special cole slaw.

At Bogart’s Smokehouse in St. Louis, Missouri, located on the Mississippi River, intriguing sides include their Fire and Ice Pickles, Deviled Egg Potato Salad and BBQ Pork Skins.

At Heirloom Market BBQ in Atlanta, Georgia, there are Kimchi Pickles and Candied Bacon at Burn Co Barbecue in Tulsa, Oklahoma. B.R Anderson, owner and pitmaster of B-Daddy’s BBQ, who says that barbecue saved his life, serves B-Daddy’s Jalapeno Creamed Corn at his Helotes, Texas, restaurant. For desserts there’s Caramel Apple Blondie Pie with Apple Cider Caramel Sauce, Flourless Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies and Strawberry-Lemon Buttermilk Icebox Pie with Gingersnap Crust.

“I wanted a cookbook that people can really cook out of,” Moore says. And indeed, this handsome book with lots of gorgeous-make-you-hungry photos has plenty of easy recipes as well as tips for making barbecue.

If you go

What: Matt Moore will be in Chicago for a talk and book-signing.

When & Where:

6:45-8:30 p.m. April 26 at Read It & Eat, 2142 N. Halsted St., Chicago

(773) 661-6158

My Cubs: A Love Story by Scott Simon

Change is an important part of life says Scott Simon, now a devoted husband and father who at one time was
 happy being single and childless.

But for Simon, the award winning host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, there’s one change that’s just not going to happen. Enamored (or should we say obsessed) with the Chicago Cubs is a never ending constant.

“I can’t imagine not being a Cubs fan,” says Simon who grew up in Chicago and attended games with his father.  “I’ll be a Cubs fan until the hereafter. I’m convinced the Almighty God would say to me in heaven, I gave you a big test–like the trials of Abraham and that was the Cubs.”

After 108 years in the proverbial desert, Simon has written about this passion in his recently released (The Blue Rider Press, 2017; $23).

It didn’t occur to me that I’d ever write this book,” says Simon who like many of us thought our Cubbies would always find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

But their enduring losses weren’t because of a goat says Simon.

Sure, Cubs authorities kicked Billy Sianis and the baby goat he nursed back to health out of the box office seats that had cost him $7.20 during the 1945 World Series against Detroit. There was talk that the goat, named Murphy, smelled like a…well…goat. But the cops and the ushers had always accepted free drinks at the Sianis’s tavern which he’d renamed—in honor of his goat–the Billy Goat Tavern. Sianis was angry and for years told reporters he sent a telegram to Phil Wrigley reading “Who stinks now?” at the end of each season when the Cubs failed to make the Series.

But the real reason they didn’t play in the World Series for another 71 years has to do with racism.

“Historically, though it eventually got hung on the Sianis family but no one at the time thought that,” says Simon who when he was writing his book Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball learned that the Boston Red Sox had a chance to sign the Hall of Famer three months before the Brooklyn Dodgers added him to their roster in 1947. “Ernie Banks and Gene Baker didn’t come to the Cubs as their first black players until 1953. They could have signed some great players before that but they didn’t. So it wasn’t the Curse of the Billy Goat but the curse of not signing African Americans until later that made the Cubs lose.”

Simon isn’t sure if the Cubs will repeat their victory.

“I think the hardest thing to do is repeat a professional championship, everyone thinks they figured out how to beat you,” he says. “But the core of this team is signed and is very good. But, as anyone will tell you, only so much of what gets you to the World Series you realize there are so many unforeseen things that can happen like injuries is talent.”

Even if they don’t win—ever again—Simon won’t waiver in his devotion to his team.
“I would have continued to be a Cubs fan even if they never won,” he says. “And I will always be a Cubs fan not matter what.”

Ifyougo:

What: Scott Simon has several book signings in the Chicago area.

When & Where:

April 11 at 6 p.m.

The Seminary Co-op Bookstore

5751 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL

April 12 at 3:45 p.m.

Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Conference Center

130 East Randolph Street, First Floor,

Chicago, IL

April 12 at 7 p.m.

Anderson’s Bookshop Naperville

123 W. Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL

April 13 at 7 p.m.

Barnes and Noble

55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie, IL