“Driven by a passion for discovery, King Solomon is said to have sent ships to all corners of the ancient world, initiating a mass cross-pollination of culinary cultures that continues to bear fruit today.” Celebrated author Joan Nathan traveled to about 30 countries while writing King Solomon’s Table, sometimes following a specific recipe there (chocolate salami in El Salvador, for instance), always in search of Jewish recipes and Jewish people. The resulting cookbook is a treasure containing more than 170 recipes spanning thousands of years from around the world, accompanied by stories about those recipes and an introduction that gives a history of how Jewish food began.
I was honored to meet Joan at a media luncheon at Melissa’s Produce, where we had the pleasure of listening to her talk about her adventures in writing, travel and cooking…accompanied by some good old-fashioned in-the-kitchen advice (like her tip to add cumin to salt for hard-boiled eggs). Joan likens Jewish food to a bagel: a dough is formed, “…using ingredients and techniques local to its people…the dough is rolled and stretched, so the people and their cuisine begin to spread…new ideas, new foods and new recipes are picked up along the way…the recipes and techniques at one end seem quite different from the other…then with a twist of a wrist and a pinch of the fingers, the beginning and the end of the rope are united – the cuisine goes back to its roots, simultaneously incorporating the new tricks learned along the way and and enriching other cuisines.”
Joan spoke about how Jewish food has been kept together by three elements. First, dietary laws led to a table-centered existence, in daily life and on special occasions, like Passover, which is one of the oldest religious celebrations. There was no Passover in King Solomon’s time, but they did enjoy a spring celebration, which commemorated the bounty of the season.
Merchants were the second element; biblical accounts portray King Solomon as a ruler with broad appetites and interests. His 700 wives and 300 mistresses brought with them foods unique to their homelands, and the 12 tribes of Israel were each responsible for tithing the king for one month during the year with new foods and spices as well as jewels, minerals, and materials. The third element is regionalization. Joan states that “As a wandering people Jews have influenced many different local cuisines as they carried their foods to new lands: via Jewish trade routes; while fleeing prejudice in search of safer lands; or while migrating in search of new opportunities.” Strict adherence to the laws of kashrut and to the traditions of worship and rituals have kept Jews together for over 2000 years, ensuring that like the bagel, recipes and customs rooted around the world always, through any adaptations and modifications over time and distance, circle back to their origins.
We sampled several dishes from King Solomon’s Table:
Quinoa Salad with Squash, Feta and Pecans (page 98) was my favorite savory recipe of the day…
so simple and delicious that I made my own version the next day, using Melissa’s Red Quinoa and Steamed Butternut Squash (a super time saver!).
Herbert Samuel’s Tomato Salad (page 102) was refreshing and brightly colored.
Harira, Spiced Moroccan Vegetable Soup with Chickpeas, Cilantro and Lemon was comforting.
Salyanka, Georgian Beef Stew with Red Peppers (page 275) was hearty and filling.
Shtritzlach, Toronto Blueberry Buns (page 35), had a blueberry filling that perfectly balanced a lemony pastry that had a little kick from Joan’s addition of candied ginger. Pizza Ebraica, which loosely translates to “Hebrew Bread” are Biscotti-like Cookies with Dried Fruit and Wine (page 319)…they were my favorite dessert! I made a batch of these with my own adaptations (as Joan encourages us to do throughout the book). They are so flavorful, filled with dried fruits and nuts – but they’re not too sweet, which makes them a great snack or dessert…or breakfast.
First, dried cherries and raisins are soaked in a sweet Marsala wine for several hours; you can do this the night before. I had some Melissa’s Produce Kumquats on hand, so I chopped some of the peels and added them to the dried fruit mixture. It’s so pretty already!
The dough comes together quickly, then the fruits and nuts are stirred in. I substituted pistachios for the hazelnuts because I love pairing them with dried cherries, and also added (Melissa’s) Pine Nuts, as the recipe calls for.
Joan suggested adding a little chocolate to the cookie…who am I to argue with such a culinary maven?
I used a 4 Tbsp. scoop to measure the dough equally, and shaped it into little egg-shaped logs.
They bake until golden brown on top – be warned, the aroma wafting from the oven may cause drooling! – and the edges are very dark and caramelized – even a bit burnt, if you will. In fact, the hubs, who likes his cookies “well done” has specifically asked me to “burn a batch” just for him!
They have a lovely texture – not quite as crunchy and crumbly as biscotti but not too soft either, and the fruits and nuts make each bite delectable. I cut them in half and stored them in a tin. Joan states that this recipe is ideal for holiday gift giving as they cookies stay fresh for a long time (I’ve already added them to my holiday baking list). Freshness was not a concern with this batch though; it’s already gone!
This collection of recipes accompanied by history and stories of how each recipe has evolved over time and travel is an inspiration. As we journey with Joan through King Solomon’s Table, she deftly shows how all the dishes are interconnected with the culture and seasonal foods of regions where Jewish communities have been. Through each generation continuing to this day, every cook writes a new chapter in the life of each dish, weaving in their own ingredients and twists, reinforcing how intertwined we all are through foods. As cultures and recipes continue to mesh and evolve, we all continue to learn from each other – what better way to make the world a better place? Enjoy!
How fortunate we are that every day the old and the new come together, and we may partake of the foods that appeared on King Solomon’s Table so many years ago. Joan Nathan
- ½ cup Marsala wine, or another sweet wine
- ½ cup dried cherries*
- ½ cup raisins*
- 4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, or coconut oil, at room temperature
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ tsp. salt
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- ½ tsp. vanilla
- 2-2½ cups flour
- ½ cup pine nuts
- ½ cup peeled hazelnuts or blanched almonds*
- Pour the wine over the cherries and raisins in a small bowl. Cover and allow to soak for at least an hour but ideally overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Cream the butter or coconut oil, sugar and salt in a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.
- Add the oil, vanilla, and ¼ cup of the wine from the cherries and raisins.
- Gradually add the flour, mixing until a soft dough forms. You may not need all the flour.
- Remove the paddle attachment and stir in the cherries, raisins, pine nuts, and hazelnuts or almonds with a spoon or your hands.
- Using your hands, shape about 4 Tbsp. portions** of the dough into egg shapes about 3" long.
- Put the cookies on a baking sheet about a half inch apart. They will not spread much when baking.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown and burning slightly around the edges.
*If your dried cherries are large you can chop them as I did. I used jumbo Crimson raisins, which I also chopped. I added the chopped peel of 5 kumquats and ¼ cup roughly chopped dark (72% cocoa) chocolate. In place of the hazelnuts I used chopped pistachios.
**Using a ¼ cup scoop makes it easy to scoop equal portions of the dough.
When the cookies are done, remove the baking sheets to a cooling rack and allow to cool 10 minutes; then place the cookies directly onto the rack to cool completely.
Prep time includes 6 hours of soaking time for the fruits.
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. I received a copy of Joan Nathan’s cookbook for review, and the specified Melissa’s Produce products were provided by Melissa’s Produce. I was not compensated in any other way, and all opinions expressed are my own.