Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France

Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France

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by Joan Nathan

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What is Jewish cooking in France? In a journey that was a labor of love, Joan Nathan traveled the country to discover the answer and, along the way, unearthed a treasure trove of recipes and the often moving stories behind them.

Nathan takes us into kitchens in Paris, Alsace, and the Loire Valley; she visits the bustling Belleville market in Little Tunis in… See more details below


What is Jewish cooking in France? In a journey that was a labor of love, Joan Nathan traveled the country to discover the answer and, along the way, unearthed a treasure trove of recipes and the often moving stories behind them.

Nathan takes us into kitchens in Paris, Alsace, and the Loire Valley; she visits the bustling Belleville market in Little Tunis in Paris; she breaks bread with Jewish families around the observation of the Sabbath and the celebration of special holidays. All across France, she finds that Jewish cooking is more alive than ever: traditional dishes are honored, yet have acquired a certain French finesse. And completing the circle of influences: following Algerian independence, there has been a huge wave of Jewish immigrants from North Africa, whose stuffed brik and couscous, eggplant dishes and tagines—as well as their hot flavors and Sephardic elegance—have infiltrated contemporary French cooking.

All that Joan Nathan has tasted and absorbed is here in this extraordinary book, rich in a history that dates back 2,000 years and alive with the personal stories of Jewish people in France today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This well-researched, fascinating cookbook encapsulates 2,000 years of Jewish history in France. Nathan, the James Beard Award–winning doyenne of Jewish cooking (Jewish Cooking in America), applies her culinary detective skills to sniffing out the Jewish influence on French cuisine, and vice versa. Her rich subject matter yields both vast diversity and unexpected commonalities. Friday night Sabbath dinners alone can range from the Alsatian pot-au-feu to Moroccan adafina (meat stew with chickpeas and rice). The Germanic Alsatian specialties like potato kugel will be familiar to many Jewish Americans, while the North African dishes like brik with tuna and cilantro and m'soki (a Passover spring vegetable ragout originating in Tunisia) reflect Sephardic customs. Nathan also explores cross-cultural concoctions such as Provençal brassados (a precursor to the bagel), brandade potato latkes, and a Bordeaux haroset by way of Portugal, all of which embody both the complicated migratory paths and acculturation of the Jewish people. This being France, though, there are lovely renditions of native dishes, too--chestnut cream gâteau, braised endive, cassoulet. Nathan's multi­layered, narrative approach makes this treasury of tempting flavors an entertaining and compelling read. Photos. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
“If the very act of cooking connotes love, then the combination of recipes with stories is an open acknowledgment of the emotional bonds that food creates. As is her wont, TV host and award-winning cookbook author Nathan (Jewish Cooking in America, 1994, plus eight others) not only plunges into her collection of 200 recipes but also narrates, factually and with no small sentiment, the history of Jews in France. First, it’s a highly personal mission, prompted by her stay as a teenager in France in the 1950s. It’s also a motley narrative, filled with stories of persecution as well as joy, documented with personal accounts of the Holocaust and memories of kosher cooking (i.e., adhering to Jewish dietary laws). Food items represent the influence of Alsatian, Provençal, Moroccan-Tunisian, Algerian, and Eastern European cuisines—a well-functioning melting pot that yields brik (a North African turnover), borscht (the French equivalent of this Russian beet soup), Alsatian pear kugel (noodle casserole) with prunes, and cholent, a Sabbath beef stew. Just as compelling are the people who populate these pages: Ariel, a Jewish policeman in Auch, France, who craves a kosher version of lasagna; the Baroness de Rothschild; Daniel Rose, a young American chef in Paris whose 16-seat Spring restaurant is garnering raves. Historical and recipe photographs plus illustrations round out this very memorable collection. Appended are a sampling of French Jewish menus, a glossary of terms and ingredients, a source guide, and a bibliography.”
Barbara Jacobs, Booklist (starred review)

"An absorbing exploration of French Jewish food by one of America's foremost culinary historian-journalists, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous presents a rich array of dishes, each of them supported by material which explains their place in local culture and the ways they have been influenced by French cuisine (and sometimes vice versa). From Parisian gefilte fish and Rosh Hashanah chicken with cinnamon and apples from Metz, to Alsatian pot-au-feu and Italian- and Tunisian-derived spaghetti with bottarga, preserved lemon, and harissa, this is French food and Jewish food from a wonderful perspective."
—Kitchen Arts & Letters

Library Journal
Nathan, the James Beard and IACP Award-winning author of Jewish Cooking in America and The New American Cooking, opens with a culinary history of Jews in France. Writing for the beginner, she includes recipes for traditional Jewish favorites like challah, babka, and several types of kugel. Nathan also provides a sampling of French Jewish menus, glossary of term and ingredients, and source guide (with addresses, phone numbers, and websites). Recommended for areas with substantial Jewish or French influences. [Six-city tour.]

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

Salade de Blettes
Moroccan cooks usually make this tasty salad with Swiss chard, but I have seen it also with beet leaves. Eaten all year round, it is prepared by Moroccans on Rosh Hashanah for their Sephardic Seder, when they say a series of blessings over squash, leeks, dates, pomegranates, black- eyed peas, apples, the head of a fish or a lamb, and Swiss chard and beet greens.
⅓ cup peanut, grapeseed, or vegetable oil
2 bunches of Swiss chard or beet leaves with stems, coarsely chopped (about 1 pound)
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon harissa, or to taste
¼ cup white vinegar or lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Toss in the garlic, sautéing until just fragrant, then add the chard and cook for a few minutes. Sprinkle on a little salt, the paprika, cumin, and harissa, and cook for another minute, stirring. Pour the vinegar or lemon juice into the pan, and cook for another minute, or until it has begun to evaporate. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.
Yields 4-6 servings.

Citrons Confits
Preserved lemons are an indispensable item in my pantry cupboard. I use them all the time and believe they are best made at home. Although I have tasted lemons preserved in water or an equal mix of lemon juice and water, I much prefer them preserved in pure lemon juice. Many people scrape out and discard the pulp when using the lemons, but I often include the preserved pulp. I blend a preserved lemon in with my hummus, sprinkle the rind on grilled fish, and stuff my chicken with a whole lemon, and I dice preserved lemons and mix them into salads, rice dishes, and vegetables. In addition to regular lemons, you can also use Meyer lemons or, as Irene Weil does, even kumquats.
8 lemons (about 1½ pounds)
About ½ cup kosher salt
1 cup fresh lemon juice, plus more if necessary
2 tablespoons olive oil
Cut off the very ends of each lemon. Cut each one lengthwise into quarters, cutting to but not through the opposite end. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of salt into the cut sides of each lemon. Put the lemons in a large jar (it’s fine if you have to squeeze them in, because they will shrink), and cover completely with lemon juice. Let sit for a day. The next day, if they are not covered with lemon juice, pour a thin film of olive oil over the lemons. This will help keep them sealed while they preserve. Put the jar in the refrigerator and allow to cure for 2 to 3 weeks. Before using, scrape off the pulp if desired.
Yield: 8 Preserved Lemons

Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons
When Celine Bénitah cooks this dish, she blanches the olives for a minute to get rid of the bitterness, a step that I never bother with. If you keep the pits in, just warn your guests in order to avoid any broken teeth! Céline also uses the marvelous Moroccan spice mixture ras el hanout, which includes, among thirty other spices, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, cloves, and paprika. You can find it at Middle Eastern markets or through the Internet, or you can use equal amounts of the above spices or others that you like. To make my life easier, I assemble the spice rub the day before and marinate the chicken overnight. The next day, before my guests arrive, I fry the chicken and simmer it.
4 large cloves garlic, mashed
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 to 2 tablespoons ras el hanout
1 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
One 3½- to- 4- pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup black Moroccan drycured olives, pitted
Diced rind of 2 preserved lemons
Mix the mashed garlic with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, the turmeric, the ras el hanout, half the cilantro, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Rub the surface of the chicken pieces with this spice mixture, put them in a dish, and marinate in the refrigerator, covered, overnight.

The next day, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan. Sauté the spice- rubbed chicken until golden brown on each side. Stir the cornstarch into 1 cup water, and pour over the chicken. Bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. Add the olives, and continue cooking for another 20 minutes. Sprinkle on the preserved lemon, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Garnish with the remaining cilantro. Serve with rice or couscous.
Yield: 4-6 Servings.

Tarte au Citron

When I was a student in Paris, I became hooked on intensely tart yet sweet French lemon tarts, and sampled them at every pastry shop I could find. I still love them, especially when they are bitingly tart.
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or pareve margarine
1 cup all- purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
About 2 tablespoons cold milk or water
2 cups sugar
4 lemons
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or pareve margarine
To make the crust, cut the butter into small pieces, and toss into a food processor fitted with a steel blade, along with the flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse until the texture is like very coarse meal. Pour in the milk or water a tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the dough comes together in a ball. Be careful not to add too much liquid, or the dough will be impossible to roll out. Shape the dough into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. Roll out the piecrust, and line an ungreased 9-inch tart pan with it. Prick it all over with a fork, and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. (This can be done ahead of time.)

To make the filling, pour 2 cups water into a heavy medium-sized saucepan. Add 1 cup of the sugar, and bring to a boil. Slice one of the lemons into thin circles, drop them into the boiling sugared water, lower the heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes, uncovered. Drain, and discard the liquid. Grate the zest of the remaining 3 lemons to get 2 tablespoons of zest, then juice the lemons to get about ¾ cup juice. Whip the eggs and remaining sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed. Gradually add the lemon juice and zest. Pour the filling ingredients into a medium saucepan, add the butter or margarine, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, being careful not to boil, until the lemon thickens into a curdlike custard, about 5 minutes. Spoon the filling into the prebaked crust. Lay the lemon slices all over, and refrigerate until firm.
Yield: 8 servings.

From the Hardcover edition.

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