King Solomon’s Table

King Solomon’s Table
A culinary Exploration of Jewish cooking & recipes from around the world

Cookbook review by Linda Kissam
Photos by Allan Kissam (except where indicated)

A truly great cookbook is something special. It certainly is not every cookbook I review.   For me, to get “great” it needs to be the total package.  I am looking for good tasting recipes that actually work without a lot of personal back-up skills, beautiful photography, instructions that get me to the goal line fairly quickly and successfully, and, most importantly, not more than about 15 ingredients. A remarkable cookbook earns its accolades through frequent use, appearing month after month in the dinner rotation. I don’t have to search for it in my bookcase.

Here’s my current criteria for what success looks like:

  1. Recipes that are pretty much goof proof – not too much to ask, I think. Why waste time making food that will fail?
  2. Useful photos – Designed to instruct me and guide me, please.
  3. Appropriate instructions – Too long or detailed and I get lost or bored. Too short and the author assumes you know what you’re doing. That is a recipe for failure.
  4. An index that makes sense– like finding the recipe by Category, Ingredient, Title, Season
  5. If the book concentrates on a specific cuisine- make the ingredients easily found at my local supermarket.

It seems I have found “great” with Joan Nathan’s King Solomon’s Table. Nathan is a James Beard Award–winning author and authority on Jewish food. This cookbook (her 11th) explores the origins and evolution of Jewish cuisine around the world. Generally I wouldn’t care so much about the history of the recipes, but in this case it helps make sense of the diversity of the recipes in this book.  Who knew Jewish cuisine could be spicy?

Nathan’s abbreviated history begins with King Solomon and his kingdom rich with diverse foods and cultures.  It follows traders and merchants as they travel and settle along the spice routes. It explains how Sephardic cooking morphed into the more well-known Jewish food traditions of Eastern and Central Europe.

The 170 recipes explains the reason behind the diversity of the ingredients. In short, traditional recipes required using regional spices and cooking methods as Jews moved around the globe. If you are a spice lover, take note of the Syrian-Mexican chicken that incorporates both apricots and chipotle peppers and El Salvadoran latkes made with yucca and served with cilantro cream. Definitely my kind of food profile having been brought up in Southern California.

Each recipe is prefaced with an origin backed story that explains its place in the Jewish food story. This is a cookbook that can be savored for its stories as much as its recipes.

At a recent book signing at Melissa’s World Variety Produce in Los Angeles, CA, a “taste” of the book was offered to the press.  Think of an international buffet featuring a Latin American Quinoa Salad (pg. 98); a spicy Moroccan vegetable soup (pg.122); a Georgian beef stew (pg. 275); an Italian Biscotti-like cookie (pg. 319) and a Polish Toronto blueberry bun (pg. 35.). To say I was in awe, is too simple.  The buffet was an eye opener to international yum.

You might like the “classics” like Yemenite Chicken Soup with Dill, Cilantro, and Parsley; Slow-Cooked Brisket with Red Wine, Vinegar, and Mustard; and Apple Kuchen.  There are some contemporary takes on traditional dishes such as Smoky Shakshuka with Tomatoes, Peppers, and Eggplant; Double-Lemon Roast Chicken; and Roman Ricotta Cheese Crostata as well.

Elegantly illustrated and filled with personal history and mouthwatering recipes, King Solomon’s Table showcases the incredible diversity of a culinary tradition more than three thousand years old. It makes a great gift for any birthday, hostess gift or holiday. Four out of four stars.

Try a taste of this book via a recipe for what the author calls her “secret ingredient.” It’s simple but adds a special flavoring to most dishes in the book.

PRESERVED LEMONS*

Authors Note: Preserved Lemons are a wonderful addition to your pantry. Use smooth, thin-skinned lemons, such as the Meyer variety. Sometimes I even throw in a few kumquats when they are in season. For color and flavor, I also put a fresh bay leaf in the jar.

People always ask me how I use my preserved lemons. I throw a whole (deseeded) lemon into my hummus (see page 51) and add a little of its preserving juice for an extra punch. Or, I dice the rind and add it to salads or salad dressings. I love to scatter pieces over fish (see page 239) and stuff chickens with a whole lemon (see page 266)—after the chicken is roasted, I dice the lemon to use as a condiment.

Yield: 8 preserved lemons

About 16 lemons

About ½ cup coarse kosher salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 fresh bay leaves (optional)

  1. Cut off the very ends of 8 of the lemons. Slice each one lengthwise into quarters, cut- ting to but not through the opposite end. Gently open half the lemon over a bowl and sprinkle a tablespoon of salt into it, then open the other half and add another tablespoon, using 2 tablespoons total per lemon.
  2. Put the cut lemons in a large jar—it’s fine if you have to pack them in, as they will shrink. Extract the juice from the remaining lemons and completely cover the cut ones in the jar with the juice. Slip in the bay leaves, if using. Let sit for a day, lightly covered with a towel.
  3. The next day, pour a thin film of olive oil over the lemons and their juice. This will help keep them sealed while they preserve. Cover the jar tightly and put in the refrigerator or store at room temperature, allowing to cure for 3 to 4 weeks. They will last for at least a year.

*Excerpted from KING SOLOMON’S TABLE by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2017 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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King Solomon’s Table / $17.98