Joan Nathan’s King Solomon’s Table is a tribute to Jewish cooking from around the world. Not only does Nathan bring us delectable recipes to try, but also she accompanies them with their heritage and history. This book is a delicious meal and a history lesson all in one.
Nathan starts with an extensive and eclectic pantry list that includes everything from Baharat — a blend of seven spices to represent the mystical number seven — to apricot jam, for which she provides a beautifully simple recipe. Already the book hints at the vast range of ingredients and textures that are to come in the following pages. The rest of the book is separated into several categories: Morning, Starters, Salads, Soups and Their Dumplings, Bread, Grains and Such, Vegetables, Fish, Poultry, Meat, and Sweets. Each category is filled with both traditional Jewish recipes and some fusion takes, such as Chilaquiles, Mexican “Matzo” Brei and Carciofi alla Giudia, Fried Artichokes Jewish-Style. Nathan’s recipes hail from Yemen to Uzbekistan, Martha’s Vineyard to Spain, Jerusalem to Tangier, and just about everywhere in between. Nathan’s emphasis on the vast reach and influence of Jewish cooking is what stands out most about her collection.
Nathan includes a Yemenite chicken soup recipe that might inspire one to catch a cold just in order to taste it. The recipe is accompanied by the incredible history of chicken soup as a curative food. From Greece to Jerusalem, the author traces the various uses and additions to what has been lovingly referred to as “Jewish penicillin” in many families. This recipe, one of the oldest recorded, reads like a modern recipe except for the spice mixes indicated: Hilbe, zhug, and hawayij. These blends are like a trip back in time.
It’s clear that this book is the result of a lifetime of recipe story gathering. Nathan says that she “sought to discover what makes Jewish cooking unique,” and she certainly has done so. Reading King Solomon’s Table is like perusing Joan Nathan’s travel journal or a history lesson — but one that leaves the reader hungry! It will inspire learning, cooking, and adventuring.
Alexandra Shabtai is a Los Angeles native working in Jewish philanthropy. When she is not working or traveling, she spends her free time cooking in her favorite room of the house, the kitchen, or tending to her garden of vegetables, fruit trees and flowers.