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

  • Review
By – September 22, 2011
In her lat­est book Joan Nathan — author of the clas­sic Jew­ish Hol­i­day Kitchen—once again invites read­ers to join her in a culi­nary adven­ture, this time a search for the Jew­ish cook­ing of France. The title is a lit­tle mis­lead­ing; the book cov­ers the entire menu, from appe­tiz­ers through desserts, and beyond that gives a brief but infor­ma­tive his­to­ry of the Jews in France.

There is evi­dence that Jews arrived in France as ear­ly as 39 C.E., and they have con­tin­ued over the cen­turies, bring­ing the foods of their home­lands, trad­ing in spices from dis­tant lands, grow­ing grapes for wine. Add to this the French flair for fine food, enrich­ing and enhanc­ing many dish­es, and a rich culi­nary tra­di­tion flour­ish­es. 

Nathan’s rela­tion­ship with France goes back to her teens, when she stud­ied there, and her love for the food she has tast­ed and homes she has vis­it­ed over the years makes this an espe­cial­ly per­son­al and friend­ly book. In more than 200 recipes, Nathan intro­duces the Sephardic tians and olive oil-infused dish­es of the south of France and the Ashke­naz­ic chou­croutes and cholents of Alsace-Lor­raine. Of spe­cial inter­est to the home bak­er is a tempt­ing array of Sab­bath breads. 

The recipes, as var­ied and appeal­ing as they, are only part of this attrac­tive book. Nathan has a gift for telling the sto­ries behind the recipes and for unearthing inter­est­ing side­lights — Paul Bocuse’s kosher clos­et, with plates and prod­ucts for wed­dings and b’nei mitz­vah; gen­tle feed­ing of ducks for kosher foie gras; sec­tions set aside in high-qual­i­ty vine­yards for mak­ing kosher wine. After read­ing this book, read­ers may start plan­ning a trip to France or at least adding it to their Chanukkah lists. A gen­er­ous por­tion of col­or pho­tographs brings sev­er­al dish­es to life; to help cooks put togeth­er menus, Nathan has marked each dish D (dairy), M (meat), or P (pareve). Bib­li­og­ra­phy, glos­sary, index, pho­tographs, sam­ple menus, source guide.

Recipe: Quick Goat Cheese Bread with Mint and Apricots

When I ate din­ner at the home of Nathalie Berre­bi, a French woman liv­ing in Gene­va, she served this savory quick bread warm and sliced thin, as a first course for a din­ner attend­ed by lots of chil­dren and adults. For the main course, Nathalie pre­pared rouget (red mul­let) with an egg­plant tape­nade on top, some­thing all the chil­dren loved. The entire din­ner was deli­cious, but I espe­cial­ly liked that savory bread with the unex­pect­ed fla­vor com­bi­na­tion of goat cheese, apri­cots, and fresh mint. Now I often make this quick bread for brunch or lunch and serve it with a green sal­ad. 


¹⁄³ cup olive oil, plus some for greas­ing 
3 large eggs¹⁄³ cup milk 
2 cups all- pur­pose flour 
1 tea­spoon bak­ing pow­der
½ tea­spoon salt
Fresh­ly ground pep­per to taste
2 ounces grat­ed Gruyère, aged­Ched­dar, or Comté cheese
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 cup chopped dried apri­cots
2 table­spoons rough­ly minced­mint leaves or 2 tea­spoons­dried mint

Yields 6 – 8 serv­ings

 Pre­heat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 9- by- 5- inch loaf pan with some of the oil.Crack the eggs into a large bowl, and beat well. Add the milk and oil, whisk­ing until smooth.Mix the flour, bak­ing pow­der, salt, and pep­per in anoth­er bowl, and add to the wet mix­ture, stir­ring until every­thing is incor­po­rat­ed and the dough is smooth. Spread the bat­ter in the pre­pared bak­ing pan, sprin­kle on the grat­ed Gruyère, Ched­dar, or Comté, crum­ble the goat cheese on top, and then scat­ter on the apri­cots and the mint leaves. Pull a knife gen­tly through the bat­ter to blend the ingre­di­ents slight­ly. Bake for 40 min­utes. Cool briefly, remove from the pan, peel off the foil or parch­ment paper, slice, and serve warm.

Reprint­ed with per­mis­sion from Quich­es, Kugels, and Cous­cous by Joan Nathan, Alfred A. Knopf 2010

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions