Book Review: French kugel

A cookbook that is also a glossary, a source guide and a personal and culinary history of the Jews in France.

kugel311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Quiches, Kugels and Couscous by Joan Nathan, Alfred A. Knopf, $39.95 hardcover, 400 pages.
This is a cookbook to read, and it took me a week! If I had known Joan Nathan when we both lived in Israel, I would have read it. If I only liked to read kosher cookbooks, I would have read it. To know that Nathan spent her junior year abroad in France and has a master’s degree in French literature would also have motivated me to read this book. But besides all of this, as an adult I learned that my maternal grandfather’s ancestors had come from France, so I was particularly excited to read and learn. And read and learn I did!
Besides 49 fascinating essays there are 210 recipes, plus French- Jewish menus, a glossary, a source guide and bibliography. This wellresearched work is a personal history and the culinary history of the Jews in France. That’s what makes this such an exciting read.
Lots o'latkes
Sweet potato kugel, Parisian style
'Eishet hayil' cooks for Shabbat
In writing this cookbook, Nathan explains that she felt “a sense of urgency in trying to recapture [the traditional recipes of the older generation which is dying out] as the people who cooked them, remember them, and to explore their origins.”
There are 15 appetizers ranging from a 13th-century haroset to a leek terrine from Alsace, and the history of foie gras with several chopped liver recipes. Tempting soups of Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian origins are part of the 18 soup recipes including beet soup mentioned in the Talmud, and the universally popular Jewish chicken soup with a French twist. Nineteen hot and cold salads are included, as well as classics like French potato salad and those with beets, fennel, celery root and artichokes. In the breads chapter, among the 13 recipes are a number for Shabbat, the famous Parisian pletzl (bialy) and other varied breads. In the fish chapter, 15 fish recipes include French gefilte fish and salmon, carp, fish sauerkraut and more plus preserved lemons and a horseradish sauce.
In the exciting chicken, duck and goose chapter, incorporated are several tagine recipes and cassoulets.
This is a classic book for Jewish cookbook collectors, Jewish cooks, cooks of eclectic kosher and Jewish cooking and anyone who wants to add French-kosher recipes to their repertoire.
Rhode Island-born Nathan spent three years in Israel in the 1970s working for the late mayor Teddy Kollek followed by working for New York mayor Abe Beame. She contributes often to The New York Times and Washington Post, has written 10 cookbooks, and hosted a syndicated PBS Television series, Jewish Cooking in America. She and her husband, Allan Gerson, live in Washington, DC and are the parents of three grown children.