Feasts fit for King Solomon

There has long been variety in the cuisine of the Land of Israel thanks to merchants who were looking for new items to trade.

Pizza Ebaica (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Pizza Ebaica
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
For the High Holy Days we plan to prepare some delicious dishes from Joan Nathan’s new cookbook, King Solomon’s Table.
Nathan’s beef stew, which she presented at a lunch in Los Angeles, gained an appealing sweet taste from red bell peppers, as well as onions and paprika. It should make a tempting main course for Rosh Hashana, when sweet flavors are traditional.
For our Rosh Hashana dessert, we’re thinking of baking Nathan’s pizza ebraica. This “Jewish pizza” doesn’t have tomato sauce or cheese. It’s a tasty Italian-Jewish treat that is actually a biscotti-like cookie studded with raisins and dried cherries macerated in sweet wine.
What do these dishes have to do with King Solomon? The subtitle of Nathan’s book is “A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.” There has long been variety in the cuisine of the Land of Israel, said Nathan, thanks to merchants who were looking for new items to trade. The story of King Solomon, she wrote, “offers an image of a ruler presiding over a diversity of cultures, an abundance of food, and reaching beyond his borders to feed his kingdom.”
There was global influence on traditional dishes for the Yom Kippur pre-fast and post-fast meals. According to Nathan, “the art of making kreplach – the Jewish wonton – was learned from the Chinese and perhaps the Khazars, many of whom supposedly converted to Judaism.”
For the post-Yom Kippur dinner, Nathan serves harira, a soup made with chickpeas, which were found in Mesopotamia at least 8,500 years ago and spread throughout the Middle East. “A Muslim staple to break the daily fast of Ramadan,” wrote Nathan of harira, “it has crossed over to the Moroccan Jewish tradition of breaking the fast of Yom Kippur.”
Often harira is made with meat, but Nathan makes her version of the spicy, lemony soup vegetarian. That way, for a kosher meal, one could also enjoy Nathan’s tasty tomato salad, which is enhanced with feta or goat cheese as well as olives and herbs.
Another good appetizer for celebrating Rosh Hashana or for breaking the Yom Kippur fast is Nathan’s tabbouleh, which she makes with apples and pomegranate seeds. The bulgur wheat mixture also contains walnuts and parsley, and is flavored with red onion, honey, lemon juice, olive oil and salt.
Nathan’s colorful salad of roasted beets with oranges and pistachios, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and cumin, also makes an inviting starter for any of this month’s feasts.
(Georgian beef stew with red peppers)
This stew is easier to make than many others, because there’s no need to brown the meat first. “As with many early Jewish recipes I have found around the world,” wrote Joan Nathan, “the beef, often a tough inexpensive cut, is first boiled in water until it is almost tender and then layered with flavor from onions, spices and bright red bell peppers...After slowly simmering the beef for a few hours, you are rewarded with a melt-in-yourmouth, silky stew.” Serve it over potatoes or over rice.
Serves 6 to 8
900 gr. stewing beef, cut into 3.8-cm. chunks
2 large sweet red peppers (about 450 gr.), cut into 2.5-cm. squares
280 gr. high-quality canned plum tomatoes, or about 4 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, crushed with your hands
2 heaping Tbsp. tomato paste
2 large onions, diced (2 cups or 200 gr.)
5 cloves garlic, minced (2 Tbsp.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ tsp. hot paprika, or to taste
½ tsp. sweet paprika, or to taste
½ bunch parsley, chopped, divided
Roasted small potatoes (for serving, see Note)
Put beef in a Dutch oven or similar heavy pot and cover with about 3 cups (700 ml.) of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 1 hour and 15 minutes until almost tender, adding more water if necessary. You might have to periodically skim foam that accumulates on the top.
Add the red peppers and tomatoes, stir, and cook uncovered for another 20 minutes.
Stir in the tomato paste, onions, and garlic. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for another 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until the beef is very tender and almost falling apart. Season with salt, pepper and hot and sweet paprika to taste and stir in half the parsley.
Serve over roasted potatoes, sprinkled with the remaining parsley.
Roasted small potatoes
Scrub 1.36 kg. of baby potatoes and put them in a roasting pan. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil, or enough to coat them. Sprinkle with salt. Bake in a preheated 175º oven, stirring every 15 minutes, for about 45 to 60 minutes, or until fork tender. Sprinkle with pepper.
(biscotti-like cookies with dried fruit and wine)
Nathan wrote that these cookies, which are studded with pine nuts and either hazelnuts or almonds, often include candied fruit as well as dried fruit, but she uses only dried fruit – cherries and raisins, first plumped in sweet wine. “You can add chocolate chips,” she wrote, “but do so sparingly, as they can overwhelm. The traditional shape is a large, rectangular loaf, but I prefer them rolled out and shaped in small ovals.”
“These pizzas are supposed to be a little burnt (think of it as ‘caramelizing’) and stay nicely crisp for several weeks,” wrote Nathan.
Makes about 20
½ cup (120 ml.) Marsala or another sweet wine
½ cup (60 gr.) dried cherries
½ cup (60 gr.) raisins
4 Tbsp. (56 gr.) unsalted butter or coconut oil, at room temperature
¾ cup (150 gr.) sugar
½ tsp. salt
¹⁄3 cup (80 ml.) vegetable oil
½ tsp. vanilla
2 to 2 ½ cups (270 to 340 gr.) flour
½ cup (60 gr.) pine nuts
½ cup (60 gr.) peeled hazelnuts or blanched almonds
Pour the wine over the cherries and raisins in a small bowl. Cover and allow to soak for at least 1 hour, but ideally overnight.
Preheat oven to 175º and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cream the butter or coconut oil, sugar and salt in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the oil, vanilla and ¼ cup (60 ml.) of the wine from the cherries and raisins. Gradually add the flour, mixing until a soft dough forms (you might not need all the flour). Remove the paddle and stir in the cherries, raisins, pine nuts and hazelnuts or almonds with a spoon or your hands.
Using your hands, shape about 4-tablespoon portions of the dough into egg shapes about 7.5 cm. long. Put the cookies on the baking sheet about 1.25 cm. apart. They will not spread very much when baking. Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown and burning slightly around the edges.
(spiced Moroccan vegetable soup with chickpeas)
This is Nathan’s favorite comfort soup. Some cooks add chicken and noodles to it. Nathan sometimes replaces all or some of the lentils with whole grains, such as wheat berries, which she adds along with the dried chickpeas.
Serves 8 to 10
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)
3 stalks celery, diced (about 1½ cups)
3 large carrots, peeled and cut in rounds
½ tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ to 1 tsp. harissa (North African pepper paste) or dried red chili flakes, plus more for serving
Salt to taste
1 bunch parsley, chopped (about 1½ cups/75 gr.), divided
1 bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1½ cups/75 gr.), divided
One 425-gr. can tomatoes, crushed, or 2 cups (450 gr.) tomato sauce
7 cups (1²⁄3 liters) chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 cup (200 gr.) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked, or a 425-gr. can chickpeas, drained
1 cup (370 gr.) green lentils
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. all-purpose unbleached flour
1 large egg
Juice of 2 lemons (about ¼ cup)
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion, celery and carrots until the onion turns translucent and begins to brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the turmeric, cumin, harissa, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup each of parsley and cilantro, the tomatoes and the stock or water and bring to a boil.
If using the soaked chickpeas, drain them and add to the pot. Simmer uncovered for 25 minutes, then add the lentils, another teaspoon of salt and the pepper and continue simmering until the chickpeas and lentils are cooked, about 20 minutes more. If using canned chickpeas, omit the first 25 minutes of simmering and add them with the lentils.
A short time before serving, whisk the flour, egg and lemon juice into 2 cups (470 ml.) of water. Stir into the soup. Simmer soup about 5 minutes more and serve, sprinkled with the remaining cilantro and parsley. Serve extra harissa separately.
This is Nathan’s adaptation of the tomato salad served at Herbert Samuel, a restaurant in Tel Aviv. She calls it “the freshest and most delicious tomato salad I ever ate” and she makes the lemon- garlic dressing often.
Serves 6 to 8
6 medium tomatoes, halved or sliced
2 to 2½ cups (275 gr.) mixed red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
2 mini heirloom tomatoes, halved or sliced
20 black olives, pitted and halved
6 radishes, thinly sliced
½ green jalapeno or other hot pepper, thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 green onion, diced
10 basil leaves, cut in thin strips
2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves
3 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 cup (70 gr.) baby greens
110 gr. feta or goat cheese
Lemon Dressing
Juice of 1 large lemon, or to taste
1 garlic clove, crushed
Sea salt to taste
4 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Arrange the tomatoes on a platter or plate, or put them in a bowl. Add olives, radishes, hot pepper, red onion, green onion, basil, oregano, thyme, baby greens and feta or goat cheese.
For dressing: Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl. Add the garlic and a little salt, then whisk in the olive oil and pour over the salad.
The writer is the author of Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook.