King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, written by Joan Nathan, brings together over 170 recipes of the Jewish diaspora along with well-researched historical and personal stories. I will be sharing Joan’s recipe for Tahina Cookies and other highlights include Csúsztatott Palacsinta (Hungarian Apple Pancakes), Sambousak bel Tawa (Chickpea Pillows with Onions), Melitzanosalata (Salonikan Eggplant Salad), Defo Dabo (Ethiopian Sabbath Bread), Fideos Tostados (Toasted Pasta in a Cinnamon-Spiked Tomato Sauce), Green Chile Relleno Latkes, T’Beet (Baghdadi Sabbath Overnight Spiced Chicken with Rice and Coconut Chutney), Salyanka (Georgian Beef Stew with Red Peppers), and Fluden de Pasach (Cashew Nut Strudel with Guava and Lime).
Joan Nathan is a James Beard Award-winning author of eleven books including Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous; The New American Cooking; The Foods of Israel Today; Jewish Cooking in America; and The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen. She is also a frequent contributor to The New York Times, Tablet magazine, and was the host of the nationally syndicated PBS television series Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan. She was born in Providence, Rhode Island, spent three years working in Israel for Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem, and is now based in Washington, D.C. and Martha’s Vineyard with her husband.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Alfred A. Knopf in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Chapters are divided based on course: Pantry, Morning, Starters, Salads, Soups and Their Dumplings, Breads, Grains and Such, Vegetables, Fish, Poultry, Meat, and Sweets.
Joan begins with a history of Jewish food and the background of King Solomon. She has spent decades researching and preserving Jewish food traditions and her passion shines across the pages. You will learn about a cuisine that dates back over three thousand years and its transformation through the influence of other cultures. During her travels, one thing Joan noticed is that no matter where in the world Jewish cuisine has traveled to, it is all bound together through the same traditions and the laws of kashrut.
The photography is provided by Gabriela Herman. Sixty full-page, beautiful color photos accompany about a third of the recipes. Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric for the ingredients. Every recipe includes a headnote with background information, history, stories, and notes. The name of each dish is written in English and occasionally the original language. There is a guide to the basic pantry with descriptions and foundation recipes for staples like za’atar, harissa, preserved lemons, and zhug.
This book is a great pick for those wanting to learn more about Jewish cuisine around the world. Recipes range from weeknight meals to breads that require time to proof and overnight dishes that can be prepared ahead in preparation for Sabbath. Tips are provided throughout for things like making your own hot paprika mix if you can’t locate the spice or differentiating between Warqa and Filo. Most of the ingredients can be found in the average American grocery store. Some may require further searching such as dried rose petals, cardamom pods, brik leaves, farmer cheese, tamarind paste, curry leaves, tahina, chickpea flour, Asian eggplant, yuca, guava paste, and saffron threads.
Joan was inspired to make these Tahina Cookies after trying some in an Israeli coffee shop in Manhattan. These crumbly cookies have a shortbread/tea cookie-like melt in your mouth texture with a roasted, nutty flavor thanks to the tahina.
The cookies come together quite easily and my kids loved helping push the almonds into the top of each ball of dough.
I blanched the almonds by boiling them in water for 60 seconds. The skins were then easy to remove. Don’t be tempted to boil them longer or the almonds will soften.
Tahina (Tahini) is a sesame seed paste created from ground toasted or raw sesame seeds. It is becoming more readily available in the international or health food section of most larger supermarkets. It is also available on Amazon: Soom Foods Pure Ground Sesame Tahini and Baron’s Kosher 100% Pure Ground Sesame Tahini. If you are unable to find it, you can also make your own. I have seen multiple recipes, but have not tried any myself yet. Make sure you stir the tahini well before using, especially down to the bottom of the container.
I also made Matbucha (North African Cooked Tomato Salad), Pita Bread, Crunchy Saffron Rice, and Poached Salmon with Ginger-Cilantro Butter and Spinach.
Matbucha (not photographed) is a cooked tomato salad from North Africa. Roasted bell peppers are combined with seasoned cooked tomatoes. It can be made ahead of time and even tastes better a day or two later so it works well for the Sabbath.
Pita Bread is named after the word pitter, which means “split.” This refers to the pocket formed in the center during baking from the steam. Joan mentions that the trick is to roll the pita out, let rest a few minutes, then roll again right before transferring to the oven. They aren’t difficult at all to make, so I see them becoming a welcome addition to Evan’s lunch box throughout the school year.
Crunchy Saffron Rice is a lightly golden and fluffy rice that is cooked until all the water absorbs and a crust forms on the bottom (when the pot it flipped over, it ends up on top). It actually took me a few months to finally get this rice perfect with that wonderfully crisp crust. I grew up making rice exclusively in the rice cooker and didn’t really know what I was doing when it came to making rice on the stove. Luckily, Joan’s directions are spot-on and didn’t lead me astray.
The Poached Salmon with Ginger-Cilantro Butter and Spinach is an elegant meal without much effort required. First a court bouillon is prepared as the base for poaching the salmon. The fish is paired with a homemade ginger-cilantro butter and a little wilted spinach. This one was Chad’s favorite.
Excerpt from King Solomon’s Table
About 3 dozen cookies
8 tablespoons (1 stick/113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, or 1/2 cup (120 ml) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1 cup (135 grams) plus 2 tablespoons flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup (120 ml) tahina (tahini)
1/4 cup (20 grams) blanched and peeled almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter or oil and sugar. Mix in the flour, salt, and baking powder, then the vanilla and the tahina.
Roll the dough into balls about the size of a large marble and put on the parchment-lined baking sheets. Press an almond in the center of each, slightly flattening the cookies.
Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, until lightly golden and beginning to crisp.