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The Shabbat Table – Israel is more than just the land of milk and honey

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Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom! Cookbook author Joan Nathan, who is often referred to as “The Queen of Jewish American cooking,” has lots of spices in her kitchen, but rarely buys them from a grocery store. In her latest culinary masterpiece, King Solomon’s Table (Knopf), Joan writes, “Part of the fun of traveling is bringing fresh spices home to remind you of your journeys. I don’t recommend putting them in the freezer; rather, keep them well-sealed in a dark, cool place with minimal humidity—they can last many years if properly stored.”

She continues, “Buy only enough spices for about six months so that they’ll stay as fresh as possible. Ground spices will fade more quickly, while whole spices can stay pungent for many years.”

There’s no need to travel to Israel to bring fresh spices home! For those of you lucky enough to be in the Toronto area, make sure to visit Ezer Mizion’s Shuk Machane Yehuda at Sears Promenade Mall on October 21st and 22nd, where you can stock up on spices galore, as well as incredible halvah, jams, giftware, cookbooks, and so much more! For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.ezermizion.ca/shuk. Although online ticket sales close on Saturday night, you’ll still be able to purchase tickets at the door.

The following recipes are from King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World by Joan Nathan (Knopf). For more about Joan Nathan and her best-selling cookbook, King Solomon’s Table, as well as her recipe for Toronto’s famous Blueberry Buns, visit http://www.cjnews.com/food/shabbat-table-culinary-exploration-king-solomons-table. Her website is www.joannathan.com

SEVEN SACRED SPECIES SALAD WITH WHEAT BERRIES, BARLEY, OLIVES, FIGS, DATES, GRAPES, AND POMEGRANATE (Dairy or Pareve)

For the Lord your G-d is bringing you into a good land; a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your G-d for the good land from which He has given you.  —Deuteronomy 8:7–10

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Julia Braun discovered that she loved cooking Jewish food and found it a way to connect to her religion. “My mom taught me Judaism through food,” she told cookbook author Joan Nathan. “Often on Fridays she would bake challah and make matzo balls. It is cultural, emotional, and satisfying work to make beautiful food for people that also has spiritual significance for me,” she said. At a Tu B’Shvat celebration that Julia Braun had catered for 100 people in Berkeley, CA, she incorporated the seven species (the main produce of the land of ancient Israel) mentioned in Deuteronomy into a salad that can happily be served all year round.

Dressing:

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 Tbsp honey

1/2 tsp mustard powder

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salad:

3/4 cup wheat berries

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup pearl barley

1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped

1/2 cup figs, chopped

1 cup white or red grapes, halved

1 small red onion, chopped fine

5 scallions (green onions), sliced thin

3 garlic cloves, minced fine

1 cup parsley, basil, or cilantro, chopped

1 cup olives, chopped

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

2 handfuls salad greens

1 cup feta or goat cheese, crumbled (optional)

  • Stir the balsamic vinegar, garlic, honey, mustard powder, and salt and pepper together in mixing bowl. Gradually whisk in the olive oil and let sit.
  • Fill a medium saucepan with water and add the wheat berries and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Then add the barley and continue to simmer uncovered for another 20 minutes, until the wheat berries and barley are almost al dente.
  • Drain and rinse under cold water to stop them from cooking, and transfer to a bowl and let cool completely. Stir in the dates, figs, and grapes.
  • Add the red onions, scallions, garlic, parsley, olives, and pomegranates. Put the greens out on a flat plate, cover with the salad, sprinkle on the feta or goat cheese, if using, and drizzle some of the dressing over all. Toss and serve immediately.

HARIRA, SPICED MOROCCAN VEGETABLE SOUP WITH CHICKPEAS, CILANTRO, AND LEMON (Pareve)

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Joan Nathan writes, “This is by far my favorite comfort soup. Until I met Meme Suissa, who comes from Casablanca, I had been making a different version. But I swooned after trying her recipe, enhanced with an egg-lemon sauce, that she may have learned from a Turkish forbear. She has been making this for almost eighty years, first watching her mother, then cooking for her five children after she immigrated, like many Moroccan Jews, to French-speaking Montreal.” She continues, “Although many cooks make this with meat, I have turned it into a vegetarian version and it whenever I can.

4 Tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)

3 stalks celery, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)

3 large carrots, peeled and cut in rounds

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 to 1 tsp harissa or dried red chili flakes, plus more for serving

Salt to taste

1 bunch parsley, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups), divided

1 bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups), divided

1 (15-oz/425-g) can tomatoes, crushed, or 2 cups tomato sauce

7 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked or 1 (15-oz/425-g) can chickpeas, drained

1 cup green lentils

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp all-purpose unbleached flour

1 large egg

Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the onion, celery, and carrots until the onion turns translucent and begin to brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the turmeric, cumin, harissa or chili flakes, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 cup each of the parsley and cilantro, 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 a teaspoon of 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 with the lentils.
  • Whisk the flour, egg, and lemon juice into 2 cups of water. Stir into the soup. Simmer the soup about 5 minutes more and serve, sprinkled with the remaining cilantro and parsley. And don’t forget to have some extra harissa in a plate on the side.

Notes:

  • This, like most soups, is such a flexible recipe. Whereas Meme adds chicken and noodles to her broth, I prefer to serve it as is. But sometimes I replace all or some of the lentils with whole grains. If using whole farro, barley, freekeh, or wheat berries, put them in with the chickpeas, as they take about 40 minutes to an hour to cook. But do keep in mind that pearled farro and barley as well as cracked freekeh take about 25 minutes to cook.

TAHINA COOKIES (Dairy or Pareve)

Yield: about 3 dozen cookies

Joan Nathan shared, “One day when I was looking for a cup of coffee on Twenty-Third Street in Manhattan, I stopped by an Israeli coffee shop selling tiny balls of tahina cookies that literally melted in my mouth. Their texture reminded me of Russian tea cakes, kourambiedes (Greek Easter cookies), and polvorones (Mexican wedding cookies). These addictive cookies, made with ground sesame seeds, butter, and flour, are giving halvah, the ancient sesame candy, a run for its money.

8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, or 1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp flour, sifted

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup tahina

1/4 cup blanched and peeled almonds

  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF 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.

Note: Joan Nathan likes Soom Foods tahini, made from Ethiopian white humera sesame seeds.