Monday, December 6, 2010

QUICHES, KUGELS, and COUSCOUS by Joan Nathan

PART II: La Culture Quiche (It’s all French to Me)


A multi-cultural marriage is nothing if it isn’t a life of concession and compromise. I showed up on my wedding day wrapped in a cloak of family heritage, carrying a bagful of traditions and joined my lot to a man with a different set of unmatched luggage. Religious beliefs (spiced, for one of us, by a very large pinch of skepticism), holidays and festivals, national pride, habits and ideas of the way things should work have been put to the test, talked over, played with, balanced out. Some points have been conceded, rituals pared back, concessions made, certain traditions eliminated and others adopted and all in the name of a happy marriage and what simply works best in the country and culture where we set up house and unpack the suitcases.

And nowhere is this more obvious than in our culinary traditions. We may travel the world, move from one country to another, experiment with this dish or that, but one thing we all carry with us, the one aspect of our culture that generations of immigrants have kept close to their hearts, loathe to leave behind, is our cuisine and the rituals that surround it. And as our grandmothers and great-grandmothers before us adapted their Old World recipes to New World ingredients, new cooking methods and a new life, we try and prepare our childhood and family favorites, the traditional dishes of our ancestors, the celebratory and festive meals as we know them yet are often inspired by a new culture or simply by necessity to adapt, change, transform. Over time we merge recipes, toss in a new spice or herb, lighten an otherwise heavy dish or blend cultural influences and in the process we end up creating an entirely new and very personal culinary repertoire.


Joan Nathan’s newest cookbook, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous (My Search for Jewish Cooking in France) is all about this culinary phenomenon. Just flip through the book and you will see a seemingly incomprehensible mish-mash of French, Yiddish, North African words and recipes. But look closer and you will see a fascinating blend of communities, origins, styles and flavors and once you read her culinary history of the Jews in France you’ll understand completely. “Even though some of the oldest Jewish recipes have been subsumed into French regional cuisine, you can often recognize ancient cooking in the dishes the Jews are serving today,” Ms. Nathan explains. She goes on to show that “between intermarriage, travel, expulsion, changing food ways, and different waves of immigration, it is often difficult to trace with precision the path of Jewish cooking in France.” Their history is a complex one and reflected in their delicious and diverse yet wholly traditional dishes.


My own cooking is a perfect example of this cultural fusion: Latkes are served every Hanukkah but now have that special touch of caramelized shallots. Passover finds us enjoying Matzoh Brei like my mom made but now it is served with a luscious slice of smoked salmon and a dollop of crème fraîche. An Alsatian fish choucroute now makes a fabulously festive holiday meal paired with a dense, golden Challah. And that Challah, the sweet brioche-like bread traditionally baked, braided and eaten every Shabbat eve, pairs so well with a good, nutty French comté or salty Roquefort and a tad stale makes a dynamite Pain Perdu, French toast. And now, thanks to Joan Nathan’s fabulous Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous, on we go. My recipe index for holidays as well as every day has just gotten thicker, my discovery of a whole panoply of new flavors and dishes adds zest to my cooking. Her intriguing look at the evolution of French Jewish cooking illustrates this merging of cultural influences, the blending of religious and secular components, the marriage of Jewish and French all leading to the creation of a tantalizing, original yet still thoroughly traditional cuisine unique to the Jews of France. The history Ms. Nathan recounts as well as the fantastic, mouth-watering array of recipes is fascinating not only to the Jewish cooks among us but will appeal to everyone. Why? Across the world and over time most cuisines have traveled, evolved and been transformed into the foods and dishes we recognize today. Each culture holds their traditions dear and close to the heart but revels in the gustatory changes that time and movement allows for.


Once again, I have chosen 3 recipes from this wonderful book and, once again, we were absolutely delighted with each of them. The first is a North African-inspired Chicken dish tangy with cured black olives and preserved lemons with an unusual touch of honey and simmered in a very French white wine, cultural fusion at its best. My husband selected the second recipe: a French cake or quick bread filled with fresh goat cheese and comté, redolent of mint and studded with either chopped dried apricots (Ms. Nathan’s version) or dried cranberries (my version). And finally, a dessert. I knew that I couldn’t go for very long without delving into her fabulous selection of sweet treats and I stumbled upon one that is doubly perfect: Gâteau de Hannouka, a Polish Hanukkah Apple Cake. As we are right in the middle of Hanukkah celebrations, I wanted to make something special for this festive occasion, but I also knew that any cake with apples is a favorite of my husband’s. A slice of my Jewish heritage served up with something ooh-la-la so French.


Now, on my previous post I offered you all three recipes for Joan Nathan’s Chicken with Apples and Cinnamon, the French Potato Salad with Shallots and Parsley and the Parisian Pletzl. But I can’t give all of her recipes away, now can I? I have decided to share with you one of the recipes yet my opinion of all three.


QUICK GOAT CHEESE BREAD with Mint and Apricots

A savory bread definitely meant to be eaten fresh from the oven, this Goat Cheese Bread – or cake, as the French would call it – is chock full of not only crumbled fresh goat cheese but nutty Comté, Gruyère or Cheddar cheese as well, whichever you prefer. While the recipe calls for chopped dried apricots, I preferred to use a cup of dried cranberries, which added a marvelous tangy sweetness to offset and compliment the nuttiness of the cheese. A handful of fresh or dried mint adds something fresh and colorful to this beautiful bread. A wonderful treat to serve simply alongside a salad or a bowl of soup for a complete meal. As easy and quick to put together as the name indicates, this bread has found its way onto my “bake-me-often” list of recipes.


HONEY-COATED BAKED CHICKEN with Preserved Lemon

Although Ms. Nathan offers us a more straight-forward traditional Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons, I decided to make her Honey-Coated Baked Chicken with Preserved Lemons which is more of a fusion dish, combining “a Moroccan flavor to classic French roasted chicken.” I loved the addition of sweet honey – I am crazy about sweet & sour meat dishes – and found that baking the chicken simmering in honey and wine produced fragrant, extremely tender meat. As my own baking dish is smaller than the recommended 9 x 13-inch casserole, I used less chicken and therefore cut back the preserved lemons from 4 to 3. We still found that the flavor of these citrons confits was too strong and next time I make this dish – which I definitely will – I will use only two preserved lemons. And after I had made the Chicken with Apples and Honey I learned my lesson and poured only enough of the liquid over the chicken to come about 2/3 the way up, allowing the surface of the pieces to stay above the liquid in order to brown. A gorgeous, flavorful dish to serve simply with couscous.


GÂTEAU de HANNOUKA (Polish Hanukkah Apple Cake)

A whole lot of apples for not a lot of batter makes for one delicious cake. This recipe calls for vegetable oil which 1) makes it perfect for Hanukkah as foods cooked in or with oil are traditional, 2) makes this cake parve, allowed with either meat or dairy meals following the laws of Kashrut and 3) makes for one super moist yet extremely light cake. I made this apple-filled, cinnamon-infused cake in my dad’s old, original Bundt cake pan as Ms. Nathan does but the amount of apples in the batter makes it a tad difficult to hold together attractively (as if Jews ever cared about food being attractive as long as it is fabulously delicious!). The next time I will find a 9 x 13-inch baking pan so I can simply slice and lift out huge squares of it to serve along with a cup of coffee. JP gave this fruity cake a two thumbs up and called it really, really good. And it is. Overflowing with chunks of sweet and tart apples tossed in cinnamon, the cake is moist, tender and absolutely delicious. I can just picture my Bubbe, my grandma, asking for seconds. And thirds. Well, so did my French husband.


1 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pan
5 apples (3 Fuji and 2 Granny Smith or Reines-des-Reinettes, or any combination of sweet and tart apples which, when baked, become meltingly tender yet hold their shape), peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch (1 cm) cubes, about 6 cups of chunks
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon *
1/3 cup walnut halves, roughly chopped **
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbs chopped almonds (I used 2 Tbs ground almonds)
1 ¼ cups + 2 Tbs sugar, divided
4 large eggs
¼ tsp almond extract

* I had no lemons so I eliminated this. I tossed about a teaspoon of vanilla extract with the cinnamon and apples instead.
** As JP cannot eat walnuts, I did not add them and found the nutless version perfect!

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease either a Bundt pan or a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

Toss the cubed apples with the zest and juice of the lemon*, the walnuts** and the cinnamon together in a large bowl.

Pulse (in a food processor) or mix (with an electric hand mixer) together the flour, baking powder, salt, chopped or ground almonds and 1 ¼ cups of the sugar together. With the processor or mixer running, gradually pour in the eggs, oil and almond extract, processing or mixing just until well blended.

Spoon 1/3 of the batter over the bottom of the prepared pan. Scatter the apples on top then cover the apples with the remaining batter, smoothing. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons (you’ll need less if using a Bundt pan) evenly over the top of the cake.

Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until golden and cooked through. The cake will take the shorter amount of time if using the shallower baking pan than in the Bundt pan.


Allow to completely cool on a cooling rack before loosening the cake and turning it out of the pan.


38 comments:

Anh said...

I love your descriptions of the cookbook Jamie. Yes to everything deliciousness :)

Brenna [fabuleuxdestin] said...

This all looks so delicious! So many cultural traditions, I love it :)

Nicole said...

Oh me, oh my! That apple cake!!!! I hope someone gets me this cookbook for one of my 3 holidays in December (Bday, Hanukkah or Christmas!) I'd be a lucky girl!

shaz said...

I am SO glad you chose to give the apple cake recipe, I was seriously holding my breath till I got to the end, would she? Wouldn't she? Fabulous post as usual Jamie.

Jamie said...

@shaz: Ha Ha Ha! But then I had to give a dessert recipe, didn't I? This is really a delicious, fruity and light cake.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

No matter if you are a multi-cultural couple or not, being together means that you'll have to make concessions and compromise as we all have our own luggage.

Those are marvelous recipes! I particularly like that bread. A book I am adding to my wishlist.

Cheers,

Rosa

Lael Hazan @educatedpalate said...

FABULOUS! I love your descriptions and your photos are mouth watering. I'm glad I have the book because now I can try all three of the recipes :)

Jamie said...

@Lael Hazan @educatedpalate: Great book and every recipe has been so delicious! Happy Hanukkah and tell me how your recipes come out!

Cake Duchess said...

Ok, where do I start? I am drooling! I love the goat cheese bread! Apricots, goat cheese, and mint-oh my!!

Your baked chicken is gorgeous and so flavorful.

And that apple cake is my FAVORITE! Have you considered coming here for warmer weather for Natale? Please?:)

Jamie said...

@cakeduchess: Con piacere! Florida at Natale but at your house please! I'd love to holiday bake with you!

heidi said...

Jamie, I´m SO hungry now. At what time should I arrive chez toi for lunch?.

btw, I couldn´t agree more with you about the central idea of the post (a bicultural couple). Here a la maison Monges we eat frenchmex, a wonderful mix..

bises

Jamie said...

@heidi: Sweetie, whenever you show up I'll have something on the table to eat! Please tell me next time you are in France visiting the belle-famille! And I'll bet you have a fabulous culinary mix!

MeetaK said...

The bread looks simply incredible Jamie! I can sing songs about a multi-cultural marriage and the mismatched rituals and traditions. However I think we come together making compromises and fitting all the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle to make that marriage happy.

Jamie said...

@MeetaK: You and I know each other by heart! Even though the cultures are so different our stories are the same. Love you, honey :-)

doggybloggy said...

you know if I ever sat down to a meal I would never leave...something to keep in mind!

elra said...

I really like the savory cake and apple cake. I'm bookmarking this recipe. Thank you for sharing Jaime.

Peter M said...

Jamie, diggin' the Hannukah cake and I'm reminded of a street busker (RIP)who used to sing, "you don't have to be Jewish to be happy...you don't to be Jewish....to smile". ;)de

bunkycooks said...

I love these dishes and the blending of flavors and cultures. The bread in particular is calling my name! Think how dull life would be without all of the influences from outside our own world. Your situation sounds like a real adventure!

Heavenly Housewife said...

My goodness, this all looks sooooooooo good. I am sitting here just drooling at my computer like a big idiot LOL.
*kisses* HH

Mary said...

It all looks and sounds wonderful, Jamie. Sounds like you have found a soul sister in JN. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Jewish food is one of my favourite types of food. In fact people say that I must be Jewish because I love it so much! And I happen to have some lovely goat's cheese in the fridge! :o

Su-yin said...

Love the look of the apple cake! It looks absolutely fab - and uses oil instead of butter as well! Even better. ;)

SMITH BITES said...

honest to Pete, Jamie, I could sit at your feet and read your writings day in and day out - and that apple cake?? swoon. simply swoon. i'm afraid i haven't done much research when it comes to Jewish cooking (or French really for that matter) but i think i would be very happy to add this one to my collection so that i could take my time discovering these jewels. another fabulous post!

Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf.ch said...

oh that ad for rye is too much, HA !! another fantastic post,... and as if i didn't already want this book enough ! bet it wasn't easy to pick just a few recipes from it. the apple cake is so perfect for now, two nights left... happy chanukah again, jamie ! =)

tasteofbeirut said...

I would head over to gobble up the couscous dish first, then the chicken, then the bread and I would take a few slices of the cake for the road.

Sanjeeta kk said...

What a lovely spread out there. Love the goat cheese bread.

Deeba PAB said...

How beautifully you write about this book Jamie...like fairy tales for adults! I'm lapping up every word you say, being transported to a dream world, hopping from one dish to another! Whimsical and cloud-like, I love your post! Happy Hanukkah sistah, and I am so glad you shared the apple cake...I did have my fingers crossed! xo

Ananda Rajashekar said...

everything looks delicious and loved the way you have written aboit the book :)

Barbara Bakes said...

Love your explanation of how your cooking has evolved. I feel the same about mine. Everything looks scrumptious.

Nuts about food said...

I can totally relate to what you wrote about intercultural marriages. It is an act of constant balancing and re-adjusting, a delicate (but not always) tug-o-war. This emerges particularly during the holidays, when the love for tradition - which often lies dormant - suddenly reawakens with a jolt. Childhood memories, the more so when we grow older, take on a great importance...smells, flavors, sounds. This book looks like it was written for you two.

katiez said...

That book just got added to my wish list! Sounds wonderful.
Now I have to go back to the chocolate cake.... (So easily sidetracked)

asiangrrl said...

Jamie, I love this entry. To me, blending food from different cultures is bringing out the best in each (much like an multicultural coupling!). These recipes look divine (especially the apple cake).

Soma said...

All the recipes sounds sooo good! After reading about all the Jewish Food I am really craving some. My daughter went to a Jewish Temple for her pre school and we were at advantage of taken into their "family" and religion and traditions. Along with it were the wonderful food and feasts and introduction to Jewish cuisine. We got to eat challah every friday :-) and I never even thought of blogging then

A very beautiful description of the book, the kind that makes me savor every word of yours.

Sophie said...

Oooh Jamie, You are certainly on a baking high!!
Your family are the lucky ones!!

All of the food looks fabulous, my friend!

Ann said...

I was deliberating what sweet item to take into work (I had fixed a breakfast meal for my co-workers), i already had made a savoury Mexican casserole and needed something light to balance it, I knew I wanted to bake with apples. After printing out a bunch of my bookmarked recipes, i chose this one. It was so easy to put togheter (i used your tip of making it in a 8x13) and it served beautifully. I think i will add nuts/raisins the next time for some more crunch. But it's a great recipe, and easy to make. Thanks!

Jamie said...

@Ann: I am so happy you made this cake and thrilled that you liked it so much. Thanks so very much for coming back and sharing it with us all. I love knowing when people make the recipes I've posted and then let me know. Now I want to make it again. In a 9 x 13 pan!

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

OK, where to start...

I LOVE that "you don't have to be Jewish" advert!! Did you ever hear the "You don't have to be Jewish" record of American Jewish comedy sketches? My parents had it and I grew up on it - fantastic.

I love this kind of cultural fusion cuisine - it's so prevalent in South Africa where so much of the population arrived there from elsewhere. Our "national" cuisine is a mish-mash of Indonesian, Indian, Dutch, German, English and French dishes that have become so intertwined as to be indistinguishable form one another and I love it!

Holy guacamole, look at that savoury bread... BOOKMARKED!

Ruth Daniels said...

What a wonderful blog. So glad I stumbled upon it. The writing... the photos... the recipes are all spectacular.

As for Joan Nathan's cookbook, I couldn't agree more. It's one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing your take on it.

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