Book explores French origins in Jewish food

November 26, 2010 (ELMHURST, Ill.)

Joan Nathan is probably the nation's premier writer, chronicler and maven of all things Jewish and edible. Her latest book tackles the history and tradition of Jewish cooking in France, which really sets the basis for much of the Jewish-style food we see in the U.S. today.

In her latest book, "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France," Nathan uncovers a cuisine rarely discussed in this country, yet maintains that its roots are the same as those of many Jews in America.

"And they were the original Ashkenazic Jews who first ate goose fat and chopped liver, and matzo balls, and kugel. These were all German words that went east to Poland and Russia and then came back in different forms to Alsace," said Nathan.

To help illustrate some of her discoveries, Chef Jean Joho held a lunch recently at Everest -- his temple of Alsatian cuisine in the South Loop.

"When I grew up, Jewish food was there. The people forget that in Alsace the Jewish population.. was the biggest population in France," said Joho.

Ingredients like wild mushrooms or herring with mustard sauce and French chopped liver pate are prevalent in passed appetizers, while a sweet-and-sour fish inspired by the town of Lorraine appears as well. The soup, surprisingly, is not matzo balls in chicken stock.

"This was a soup, an everyday soup, called Gemarti soup, but Gemarti really comes from a Hebrew words meaning, 'that I made it myself,'" said Nathan.

A hearty Sabbath beef stew, or Alsatian pot-au-feu is the main course, served with sturdy root vegetables. For dessert, a frozen souffle with candied orange and a vanilla sauce -- a nod to one of France's most famous Jewish families, the Rothschilds. The recipe comes from the family's chef.

"He was a pastry chef and he invented this cold dessert that was frozen, and unbelievably delicious. And they gave me the recipe, which I was surprised they gave it to me," Nathan said.

Quiches, Kugels and Couscous
by Joan Nathan

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