Inspired by King Solomon’s passion for discovery, Joan Nathan gathers more than 170 recipes from all over the globe in her latest cookbook, King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.
We travel with Nathan from India to France, from Italy to Mexico, from El Salvador to Israel and, of course, all across North America in a beautifully illustrated culinary exploration filled with fascinating historical details, personal histories and standout recipes that showcase the diversity of Jewish cuisine. From classics such as Yemenite Chicken Soup with Dill, Cilantro and Parsley and Spinach and Feta Bourkeas to contemporary riffs on traditional dishes such as Smokey Shakshuka with Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplant and Homemade Herb Labneh with Beets and Puy Lentils, Nathan’s recipes beautifully span the global Jewish Diaspora. King Solomon’s Table is a wonderful addition to my growing Jewish cookbook collection. It’s an important and essential book of Jewish cooking and culture.
Nathan is THE authority on Jewish American cooking with a stellar, four decades-long career. She’s the author of 11 cookbooks, including two of my favorites, Jewish Cooking in America and The New American Cooking, both of which won James Beard and IACP Awards. Her previous cookbook, Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France, was named one of the 10 best cookbooks of 2010 by National Public Radio (NPR), Food and Wine, and Bon Appétit magazines. She’s also a regular contributor to The New York Times and Tablet Magazine and has been a guest on numerous radio and television programs including the Today show, Good Morning, America, The Martha Stewart Show and NPR.
An inductee to the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who in American Food and Beverage, Nathan has also received an honorary degree from the Spertus Institute of Jewish Culture in Chicago and the Golda Award from the American Jewish Congress. In May 2011, she was awarded a Special Recognition Award from the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research for her work to preserve Jewish food culture. In 2015, Les Dames d’Escoffier awarded her the prestigious Grande Dame, an award recognizing professional achievements in the food industry.
Hummus with Preserved Lemon and Cumin
Excerpted from King Solomon’s Table by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2017 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
At mealtime, Boaz said to her [Ruth], “Come over here and partake of the meal, and dip your morsel in the vinegar.”
2 cups (400 grams) dried chickpeas (or 4 cups canned or presoaked chickpeas)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (225 ml) tahini*
1 whole preserved lemon, seeds removed
3 tablespoons preserved lemon liquid from jar
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
2 cloves garlic, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons pine nuts Dash of paprika or sumac
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
From Nathan: “The use of the word “vinegar” may be misleading in the above mention of hummus, from the book of Ruth, written almost three thousand years ago. Most translations interpret the word chamootz to mean “vinegar” (as it does in contemporary Hebrew). However, according to the Israeli author Meir Shalev, the Hebrew letters chet, mem, and zadek are the root letters of both the words chamootz and chimtza, which in biblical Hebrew means “chickpeas.” In biblical Hebrew, there were no vowels, so words were more confusing,” Meir told me, and added, “Anyway, if Boaz served his workers pita dipped in vinegar instead of something more substantial like hummus, they wouldn’t have been very happy. Hummus, meaning “chickpea” as well as “chickpea dip” in Arabic and modern Hebrew, is one of the oldest and most beloved dishes known to mankind. Originating in Mesopotamia, it is essential to the cuisine of the Middle East, served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner there for thousands of years. People never seem to tire of eating and discussing this ancient protein-rich paste.
Today cooks soak and prepare dried chickpeas, often standing over large iron pots for hours until the beans fully soften. Early on, they learned to grind sesame seeds, which came from China to Mesopotamia, into a thick paste called tahini, which was stirred into the softened beans with some olive oil, garlic, a little salt, and pepper. This simple, sacred mix provided poor people their protein for the day, and the arrival of lemons from China added a dash of flavor that perfected this comfort dish of the Fertile Crescent.
In the 1960s, when Americans were traveling throughout the Middle East, they often came back with the taste of garlicky hummus on their breath. And with the advent of the food processor in the early 1970s, it was easy to prepare. In those days, you could only get hummus in mom-and-pop Middle Eastern stores in neighborhoods catering to immigrants, such as Sahadi’s in Brooklyn. Today, every grocery store has dozens of varieties.
Because I met my husband in Jerusalem, we requested hummus at our wedding in 1974 and had to give the caterer a recipe for the dip. One guest who had never tasted this before told me my recipe, with its hint of that exotic spice cumin, was so good I could sell it to Zabar’s. I didn’t heed the call but others did, and now hummus is marketed around the world. Even with all the brands sold today—and some are very good—I prefer to make my own. Try it for yourself; you will see how good it tastes, especially with the preserved lemon and the cumin.”
- If using canned chickpeas, skip the following step.
- Put the dried chickpeas in a large bowl with cold water to cover and soak overnight. The next day, drain and rinse them, then put them with the baking soda in a large heavy pot with enough cold water to cover by about 3 inches. Bring to a boil, skimming off the scum that accumulates. Simmer, partially covered, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the chickpeas are soft and the skin begins to separate, adding more water if needed.
- Drain the chickpeas (dried or canned), reserving about 1½ cups (355 ml) of the cooking liquid or water. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the chickpeas with the tahini, preserved lemon and its liquid, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, and at least 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) of the reserved cooking liquid. If the hummus is too thick, add more reserved cooking liquid or water until you have a creamy paste-like consistency.
- Heat a frying pan and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Spread the pine nuts in the pan and stir-fry, browning on all sides.
- To serve, transfer the hummus to a large, flat plate, and, with the back of a spoon, make a slight depression in the center. Drizzle the remaining olive oil and sprinkle pine nuts, paprika or sumac, and parsley or cilantro over the surface.
- Serve with cut-up raw vegetables or warm pita cut into wedges.
Yield: about 4 cups, or 6-8 servings