I can’t remember the last time I picked up a cookbook with more than 400 recipes and wanted to make every single one of them. The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home by Joyce Goldstein is that kind of cookbook.
Last week, I stayed up late reading it in bed while everyone else was sleeping. Yes, I read it like a juicy novel. I was fascinated by the origins of the recipes, the combinations of flavors, and the excitement of which recipe to start cooking first…Moroccan Inspired Lentil Salad with Carrots, Dates and Mint? Lebanese Cauliflower Fritters with Yogurt Dipping Sauce? Chicken and Rice Wrapped in Filo? Persian Eggplant and Tomatoes with Pomegranates? Sephardic Fish and Vegetable Stew? Clearly, this was a good problem but a problem nonetheless.
In the United States, when we think of Jewish food, we think of primarily an Ashkenazi table of matzo ball soup and knishes, brisket, and gefilte fish. But Joyce expands this menu with recipes from the three Mediterranean Jewish cultures: the Sephardic, the Maghrebi, and the Mizrahi. Joyce says that this “doesn’t mean we are never to cook brisket and latkes again. But it does mean that we need to expand our concept of Jewish cooking to reflect today’s greater cultural diversity and broader palate.” I couldn’t agree more.
Joyce Goldstein was chef and owner of the groundbreaking Mediterranean restaurant Square One in San Francisco. Prior to opening Square One, she was chef at Chez Panisse Café and visiting executive chef at Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa. Today she is a cooking teacher, consultant to the restaurant and food industries, and prolific cookbook author. Her most recent book is Inside the California Food Revolution: Thirty Years That Changed Our Culinary Consciousness (UC Press, 2013). Joyce’s Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen is still one of my favorite cookbooks.
The New Mediterranean Jewish Table is an authoritative guide to Jewish home cooking from North Africa, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, and the Middle East. It is a treasury filled with vibrant, seasonal recipes—both classic and updated—that embrace fresh fruits and vegetables; grains and legumes; small portions of meat, poultry, and fish; and a healthy mix of herbs and spices. It is also the story of how Jewish cooks successfully brought the local ingredients, techniques, and traditions of their new homelands into their kitchens. With this varied and appealing selection of Mediterranean Jewish recipes, Goldstein promises to inspire new generations of Jewish and non-Jewish home cooks alike with dishes for everyday meals and holiday celebrations. She has certainly inspired me.
Moroccan-Inspired Lentil Salad with Carrots, Dates, and Mint
by Joyce Goldstein from The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home
From Joyce: “Sometimes an unusual combination of tastes catches my attention. At his San Francisco restaurant, Aziza, chef Mourad Lahlou served a wonderful lentil soup garnished with dates and a celery salad. When I asked about this surprising pairing, he explained that after breaking the Ramadan fast, Moroccans start their evening meal with a bite of a sweet date and then eat a bowl of the hearty lentil soup called harira. This striking mix of sweet and earthy flavors was on my mind when I decided to make a new lentil salad for my family.”
The carrots can be prepared two different ways. If the carrots at your market are just average in flavor and appearance, dice them and cook them along with the onions, as instructed in the recipe. They will provide texture and some mild sweetness. If the car- rots are small, young, and delicate, roast them separately. (Stay away from bagged “baby carrots,” which are actually large, starchy carrots cut by machine to look adorable.) Buy about 8 ounces (2 small bunches), peel them, and toss them with a little olive oil to coat evenly. Spread them on a sheet pan, sprinkle lightly with kosher salt, and roast in a pre- heated 450°F oven until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Their sweetness will intensify during roasting. Let cool, then slice on the diagonal into 1- to 1 1⁄2-inch pieces and toss with the lentils along with the dates and mint.
You can make this salad many hours or even a day ahead of serving and the flavors will improve. If it has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature and adjust the salt if needed before serving.
serves 4 to 6
2 cups green lentils, picked over and rinsed
1⁄4 cup mild, fruity extra virgin olive oil, plus more for tossing with lentils
1 1⁄2 cups diced yellow onion
2 1⁄2 cups peeled and diced carrots
3⁄4 to 1 cup Preserved Lemon Citrus Dressing (recipe follows)
20 dates, pitted and sliced crosswise
1⁄2 cup fresh mint or anise hyssop leaves, cut into very narrow strips (chiffonade)
In a saucepan, combine the lentils with water to cover by 2 inches and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down the heat to low and simmer gently until tender but not soft, 20 to 35 minutes. The timing will vary depending on the age of the lentils. After the lentils have simmered for about 15 minutes, add 2 teaspoons salt.
While the lentils are cooking, warm the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Drain the lentils, transfer to a bowl, toss with a little oil, and let cool until warm. Add the onion mixture and toss to combine. Drizzle with the dressing and toss well. Let cool completely, then fold in the dates and mint and toss again. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. Serve at room temperature.
Preserved Lemon Citrus Dressing
makes about 1 3⁄4 cups
1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground toasted cumin
1 1⁄4 cups extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
Peel of 1 preserved lemon, homemade or store-bought, rinsed and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, paprika, and cumin. Whisk in the oil, stir in the preserved lemon, and then whisk in more oil if needed for good balance. Sea-son with salt and pepper. Leftover dressing can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. Bring to room temperature, then taste for salt and acidity and adjust if needed.