Super Jewess: Joan Nathan, Jewish Cookbook Author
Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan is known the world over for her delicious Jewish recipes. Along with regularly appearing in The New York Times and Tablet Magazine, she has authored 11 cookbooks over her 40-plus years in the culinary world.
Nathan, who splits her time living in Washington, D.C. and Martha’s Vineyard, has been cooking all her life. “We had a cook when I was growing up and I cooked with her and my mother for the holidays,” said Nathan, in a phone interview. “I loved making pies with my mother, especially for Rosh Hashanah.”
When Nathan was a teenager, she spent a year abroad in Paris, where she gained a deep appreciation for the food. In 1970, she lived in Israel and worked for Jerusalem’s Mayor, Teddy Kollek, and then came back to the States to work for the Mayor of New York, Abraham Beame. It was then that she co-founded the Ninth Avenue Food Festival and released her first book, “The Flavor of Jerusalem,” in 1975.
“I went out to restaurants with people at a time when no one was going to restaurants [in Israel],” said Nathan. “I was learning foods that nobody was learning and meeting different people. It was very interesting, and the basis of ‘The Flavor of Jerusalem.'”
Some of the foods she discovered were Israeli salads, hummus (she said, “No one was making hummus in those days”), schnitzel, and sautéed onions, eggs, and cream cheese. In 2001, Nathan released another book about the Holy Land, “The Foods of Israel Today,” which features more than 300 recipes from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian cultures.
In general, Nathan said she likes “all kinds of Middle Eastern cuisine. I like my own hummus because I love the preserved lemon I put into it. I like Armenian stuffed grape leaves because I think they are the best in the world.”
In terms of Jewish foods, challah and brisket are her favorites, and she has passed on her love of challah-making to her three children. “My son likes making the quick challah in my French book (‘Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France‘). My daughters like to cook, sort of. They make challah for sure.”
For Nathan, cooking is not just about making food. It’s also about socializing and forging connections with loved ones. “I love feeding people,” she said. “They can get to know each other and talk and have discussions. Just bringing people together is more important to me than cooking.”
In April 2017, Nathan released her latest cookbook, “King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking From Around the World,” which features a diverse array of foods she has encountered on her adventures. “I traveled the world and I read a lot of books. I tested a lot of recipes,” she said.
For instance, the book includes a recipe for Shtritzlach, Blueberry Buns, Azerbaijani Kukusa with Swiss Chard and Herbs, and Vegetarian Tagine of Peppers, Onions, Zucchini, Eggplant, and More.
Though food is a big part of the Jewish culture, Nathan knows that not everyone likes to cook. So, what’s her advice for people who want to start? “Buy one of my books,” she said. “Try things. If it doesn’t work, blame it on the recipe. Don’t be be afraid of cooking. It’s really fun and the more you do it the easier it will be.”