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Soup for the Soul  

5Cooking_SGPV_Bottom_0617WE JEWS LOVE to party. Fortunately, we never have to wait long for a holiday, because we get one every week: Shabbat.

The only holiday mentioned in the Torah, Shabbat begins on Friday evening, and as sundown ripples across the time zones, observant Jews put aside the cares of the week, gather with family and welcome the Sabbath queen.

The meals are festive, befitting a holiday, and throughout various cultures treasured family recipes, so different from each other, all celebrate the same sacred occasion.

“Wherever I am I try to spend Shabbat with families and learn different customs,” Joan Nathan told me following a signing and cooking demonstration at Melissa’s Produce recently to promote her newest cookbook, “King Solomon’s Table” (Knopf, $35). “I’ve done it in Morocco, France, all over the US, in England. In Morocco they always have at least 12 different salads. I’ve been to Moroccan homes also in France and in Israel, and it’s the same. They have two kinds of eggplant, one roasted – eggplant caviar – and one that’s fried in honor of the Sabbath, and so many salads, cooked salads mostly. They make them on Wednesday or Thursday, and they can last to the middle of the week. It’s food you don’t have to cook.”

“King Solomon’s Table” is Nathan’s 11th cookbook with over 170 recipes traversing the globe, uncovering Jewish culinary history via Nathan’s research trips to far-flung countries as well as visits with immigrant communities.

On a trip to India, Nathan became fascinated with an inscription on the walls of a synagogue in Kochi suggesting that during the reign of King Solomon, Jewish traders from Judea may have crossed the Indian Ocean to reach India. “Little is known about King Solomon,” she writes, “but his story offers an image of a ruler presiding over a diversity of cultures, an abundance of food, and reaching beyond his borders to feed his kingdom. As I traveled the globe, tracking the legends of Solomon and his court, and looking for more information about his era, I sought to discover what makes Jewish cooking unique.”

In Iran she found a Jewish dish that has been served at the start of Sabbath dinners for centuries: Persian chicken soup with chicken and chickpea dumplings called gundi. “In Iran, men would traditionally come home from synagogue on Friday night and drink a little arrack, and sometimes eat the gundi alone as an appetizer, without the soup,” she noted. “I’ve been to Persian homes where they make gundi as big as a golf ball. I prefer them smaller, but in Iran a big one might be a whole Sabbath meal.”

If there is one food that epitomizes Shabbat it is challah. “In France challah is not as sweet,” she observed. “We get used to this sweet, almost cakelike bread in this country, but still homemade is the best.” The rich, eggy, braided loaf we are used to came to Eastern European Jews by way of Germany, but Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews celebrate Shabbat with other loaves reflecting their own culture. “In Ethiopia Jews are supposed to have wheat bread for the Sabbath and special occasions,” she said. “They pattern theirs after what Ethiopians use, like nigella seeds and turmeric. The recipe varies from village to village and home to home. It’s a really beautiful bread.”


Abgoosht Persian Chickpea Soup with Gundi

YIELD: 8 Servings


1 (3-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces, separating 4 ounces of breast

2 large onions, peeled and quartered

1 clove garlic

1 each sweet green, red, and yellow peppers, finely sliced

1 tablespoon sea salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 cup cooked chickpeas from 1/2 cup dried or half a 15-ounce can

Juice of one lemon

Handful each finely chopped basil, parsley, mint, and cilantro

Gundi (Chicken Dumplings)

2 medium onions, peeled and quartered

4 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breast (from above)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons chickpea flour

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

14 cups chicken broth (from above)


1            Broth: Add onions, garlic, sweet peppers, salt, ground pepper, cardamom, and turmeric. Simmer, covered, 40 minutes or until chicken is almost cooked. And chickpeas; continue cooking until chicken is done. Squeeze in juice of a lemon. Cool and strain soup, reserving chicken for salad or putting chunks into broth; return peppers and chickpea into broth. You should have at least 14 cups broth.

2          Gundi (Chicken and Chickpea Dumplings): Using food processor fitted with steel blade, pulse onion until finally chopped. Squeeze onion through strainer to drain excess water. Transfer drained onions to a bowl and set aside. Pulse chicken until it has consistency of ground meat.

3            Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl,  combining thoroughly.

4            Mix onions and chickpea flour in medium bowl until well combined. Add ground chicken, oil, salt, pepper, baking powder, cardamom, cumin, and turmeric. Mix well. Refrigerate at least three hours.

5            Bring soup to a boil; reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Make balls about the size of a walnut. Dip your hands in cold water; gently slip dumplings into simmering soup. Simmer, covered, 15 to 20 minutes, until dumplings are cooked completely.

6          Meanwhile, in small bowl, toss together herbs. Ladle soup and dumplings into serving bowls, sprinkling with mixed herbs.

Defo Dabo (Ethiopian
Sabbath Bread)

YIELD: One 1 1/2 pound loaf

3 1/2  cups all-purpose flour, plus more if necessary

2 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided

Scant 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for oiling bowl

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

3/4 teaspoon nigella seeds

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

Egg wash: 1 large egg


1            Set aside 2 tablespoons of the flour. Place remaining flour in large bowl of electric mixer fitted with dough hook. Make a well in center of flour and pour in 1/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°F). Sprinkle yeast over water and add 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Using a fork, stir water, yeast, and sugar together gently, keeping mixture in the well (okay if some flour becomes incorporated). Let stand until bubbly, about 10 minutes.

2            In a separate bowl, mix 1/2 cup warm water, oil, remaining sugar, honey, salt, nigella seeds, turmeric and coriander; blend together with a fork. Add this mixture to flour mixture; beat on low speed until incorporated. Then beat on medium speed until smooth and slightly tacky, 5 to 10 minutes. If too stiff add water a tablespoon at a time. If too sticky, add reserved 2 tablespoons flour (or more if necessary), 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix a few more minutes.

3          Oil a large bowl and place ball of dough in it, turning dough so it is oiled all over. Cover with kitchen towel; set aside in warm place – a preheated oven at the lowest setting and then turned off works well – until dough has almost doubled in bulk, at least 1 hour.

4            Punch down risen dough, and knead by hand 1 to 2 minutes. Form into tight, slightly flattened disk, and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with slightly dampened cloth, and allow it to rise in warm place 1 hour.

5            Preheat oven to 375°F.

6            Beat egg and brush top of loaf. Bake until top is brown and bottom sounds hollow when tapped, 25 to 30 minutes.
Source: “King Solomon’s Table”
by Joan Nathan


Jlife food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.


*Joan Nathan will appear at the Merage JCC at 1 Federation Way, Irvine, on Thursday September 7 at noon. Register on line at www.jccoc.org or call 949-435-3400

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