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Published Thursday, November 19, 2015

Joan Nathan: A Jewish Recipe for Thanksgiving

By Todd Feinburg

Famed cookbook author Joan Nathan with food writer Ruth Reichl at an event last month in Washington, D.C.

Joan Nathan is at the airport. “It’s awful,” said the famed Jewish cookbook author. “It’s really awful.”

Nathan is waiting for a plane to take her to Charleston so she can be granted Grand Dame status by Les Dames d’Escoffier International, an international group that supports women in the culinary world; but before she can be fed extravagant food at that destination she has to deal with the fare at Reagan International Airport. Or, maybe she doesn’t. “I think I can get food on the plane, right?” she asked? “It’s not going to be any worse than this. There’s nothing to eat here.”

Nathan is the author of 10 Jewish cookbooks, one of which won a prestigious James Beard Award, and her home (mostly) is in Washington, D.C., one of the most sophisticated food cities in the world. Her other home is on Martha’s Vineyard, and that’s where she’ll spend Thanksgiving.

“I always come back to New England for Thanksgiving, and my family comes back too – they love it,” said Nathan, who finds the multi-national puzzle of Jewish food exciting. But that doesn’t mean she lets it interfere with holiday standards. “I do feel that Thanksgiving is the one really American holiday, and with all of our mismatched families today with different traditions that it’s kind of nice to have a Thanksgiving where we can all blend together.”

“They’ve done sociological studies on Thanksgiving, and everybody always has turkey,” added Nathan. “But what the studies also indicate is that the side dishes show who you are.”

Nathan recommends side dishes like stuffed grape leaves or burekas, but only if you want to. “Our family is very American – I’m going to have sweet potatoes with marshmallows, we always have a chestnut stuffed turkey, with a chestnut challah stuffing. Some things are set for us – they’re sacred, for every family.

Nathan lived and worked, for a few years in the 1970s, in Israel. “I learned about the internationalism of Jewish food, and it just stuck with me ever since – there’s always something new to learn.”

Her next book – scheduled to come out in March of 2017, will be “about the circuitousness of Jewish food.” Meaning, like Jews themselves, a particular dish might have made several stops around the world before reaching your home. “Either Jews got kicked out, or they wandered.”



2 lbs. butternut or calabaza or kabocha squash, halved lengthwise and seeded

3 TBS vegetable oil

½ cup slivered almonds

2 lbs. onions, peeled and sliced thinly in rounds

1 bunch finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tsp plus 1 TBS sugar (optional)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ cup raisins

salt & pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Place the squash, cut-side down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Add ¼ cup of water, cover with aluminum foil, and bake until the squash is very soft, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, and, once cool enough to handle, scoop out the pulp into a large bowl.

  3. Heat the oil in a large skillet, toss in the almonds and cook until golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Sauté the onions in the same pan over medium heat until translucent. Then add salt to taste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, 2 teaspoons of the sugar, the cinnamon and the raisins, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 more minutes or until the onions are caramelized.

  4. Gently fold the onions into the squash. Season with pepper and more salt, if necessary, and sprinkle with the remaining parsley, the almonds and, if you wish, the extra tablespoon of sugar. Serve immediately, or make ahead and reheat.

Yield: 8 servings.

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