Jeff Nathan's Family Suppers

By Jeff Nathan (Clarkson Potter, $32.50).

My father used to tell a story about the first bagels. According to him, Moses brought them down from Mount Sinai along with the Ten Commandments, and there were only four varieties: plain, poppy seed, raisin, and onion. Anything else, including nouvelle-vague flavors like blueberry and chipotle, was a schande (Yiddish for "disgrace"). Many people raised on Jewish food feel the same way about their favorite dishes. Why mess with centuries of success? On the other hand, Jewish tradition encourages reinterpreting old ideas, and that's Jeff Nathan's forte. Nathan is the host of New Jewish Cuisine on PBS and the owner of Abigael's, a kosher New York restaurant that specializes in Mediterranean flavors. Family Suppers reflects his eclecticism, but, full of helpful tips on how to make global cuisine kosher, Nathan's cookbook is user-friendly, too. (For example: pastrami rather than ham in Cuban Black Bean Soup and smoked fish to add zing to a shellfish-free New England seafood chowder). The recipe I tried in my own kitchen, Provençale Potato Latkes with Roasted Red Pepper Relish, brings new vitality to a dish that dates back to the 16th century. Nathan adds basil, oregano, thyme, and fennel to the basic potato-pancake formula (potatoes, onions, eggs, and flour). They're nice additions—around Hanukkah time, eating too many latkes unseasoned by anything other than salt and pepper gets old awfully fast. As for the relish, Nathan suggests the time-saving step of buying roasted red peppers canned. Mixing them with kalamata olives, roasted garlic, more herbs, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar is a snap. The resulting contrasts—the latkes' crispness vs. the peppers' tenderness; rich, fried flavor vs. brininess—turn a holiday tradition into something you can serve anytime. It may be a departure from your grandma's latkes, but I have a feeling my dad wouldn't call it a schande.

 
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