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Savor Passover with Joan Nathan’s ‘My Life in Recipes’ from Rhode Island

For over forty years, Joan Nathan has been delving into Jewish cuisine, encompassing not only the culinary aspect but also the cultural significance. In 1994, her book “Jewish Cooking in America” went beyond recipes, focusing on the individuals behind the dishes. This publication not only received the prestigious James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook but also garnered various other accolades. Subsequently, Nathan authored several more books, some with an international flair, continuing to amass recognition for her work.

In her latest endeavor, at the age of 81, Nathan presents a heartfelt memoir reflecting on her life journey intertwined with her culinary experiences. Titled “My Life in Recipes: Food, Family, and Memories” (Knopf Books, $45), this book chronicles her early years in Rhode Island, her married life and raising a family in Washington, D.C., and her extensive travels worldwide as a journalist. Through captivating narratives, Nathan shares captivating, nostalgic, and optimistic anecdotes that portray a life richly lived and a career that resonates with purpose.

Despite the profound reflections on her personal narrative, Nathan’s passion for food remains at the core. Within the book, she features a collection of 100 recipes ranging from cherished family classics to contemporary creations. Nathan eloquently expresses, “This book is my attempt to show how a meaningful life can be led through pursuing, tasting, testing, and sharing recipes.”

Nathan eloquently describes recipes as a form of expressing love. These culinary creations, laden with memories, vary across individuals based on their cultural backgrounds. However, they all share a common thread – evoking feelings of home, comfort, and a sense of belonging. This universal connection to food underscores the importance of preserving and sharing culinary traditions worldwide.

For Nathan, Passover holds a special place. She reveres the holiday as a sacred occasion where the dining table transforms into a symbolic altar. Passover commemorates the liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian enslavement, signifying a transition from bondage to freedom. The Seder ritual, accompanied by the Haggadah narrative, symbolically represents this pivotal event in Jewish history.

Included in the Passover chapter of her book are two recipes worth mentioning. Nathan generously shares the recipe for Homemade Matzo, the unleavened bread fundamental to many Passover dishes, adhering to dietary laws. Additionally, she presents a recipe for Matzo Brei, a delectable dish of fried matzo with eggs, a topic of friendly debate within her family. Her savory twist on this classic dish is a personal favorite, as recounted in the book.

In crafting your own matzo, Nathan recommends sourcing einkorn or emmer wheat flour. For the Passover celebration, stick to a simple mixture of flour and water, enhancing it later with kosher salt, rosemary, a hint of kosher baking powder, and a touch of olive oil.

These recipes offer a glimpse into the culinary world that Joan Nathan has intricately woven into her life’s narrative. Whether preparing a traditional dish or experimenting with a modern twist, the essence of storytelling through food resonates throughout her memoir.

Recipes from “My Life in Recipes: Food, Family, and Memories,” by Joan Nathan. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House, 2024.