Some say no. But Joan Nathan is sure he existed, which is a good thing. Without this extravagant monarch, known for his 700 wives and 300 concubines, his wisdom (you would have to be wise to manage such a household) and his love of good food, her latest cookbook might not have happened. Or would have had a different premise.
It's scholarly, drawing on Nathan's research in 30 countries, and full of exciting recipes. These show how Jews adapted to the foods of the regions where they settled as they were forced from one place to another, and as they traded.
King Solomon himself ate sumptuously from what merchants brought to him from their travels and from the contributions of his foreign wives.
The recipes may not be from his table literally--he died in 931 BC, long before they were composed. But they do tell how Jewish food evolved from early on.
Jewish food is "rooted all over the world." Nathan said. "What keeps it together is the dietary laws." The dishes chosen for sampling when she appeared for a book signing at Melissa's Produce represented six countries.
The Moroccan soup harira (above), with which Muslims end the daily fast during Ramadan, became the way Moroccan Jews ended the Yom Kippur fast. "This is by far my favorite comfort soup," Nathan writes in the book. In her vegetarian version, it's a spiced vegetable soup with chickpeas, cilantro and lemon.
I literally could not stop eating pizza ebraica (above), which Nathan describes as "biscotti-like cookies with dried fruit and wine." I snagged one from a friend when mine ran out. Paola Fano of Rome provided the recipe.
The one New World dish at the tasting was shtritzlach, or Toronto blueberry buns (above). These stuffed pastries originated at The Health Bread Bakery, founded in Toronto by a woman who immigrated from southwestern Poland in the 1920s. They quickly became the iconic Jewish bakery treat in that city.
Nathan ended her presentation by showing how to make preserved lemons, filling the lemons with salt and stuffing them into a jar. She uses these with "everything," she said, including salmon with preserved lemon and za'atar, which she prepared for a 90th birthday party for Julia Child.
Nathan, who holds James Beard Awards and other honors, has woven history, geography and food into a fascinating account of a great eclectic cuisine. "King Solomon's Table" is her 11th book.
From King Solomon's Table by Joan Nathan
1/2 cup Marsala wine or another sweet wine
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup raisins
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or coconut oil, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 to 2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup peeled hazelnuts or blanched almonds
Pour the wine over the cherries and raisins in a small bowl. Cover and allow to soak for at least an hour but ideally overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cream the butter or coconut oil, sugar and salt in a standing mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the vegetable oil, vanilla and 1/4 cup of the wine from the cherries and raisins.
Gradually add the flour, mixing until a soft dough forms. You might not need all the flour. Remove the paddle attachment and stir in the cherries, raisins, pine nuts and hazelnuts or almonds with a spoon or your hands.
Using your hands, shape about 4-tablespoon portions of the dough into egg shapes about 3 inches long. Put the cookies on the baking sheets about 1/2 inch apart. They will not spread very much when baking. Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown and burning slightly around the edges.
Makes about 20 cookies.
Note: "These pizzas are supposed to be a little burnt," Nathan explains in the book. "Think of it as 'caramelizing.'"