Joan Nathan: “My Life in Recipes” and Pecan Lemon Torte

Taste Buds with Deb - Episode 51
April 11, 2024
Joan Nathan. Photo by Hope Leigh

Joan Nathan has made a career of discovering Jewish cuisine from around the world and sharing it with others. Her latest – and she says her last – book is “My Life in Recipes: Food, Family and Memories.” What a way to cap off a legendary career!

“It’s a story of my life, starting from when I was two years old and I was at the Gordon School in Providence, Rhode Island,” Nathan told the Journal. “My teacher wrote a report on me that I liked my morning lunch; I’m not so sure I like lunch so much, but I do like to eat and it’s been my whole life.

She adds, “I always remember good food and having dinners with family and with friends.”

With more than 100 recipes, along with the memories attached to them, “My Life in Recipes” includes updated versions of old favorites (matzoh ball soup to challah and brisket) and new ones too (salmon with preserved lemon and za’atar; Moroccan chicken with almonds, cinnamon and couscous). You do not want to read this book when you are hungry. At least have a snack nearby.

The author of twelve books, including “Jewish Cooking in America” and “The New American Cooking,” both of which won James Beard Awards and IACP Awards, Nathan enjoys the creativity, as well as the connection, of cooking.

“I like to use food as a way to see other things,” she said.

For instance, she loves making salads out of whatever she finds in her refrigerator.

“Your creative gene wakes up,” Nathan said. “I like to have fun with food.”

For Passover she makes a tart with a lemon curd filling; though she finds other ways to use the filling, like on a meringue or in a pie crust. “It’s my favorite dessert.” Nathan’s recipe for Passover Pecan Lemon Torte with Lemon Curd Filling is below.

“Every time I make any recipe, I think about the people who gave me the recipe,” she said. “I might have changed the recipe … but it [still] connects me with my past.”

Nathan feels as if the past is the future too.

“I’m not sure [my kids will] make gefilte fish anymore, but I hope that they’ll make a lot of my recipes in the future,” she said.

Nathan says she hopes her memoir is an inspiration for others to live a good life.

“I think it’s the most important thing I want to teach people,” she said.

For the full conversation, listen to the podcast:

Passover Pecan Lemon Torte with Lemon Curd Filling

Serves at least 8

From “My Life in Recipes” by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2024 by Joan Nathan. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Many years ago, in Jerusalem, I was given a recipe for an almond-lemon torte. I loved the tartness of the lemon but wanted it even more lemony. I was reminded of my love for lemon curd, which started when I’d go from bakery to bakery in Paris, tasting each lemon-curd tart. For this torte, I changed the almonds to pecans (because Passover already has so many almonds) and added my favorite lemon curd, which I learned from Suzanne’s, a long-gone restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in Washington. It’s not hard at all: make the curd a few days in advance and, if you want, freeze the cake up to 2 months ahead.


1⁄4 cup (29 grams) matzo meal, plus more for the pan

8 large eggs, separated

1 cup (200 grams) sugar

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1⁄2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup (100 grams) pecan halves, coarsely ground

Lemon Curd Filling

3 lemons
3⁄4 cup (150 grams) sugar 3 large eggs
1⁄4 cup (1⁄2 stick/56 grams) unsalted butter, vegan butter, or coconut oil
Fresh blueberries, for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Dust a 9-inch springform pan with matzo meal.
  1. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar and the salt until they’re smooth and pale lemon yellow. Gradually add the 1⁄4 cup of matzo meal, the lemon zest, and lemon juice. Fold in the pecans.
  1. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff but not dry (by hand or using a hand mixer or stand mixer). Gently fold them into the yolk mixture.
  1. Scrape the batter into the prepared springform pan and bake on the middle rack for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Let it cool while you make the lemon curd.
  1. To make the filling – Grate the rind of the lemons to get 2 tablespoons zest, then juice the lemons to get 3⁄4 cup of juice. Whisk the sugar and the eggs in a medium saucepan. Gradually add the lemon juice and zest. Add the butter or coconut oil, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly and being careful not to boil, until the lemon thickens into a curdlike custard, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  1. Once the cake is cool, split it into two round layers. Spread the lemon- curd filling, reserving a few tablespoons, on the cut side of the bottom round. Add the second round, top side up, then spread the remaining curd, dot with blueberries, and serve.

Debra Eckerling is a writer for the Jewish Journal and the host of “Taste Buds with Deb.Subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform. Email Debra: tastebuds@jewishjournal.com.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.