There are recipes in the Bible, you know. Maybe not with ingredient amounts and cooking times, but enough of a list of food to create a dish or two.
In the Old Testament book of Numbers, Chapter 11, the Israelites aren’t happy with Moses. They’ve left Sinai, they’re wandering around in the wilderness, and all they’ve eaten lately is manna, which is sort of like coriander seed that has been ground and formed into a patty. “Its taste was like the taste of pastry prepared with oil,” it says in verse 8.
Yet the people cry out:
“Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!”
“They gave a laundry list of all the food from Egypt they missed,” said Mark Brickhouse. “So it’s not exactly a recipe, but it was a list of all the foods that they loved, and that they missed.”
Brickhouse spoke recently to an Open Table gathering, in the fellowship hall of Seventh & James Baptist Church, adjacent to the Baylor campus. Open Table is an outreach effort of Baylor’s Office of Spiritual Life.
“We’re a campus ministry that’s about hospitality and sharing meals together and having conversations around the table,” said Hannah Woods, who works in Spiritual Life and organized the event.
For the gathering, dubbed Biblical Foods, Brickhouse prepared dishes including tzatziki, kibbeh and lentil stew, and talked about the menu with the 14 or so folks sitting, literally, around the table.
“Things like the kibbeh are maybe not directly described in the Bible, but all the ingredients are, at one point or another,” he said. “The wheats, the barleys, the lamb, the various herbs and spices. These are drawn from biblical sources, and also from Roman and Egyptian sources, but sometimes their documentation is a little bit more detailed. The Romans and the Egyptians actually wrote cookbooks. They had full recipes from 2,000 or 3,000 years ago.”
Brickhouse described each dish and talked about the history of them.
The tzatziki, for example, is a mixture of yogurt and cucumber, both of which would have been common in the Holy Land, he said, but possibly only in wealthier households.
“It’s kind of a higher-end snack,” he said.
The lentil stew was also a pretty standard meal in Biblical times, he said, because the lentils kept well in a time without refrigeration. And because lentils are high in protein and complex carbohydrates, they “could have been the basis of a reasonably healthy diet.”
Kibbeh, Brickhouse explained, is a traditional Middle Eastern dish, with all of its main ingredients – lamb, bulgur wheat, carrots, celery, onions, garlic – while not mentioned all together in one Biblical passage, would have been well-known foods at the time. And, more than likely, kibbeh at the time would have included mutton instead of lamb. Mutton, the meat from a mature sheep, would possibly be off-putting to current palates due to its gamey flavor.
“They were probably very highly seasoned using a lot of black pepper, coriander, cumin, just to kind of hide that gamey flavor,” he said.
Brickhouse’s meal also included bread, which was a mainstay in every kitchen.
“They made fresh bread every day, which meant they every house had an oven,” he said. “This meal would have been fairly typical of the evening meal. One of the ways we would have been eating differently is there would have been one pot in the middle of the table. And we would have broken our bread and all dipped into the same pot.”
Brickhouse also prepares food in the Seventh & James kitchen for Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to older adults in the Waco area.
For our recipes this month, we’ve included three from Brickhouse’s Open Table meal: tzatziki, kibbeh and lentil stew. And as Abby conducted some Biblical foods research of her own, she discovered a recipe for marinated goat cheese, which we also included. We paired the cheese with a beautiful loaf of olive bread, but it could also be served with crackers, pita or pretty much any bread you prefer.
Marinated Goat Cheese
- 8 ounces goat cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- Olive oil
Form the goat cheese into balls about an inch in diameter. Place the parsley, thyme and garlic powder in the bottom of a sealable jar. Place the goat cheese balls on top. Pour olive oil over the cheese until it is covered. The cheese should not be exposed to air. Place in the refrigerator for at least 3 days before serving. Makes about 4-6 servings.
- 2/3 cup medium coarse bulgur
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds lean ground lamb
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
Heat oven to 350.
Place bulgur in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with water just to the top of the bulgur. Place in the microwave and cook on High 1 to 2 minutes until bulgur is swollen and the water is absorbed. Toss briefly and allow to stand until cool.
Place the mint leaves in the bowl of a food processor. Process, gradually adding onion through the feed tube, until both mint and onion are finely chopped. Stir the mint-onion mixture into the bulgur, with the cumin, allspice, salt and pepper. Stir the bulgur mixture into the ground lamb and mix thoroughly.
Press the lamb mixture evenly 3/4 to 1 inch thick into an 8×8 inch pan. Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil over the top. Bake until the top is light brown, 35 to 40 minutes depending on thickness. Cool, cut into diamond pieces while still in the pan and serve. Makes about 12 servings.
Red Lentil Soup
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal), plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Pinch of chili powder or ground cayenne, plus more to taste
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper and chili powder, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.
Add broth, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partly cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.
Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup, then add it back to pot. The soup should be somewhat chunky.
Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder, if desired. Makes about 4 servings.
- 3 Persian cucumbers
- 2 cups plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Salt and pepper
Using the large holes of a box grater, grate cucumbers. Sprinkle a bit of salt over the grated cucumber and let sit for 30 minutes.
Using your hands, squeeze grated cucumbers to remove excess water, then place on a paper towel to dry. Place the cucumbers in a medium bowl (you should have about 1 cup).
Add yogurt, dill, lemon juice and garlic; season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Makes about 4-6 servings.