Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Flatbead and Hummus with Olive Oil and Spices

Hello My Friend and Welcome.

Today we return to our ongoing series on the foods of the First Century…the items that Jesus, the Apostles and those first Christians consumed.  As we have already seen, TV and the movies seldom portray an accurate image of that era. And so it is with the food also.

All too often they’re either shown gathered around a campfire gazing hungrily at a side of lamb mounted on a spit. The alternate is having them sitting in hovels scooping glop out of unglazed bowls. True, Middle Eastern people often eat with their fingers or use flatbread in place of a spoon, but the region has a diverse and rich cuisine that goes far beyond glop. At the end of this series I plan to devote a post to what foods they didn’t have, but for now, let’s not be too quick to sell them short.

As always, we’ll start with the Bible.

Beans (2 Samuel 17:28; Ezekiel 4:9) These would have been Fava beans, also known as broad beans or horse beans. Like all beans they can be eaten fresh or dried and reconstituted later. The beans can be sautéed in olive oil with garlic and or onion then mashed and eaten on bread. Favas are also cooked with onion and parsley and served as a stew. Mashed, they become a substitute for chickpeas in hummus.

A Carob Tree
Carob isn’t mentioned in the Bible, but would have been available. The carob tree (Hebrew: חרובḥaruv; Greek: χαρουπιά haroubia), Ceratonia siliqua, is a species of flowering evergreen shrub or tree in the pea family that is native to the Mediterranean region. It is cultivated for its edible seed pods. Carobs are also known as St. John's bread; according to tradition St. John the Baptist subsisted on them in the wilderness. Carob was eaten in Ancient Egypt and used as a common sweetener before the arrival of sugar. Though not named, carob may appear in the Bible. The Prodigal Son wanted to eat the pods he fed the swine…most likely carob pods.  

Fried Chickpeas
Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, have been cultivated in the Middle East for 7,500 years and would have been one of the vegetables of ancient Israel that isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Chickpeas are most commonly associated with hummus, however, they can be eaten fresh or dried for storage. Sprouted seeds are eaten as a vegetable or salad. Young plants and green pods are eaten like spinach. The leaves yield an indigo-like dye. Flour made from dried chickpeas when mixed with water and olive oil can be baked into a thin, crispy cracker.   

Cucumbers (Numbers 11:5) Cucumbers would be enjoyed fresh in various ways just as they are today. Pickled, they would keep for a long time in a crock of vinegar.  

Gourds (2 Kings 4:39) This passage from Kings tells the story of a man finding a wild vine, gathering gourds from it, and chopping them into a stew. It goes on to say they were poisonous. Elisha purified the stew so it could be eaten. Clearly the gourds must have been green or they couldn’t have been sliced. The gourds I’m familiar with can be dried and their hard outer shell used for a number of purposes…dippers, bird feeders, bird houses, rattles or shakers, decorative hangings, etc. I’m confident that gourds were used a dippers and so on, but much more skeptical that they were eaten. 

Leeks (Numbers 11:5) I’ve always thought of leeks as the onion’s kinder, gentler cousin. Both plants belong to the same family. Unlike the onion, leeks don’t form a tight bulb. They are typically eaten in soups and stews. Dried, they can be rehydrated or chopped fine and used as an herb.

Multi-Colored Lentils
Lentils (Genesis 25:34; 2 Samuel 17:28; Ezekiel 4:9) Lentils, along with beans and peas, are in the pulse family… seeds of plants belonging to the family Leguminosae, which gets its name from the characteristic pod or legume that protects the seeds while they are forming and ripening. Pulses are a valuable food source because they contain a higher percentage of protein than most other plant foods. Dried lentils store very well. They are easier to prepare than dried beans since they require no pre-soaking and cook in an hour or less. They can be cooked into a simple stew, or spiced up with onions, peppers and cumin and served on bread, or sprouted.  

Onions (Numbers 11:5) Onions can be pulled from the ground when immature and eaten green. Mature they can be used fresh or hung to dry for storage.

Peas, or field peas as they’re known, would have been another food of the First Century. Peas are one of the oldest cultivated crops and wild varieties can still be found in parts of the Middle East. Pease can be eaten fresh, or dried and stored. Another pulse, they are high in protein.

We mentioned pulses, or legumes, earlier. Legumes provide food, medicines, oils, chemicals, timber, dyes and ornamental garden plants. Legume products include carob, senna, gum arabic, balsam, indigo and licorice. The next post in this series will look at Grains.

Next time, we’ll look at Chariots in Jerusalem.
Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings

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