On my most recent trip to Israel, I spent some time researching Biblical cuisine for a special recipe section that will appear in my upcoming cookbook, The Shiksa in the Kitchen. In the Holy Land, the setting of this rich culinary history is all around you; the energy of Biblical times permeates the air. As your eyes scan the pristine landscape, you can’t help but wonder-did Abraham eat fish from this river? Did Moses lead the Israelites through this wheat field? Did Jesus and his disciples rest in the shade of this ancient olive tree? Just what exactly was cooking in the Biblical kitchen?
Believe it or not, many of the foods that were consumed by these Biblical heroes are still enjoyed by Israel’s citizens today. You can experience these foods in open-air markets like Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda, where the air is scented with fresh olives, spices, fruits, vegetables, breads, dairy products and fish. There are a few meat stands, but the majority of vendors sell vegetarian and dairy products. This is typical of the Israeli diet, as well as the diet of our Biblical ancestors.
I learned more about Biblical-era cuisine at Neot Kedumim Biblical Landscape Reserve near Jerusalem. There I met with Dr. Tova Dickstein, a well-known authority on ancient foods. During our interview, Tova explained to me that meat was rarely consumed because it was very expensive; in fact, it was considered a “luxury.” Our Biblical ancestors ate a largely vegetarian diet that relied heavily on grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
One of most important legumes in the Biblical diet was the “broad bean,” or what we refer to today as the fava bean. References to fava beans occur in both the Talmud and the Mishna, indicating they have been part of the Middle Eastern diet since at least since the 4th century. Textual references from Biblical times indicate they were likely one of the main protein sources for the ancient Israelites. In fact, the ancient method for cooking fava beans is discussed in the Talmud-it is referred to as a “porridge” eaten with garlic and oil.
The fava bean porridge of the donation and the garlic and oil of daily life…
– Mishna Tvul Yom 2, 3
This “porridge” dish bears a striking similarity to a Middle Eastern dish known as Ful Mudammas (pronounced Fool Mu-dah-mahs). A popular vegetarian entrée, Ful Mudammas is made from a few basic ingredients: fava beans, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. While lemon wasn’t cultivated in Israel at the time of the Bible, there was a similar citrus fruit called a “citron” that was often used in cooking. Based on clues in the Talmud and the Tosefta, another text from this time period, Ful Mudammas is likely similar to the Biblical-era method of preparing fava beans.
If you would like to try cooking a Biblically-inspired dish in your own kitchen, try my simple recipe for Ful Muddamas. The dish is traditionally served for breakfast or lunch with warm pita bread…the bread is used to scoop up the fava beans. This filling dish is healthy, yummy, and very much like the fava beans our Biblical ancestors regularly enjoyed.
1 can (16 oz.) cooked fava beans
Extra virgin olive oil
½ onion, diced
2 roasted garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
½ cup water
Salt and black pepper to taste
Juice from 2 fresh lemons
All of these garnishes are optional, and can be served on top of the Ful Mudammas to enhance the flavor. I usually garnish with hard boiled egg, cilantro, and paprika. Feel free to choose the garnishes that sound most appetizing to you!
1 hard boiled egg, sliced
1 ripe red tomato, diced
1 raw onion, sliced into rings
2 tbsp fresh minced parsley or cilantro
Red chili pepper flakes
Kosher Key: Pareve
Prep the canned fava beans by pouring them into a colander to drain. Rinse the beans in cold water. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Fry the diced onion till it turns golden brown. Add roasted garlic and cumin, sauté for 1 minute. Add the fava beans to the pan, then add about ½ cup of water to the skillet. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, season with salt and pepper to taste (I usually add about ½ tsp salt and a dash of pepper). Cover the skillet.
Let mixture simmer for about 10 minutes on medium low heat until the beans are soft and the liquid has reduced by about 75 percent. If beans seem too firm, add water and simmer for a few more minutes until they are tender. Uncover the skillet and remove from heat.
Pour the fava bean mixture into a mixing bowl. Squeeze in the fresh lemon juice. Mash the mixture to a semi-smooth consistency; it should be a little more chunky than hummus. For a mashing tool, I like to use my spice pestle. You can also use a potato masher or the back of a large metal spoon.
Serve each portion on a plate. Create a shallow basin in the center of the Ful Muddamas. Drizzle olive oil lightly inside the basin, then garnish with the ingredients of your choice.
Tori Avey writes a popular Jewish cooking blog, The Shiksa in the Kitchen and she is a contributing biblical food expert for Travelujah. Currently Tori is writing her debut cookbook. For more Jewish recipes and cooking tips, log on to her website, www.theshiksa.com.
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