What better way to ring in the holiday season than taking a step back in history to biblical times to experience Cooking with the Bible. This fascinating book provides translations of ancient to contemporary recipes, which can easily be mastered by modern-day cooks using contemporary techniques.
Cooking with the Bible describes eighteen biblical feasts found in the Scriptures, then engages the reader by delving deeper to include the cultural and historical significance of each feast, the accompanying detailed scriptural story, followed by full menus and recipes for recreating wonderful dishes for your holiday table. During this spiritual time of year, keep in mind that this book gives insight to the commonalities of all people and cultures spanning the world from present and past. Then as now, “the meal” will always play the most central and important part of everyday life.
I had the opportunity to ask authors Anthony F. Chiffolo and Rayner W. Hesse, Jr. a few questions about their book, and here’s what they had to say:
BTT: How did the idea for writing this book come to you?
AC & RH: We had written one book together, a book of liturgies for blessing family pets. We thought of it as a bit specialized and wanted to do something with broader appeal. We also wanted to do something together that would combine our interests; we both had interest in biblical scholarship, and we both had interest in cooking (though Anthony’s interest in the culinary arts might have tended more toward eating than cooking!). We knew that Greenwood Press had a “series” of cooking books—Cooking with Shakespeare, Cooking with Jane Austen—and we thought Cooking with the Bible would be a fine addition to the series. We also had a hunch that a lot of people would find the concept of cooking with the bible to be of great interest.
BTT: How many times did you have to prepare a recipe before getting it right?
AC & RH: Rusty did the food and scripture research, crafted a menu for each meal, and then wrote the recipes. Then we tested each recipe. During the preparation/cooking, we made adjustments as necessary—some small, some extensive—to get it “just right.” In only a few cases, we had to start over from scratch and try again; most of the time, we were able to “prove” the recipe in one try.
BTT: How did you decide whom to invite to your home for the first test dinner?
AC & RH: Since all the recipes are based on bible stories, we invited people from our church to come over for our test dinners. Our first dinner was for the chapter “Entertaining Angels Unawares,” based on the story of Abraham receiving and feeding the three heavenly guests as told in Genesis 1:1-8. We invited a great number of folks (certainly more than three guests!) and prepared an enormous amount of food. Everyone was well feasted!
BTT: Give an example of a typical meal, from appetizer to dessert.
AC & RH: This is the menu for the chapter titled “Joseph Dines with His Brothers.” The recipe is based upon the story told in Genesis 43:31-34. By way of background, Joseph, the second youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons, had earned his brothers’ enmity because his dreams foretold his ascendance over them. Trying to “change the future,” the brothers sold Joseph into slavery, and he ended up in Egypt as a slave in Pharaoh’s household. Having interpreted Pharaoh’s dream as predicting seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, Joseph was elevated to the office of chief steward to store up supplies so no one in Egypt would go hungry. When famine finally struck, word got around that Egypt was well provisioned, and Jacob sent his first ten sons there to purchase grain for the family. When they appear before Joseph to beg for food, he realizes who they are, but they do not recognize him; and he tricks them into bringing the youngest brother to Egypt so that all may be reunited. After some further intrigues, Joseph sets out a great feast for his family, during which he reveals his identity to them and explains how God chose him and, through the brothers’ action, sent him to be the one who would save his family and his people from hunger and starvation.
Although Scripture does not tell what the Egyptians may have served Jacob’s sons, we put together a menu based upon ancient Egyptian foodways and wrote recipes that include ingredients which would have been available in Egypt at the time. The recipes also serve as reminders of Joseph’s story: for example, “Coat of Jacob Salad” is named after the “coat of many colors” that Jacob gave to Joseph to signify which son would lead the family.
Here is the menu:
BTT: Why do you suppose making bread posed the biggest challenge for you?
AC & RH: We think that bread-making seemed the most challenging of all because the first bread we attempted was pita or pocket bread. For this, the dough has to have the right consistency and elasticity, and it took us several tries to get the proportions and timing down.
BTT: Tell me more about Scripture Cake, its origins and what it’s supposed to teach.
AC & RH: We’re not sure of the actual origins of Scripture Cake, but we know that it is a tool for getting people to look into and read the bible. After all, if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of Amos 4:5, you’ll need to open up the scriptures and read that verse in order to figure out what to add. Unless you have the entire bible already memorized, of course….. So Scripture Cake is a tool—maybe a little gimmicky or corny, but it does accomplish its purpose. And it’s a yummy cake too.
BTT: What is the most surprising commonality you found between cooking then and cooking now?
Certainly, our cooking implements and appliances have changed! But at base, cooking is a matter of combining ingredients in specific proportions and, in many cases, heating the mixture in some way. The peoples of the bible may have baked their bread on hot stones; we have ovens or bread machines. Really, the only difference is the way in which the heat is delivered.
What we discovered and want to emphasize is that whether done now or three thousand years ago, cooking is an act of love, and meals are occasions for hospitality and celebration. This is perhaps not so surprising in retrospect.
In biblical times, hospitality was one of the primary virtues: indeed, in certain situations, one’s life might depend upon the hospitality of kinspeople, strangers, or even enemies. One did not begrudge a meal to someone in need, for one never knew when the circumstances might be reversed. This tradition of hospitality has waxed and waned over the centuries, but—our opinion—it is a way of building community that we perhaps need now more than ever before.
As the bible stories show, celebrations were often marked with great feasts. This is certainly common nowadays as well: most weddings lead into a grand dinner reception; awards ceremonies are often preceded by a fine meal; even funerals segue into a luncheon of some sort.
BTT: Do you find that this book has been pivotal in bringing people together in unexpected ways?
AC & RH: Certainly. After preparing several different meals for a variety of guests, we decided to try something new: so for one of our weekly bible study meetings and potluck dinners, we distributed the recipes for the meal and asked each person to prepare a dish and bring it for all to share that night. In doing this, we discovered the most important thing about cookbook writing: how necessary it is to write clear instructions. For example, one woman decided to use a bread machine for one of the breads, even though the recipe never mentioned a bread machine at all; we realized that sometimes our instructions had to be explicit about what not to do. We did figure out a way to use her bread crumbs so she wouldn’t feel too embarrassed. On a different occasion, a group from another church invited us to speak at their monthly luncheon gathering, so we gave them the menu and recipes for the meal in “A Birthright Worth Beans”; surprisingly, the husbands would not allow their wives to do any of the cooking but took upon themselves the total culinary effort.
Many, many thanks to Anthony and Rusty for sharing their insight into this very different and wonderful approach to food and cooking, as well as a tribute to a very old best seller, The Bible.
Now, I’m really excited! Anthony and Rusty have decided to share several recipes from Cooking with the Bible with us. They follow below. Personally, I think all the recipes sound magnificent, and from what I’ve read and heard, they taste magnificent as well!
Creamy Artichoke Soup
- 3 cans artichoke hearts
- cayenne pepper
- 3 Tbsp. butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup white rice (uncooked)
- 2 cans unsalted chicken broth
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 pint light cream
- fresh dill
- handful of pimentos
- Drain artichokes and place on a large cutting board. Sprinkle with a bit of cayenne pepper and cut into quarters. Melt butter in electric frying pan, and saute´ chokes for about 5–7 minutes, stirring constantly. Add garlic, rice, and half the broth. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so.
- Transfer the artichoke mixture a few spoonfuls at a time to a blender and pure´e until smooth, pouring what has been pure´ed each time into a large saucepan until all are done. Add remaining broth and salt; then stir in cream. Simmer for 5–7 minutes (do not allow to boil), stirring all the while to make sure the soup does not burn.
- Serve in bouillon cups, garnished with fresh dill and pimentos.
- Yield: 6–8 servings
Honey-roasted Lamb with Couscous
- 1 large package of couscous
- 3/4 cup boiling water
- 2 lb. lamb, trimmed of fat and cubed*
- olive or sunflower oil
- 1 tsp. turmeric
- 1 tsp. allspice
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 4 Tbsp. honey
- 2 cups fresh chives, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries or craisins
- juice and rind of 1 lemon
- small bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 450°F.
In a large bowl, mix the couscous with boiling water and wait for about 10 minutes. Whisk with a fork, cover, and set aside. (If the mixture seems dry, add a bit of hot water, 1 Tbsp. at a time, until it appears fluffier.)
Place lamb cubes into a large frying pan and brown, brushing them with olive or sunflower oil while constantly turning over the cubes. Sprinkle on turmeric, allspice, and ground cloves and continue to cook on a low temperature for about 10 minutes, all the while brushing the cubes with oil. Slowly pour the honey over the meat, increase the temperature, and cook for about 5 minutes, making sure that the meat is done but not burned.
Remove the lamb and set aside in a large, covered serving bowl. Sauté the chives, garlic, pepper, and salt in the juice remnants (if very little juice remains, add a bit of hot water and 1 tsp. oil and continue) and cook for 5–7 minutes on a moderate heat. Stir in the dried cranberries (or craisins) and the lemon juice and rind; then mix in the couscous. Pour the couscous mixture over the lamb and toss in the chopped parsley. Turn out onto a large cake platter and serve.
Yield: 8 servings
*Ask your butcher to trim the fat from the lamb before cubing.
Honey, Mint, and Cucumber Salad
- 4 whole cucumbers, thickly sliced
- 8 sprigs of mint, finely chopped
- 8 Tbsp. clear honey
- 1 large container of plain kefir (camel’s milk or some other milk)
- juice of 2 limes
- Prior to cutting the cucumbers, take a salad fork and score the rind, making thick indentations. Slice the cucumber into fairly thick slices (the scoring will give them a variegated, fancy look), and throw them into a large bowl with the mint. Mix together the honey and the kefir, and pour over the cucumber/mint combination. If you are not going to serve the salad right away, refrigerate. Just prior to serving, squeeze the juice of 2 limes over the salad.
- Yield: 8 servings
Rosemary Pita Bread
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1 packet yeast
- 1-1/2 tsp. salt
- 2–3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 5-1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour, unsifted
- 3 Tbsp. olive oil
- Heat the warm water and the sugar in a small saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves; do not let boil. Pour into a large bowl. Slowly add the yeast, stirring just a bit. Let stand for 5–7 minutes. Tear apart the rosemary and cut the leaves into very fine, small parts; do not use the stem, as it will leave too strong a taste in the bread. Add the salt, rosemary, and 4 cups of flour to the mixture, and as it starts to thicken, slowly add the remaining flour. Continue stirring until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (If the mixture seems too sticky, just add a little more flour until it starts to hold together well; if it seems too dry, add a little more water.)
- Knead well for about 5–7 minutes. Put a little olive oil on the palms of the hands and smooth all over the dough to help prevent crusting. Place dough mixture into a greased bowl; cover with a wet towel, and set it aside for about ½ hour. The dough should rise to double its size. Preheat oven to 500°F. (With this sort of bread, the hotter the oven, the better.) Divide the dough in half; then form into 12 balls. Roll out each ball into a 6˝ circle, about 1/16″ thick, on a generously floured table or counter top. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for 5–8 minutes or until lightly browned. Make sure there are no creases in the dough and that the pitas are lying flat on the cookie sheet.
- When finished cooking, place pitas in a paper lunch bag with a damp towel and seal. Let cool completely before serving.
- Yield: 8–12 servings
*Articles written about Cooking with the Bible have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Reader’s Digest and on Reuters, fine reviews have been printed in a wide variety of religious magazines and Library Journal, and interviews with the authors have aired on National Public Radio.
Here’s a rundown of the many endorsements and reviews:
Links to purchase books:
Cooking with the Bible is available in paperback ($25) as well as hardcover ($75).
Also, check out Anthony & Rusty’s latest book, Cooking with the Movies (how cool is this?).
The Big Tine