We have a tradition of cooking food that may have been made in the Levant in the time of Jesus for our Christmas dinner. It’s an interesting way to contextualize the teachings of Jesus by creating something of the world in which he lived. Given the state of the Middle East today, we also think of it as food of the oppressed. FYI, we are muslim, but Jesus is an important prophet and we value his teachings 1.
Turns out, the ancient Mesopotamians wrote down their recipes, and historians have found some of these. In the mid 1980s researchers started deciphering these recipes. That story is fascinating in and of itself 2. One such recipe can be found in the Yale Babylonian collection, written in Akkadian cuneiform on a clay tablet. Tablet number 46443. It reads:
“There must (also) be the flesh from a leg of lamb. Prepare the water. Add fat, [ … ], salt, beer, onions, (an herb called) spiney, coriander, samīdu, cumin, and beetroot to throw into the pot. Then, crush garlic and leeks, and add them. Let the whole cook into a stew, onto which you sprinkle coriander and šuḫtinnū.”4
The Biblical Archaeology Society’s recipe was a good starting point, but I needed to make some adjustments. Firstly, having some sense of middle eastern cooking I feel that they would have preferred more spices. Secondly, my wife hates beets5. Chard is a beet! It’s been cultivated for the leaves instead of the root. There is also ample evidence that it was grown in ancient Babylonia6.
It tasted pretty good. It’s difficult not to feel that adding some chilies or potatoes would have improved the dish. The modern world, and the modern palate is thoroughly dependent on new world ingredients.
|1.5 pound Lamb shank||Cut into pieces (ask your butcher)|
|Wash and pat dry|
|Sear over medium-high heat|
|1 Onion, medium, diced||Reduce heat to medium|
|Cook until transparent|
|3 large carrots||Cook for 10 minutes|
|1 tbsp coriander seeds|
|1 tsp cumin|
|1 tsp salt|
|2 cups dark sour beer7|
|3 cups water|
|4 cloves garlic, chopped||Bring to a boil|
|2 shallots, quartered||Simmer uncovered for 1 hour, or until meat is tender|
|1 leek, chopped|
|1 pound Chard, ribs separated, chopped|
Now she claims that she doesn’t hate beets, but she just doesn’t like them. ↩