You might be surprised how many people have tried to answer this question. Did you know there’s a “Complete Idiot’s Guide” to cooking foods from the Bible? I didn’t, until I stumbled upon it in the cookery section of the library. I immediately opened it, seeking an answer to my personal interest, “what was Jesus’s favorite food?” I was disappointed. I did receive details about Jesus’s feast with the Pharisees, but nothing about what he thought of it, except that he didn’t get along with the Pharisees. Googling the question later produced a range of answers ranging from the profane to the hilarious, but no serious leads. Further investigation provided me with such books as Cooking with the Bible, Biblical Food, Feasts, and Lore, and Foods Jesus Ate and How to Grow Them, as well as the Idiot’s Guide. Yet none could answer the question.
I suppose the obvious answer is bread. Bread is the staff of life. When Jesus is kicking around the desert the Devil says something like “hey, if you’re really the Son of God, what about turning these rocks into bread?” Jesus must have thought pretty highly about bread if that was what the Devil thought he would most like to turn rocks into. And then of course there’s the Last Supper. And all those tortillas… but I still hold that the evidence does not speak as to whether Jesus loved bread above all other foods or was just good friends with it as a symbol.
Intrigued, I continued my research into the food preferences of Ascended Masters with the Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, and had little more luck. Arguably, food is more important in Buddhist ritual than in Christianity. The Bible makes a big thing about food restrictions. I’ve nothing against this, and some of these restrictions I can get behind. Leviticus specifically prohibits the eating of ferrets, for example, a tradition that has been carried all the way to the present day (“warning – this food may contain traces of peanuts, shellfish, and ferrets”). Buddhists, however, like to make offerings of food, Buddhist monks collect alms in the forms of food, and so on. Often these offerings are oranges, as seen in many restaurant shrines. Does this mean Buddha’s favorite food was oranges? Or did Buddha, perceiving all as illusion, have no preferences by definition? It is said he died of food poisoning, though the food in question is up for debate. The Mahayana tradition has it that Buddha ate a poisonous mushroom, and thus died in the same manner as the Roman Emperors Claudius and Charles VI. However, the Theravada tradition say that Buddha died from eating bad pork. I think I’m going to compromise, and say Buddha’s favorite food was the truffle.
I had much more luck with the prophet Mohammed. We know without a doubt Mohammed’s favorite meal, because he says so in a number of hadith, including this one, concerning his beloved wife Aisha:
“The superiority of Aisha over other women is like the superiority of tharid to other meals.”
Tharid, also known as tashreeb or tahgrib, is a chicken stew served over torn up bread. The bread slowly absorbs the stew.
So at the end of all my research, I am left with an image of Jesus, the ascetic, saying “no, no, I’ll be fine with just bread.” And Buddha saying “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so” (okay, so that was Douglas Adams). And finally Mohammad: “Bring on the tharid!”
Tharid, Tashreeb, Taghrib
(adapted from Annia Ciezadlo, in her essay They Remember Home, about Iraqi refugees about to be settled in Texas, of all places)
Splash of vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 small onions, roughly chopped
2 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 bay leaf
1 Tb curry powder
½ Tb ground turmeric
½ Tb kosher salt, plus more to taste
4 skinless chicken thighs
1 19-oz can chickpeas, drained
2 pieces flat bread, such as Iraqi al-tannour, naan, or pita
1 lemon, quartered
½ Tb dried sumac
Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onions, potatoes, bay leaves, curry powder, turmeric, and salt. Cook, stirring and scraping bottom of pot occasionally, until onions and potatoes are golden, about 10 minutes. Add chicken and 1 ½ cups of water; stir to combine. Bring to the boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, uncovered, until chicken is tender and cooked through, 20-25 minutes. Add chickpeas; cook for 5 minutes more. Taste the stew and season with more salt, to taste. Line 2 bowls with torn pieces of flat bread. Ladle stew over bread. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over each bowl and sprinkle with sumac.
As you see this recipe requires flatbread, which you can generally buy at any supermarket nowadays. I’m not a baker, but I am sick of the generic flatbread at my supermarket, so here’s a recipe for a flatbread you can make in a household oven. It does help to have a baking stone, or, in my case, the inverted cast-iron bottom of my tagine, which works just as well.
(adapted from Maggie Glezer, A Blessing of Bread)
This pita is very large and has no central pocket, which makes it ideal for sopping up stews, but it becomes stale pretty quickly. This will make four large pitas – if you freeze the leftovers, they will keep a few days more and need only to be warmed up under the grill.
1 tsp dried yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tsp sugar
½ Tb salt
1 Tb vegetable oil
Mix the yeast with half the flour. Slowly pour in the water and mix until smooth. I am assured this goes a lot easier with a mixing machine. Let the slurry stand 10-20 minutes, until it has begun to ferment and bubbles are appearing.
Add the sugar, salt, and oil, and mix until everything is dissolved. Add the remaining flour and mix until the dough is very smooth, about five minutes. Or it would be five minutes, if I had a mixing machine. The dough should be extremely wet and soft, impossible to mix by hand. If it is at all firm, add water 2 Tb at a time until it is wet again.
Place the dough in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours.
Heavily flour a baking pan. Turn the dough out, using plenty of dusting flour, onto a well-floured work surface. Trust me, you’ll need all the flour. Cut it into four equal pieces and round them, then roll them in more flour. Place the rounds back on the baking pan and wrap with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise another hour.
While the dough rises, place your baking stone or upside-down cast iron pan in the oven under the broiler, and preheat the oven to 550º, or whatever the highest temperature it can manage is.
After an hour, turn off the oven and heat the broiler (the pitas need to bake from both sides, the iron below and the broiler above). On a lightly floured surface stretch out one of the chunks of dough until it’s about 1/8th inch thick.
Place it on a baking sheet, and put the baking sheet on top of the heated iron or baking stone under the broiler. Bake it about 5 minutes, but be careful not to overbake, because it will burn in the space of a minute. Meanwhile, stretch out the next pita. Wrap the finished pita in a towel and put the next one in the oven.
I served this with a bulgur pilaf. As you can see, a feast worthy of a prophet.