An Ancient Mediterranean Meal: Foods from the First Century A.D.

An Ancient Mediterranean Meal:
Foods from the First Century A.D.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Investigating the Jerusalem Artichoke

First Impressions

A steak sandwich. This would be amazing on a steak sandwich.

This thought ran through my head as I tasted my first bite of Ms. Zacki’s Jerusalem artichoke relish. The relish was crunchy, sweet, and unlike anything else I had ever eaten. My previous idea of relish was the soggy green topping on a hot dog at an Orioles’ game; this Jerusalem artichoke relish bore no resemblance to its pickle-based cousin. I could have eaten Ms. Zacki’s relish with a spoon for lunch, it was that good. I could imagine it slathered on top of thinly-sliced, peppered steak, jammed between two slices of toasted whole wheat bread.

But perhaps it tasted so delicious because I had been waiting so long for a Jerusalem artichoke. When I was first assigned to write this blog article, I bounced between grocery stores, searching for the tuber. Trips to Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Trader Joe’s, and a farmer’s market proved fruitless. These frustrated ventures led me to Google: Was the Jerusalem artichoke even in season? And from there I discovered the fascinating history of the tuber.


What’s in a Name?

Have you ever played the game Telephone? Perhaps when you were younger -- at a birthday party, maybe – a friend would whisper a phrase into the ear of the person to her left, who would then whisper it to the next person, and the cycle would repeat until the phrase reached the last person. At this point the phrase would be contorted as each person misheard the phrase; by the end of the game it was nothing like the original sentence. This is similar to how the Jerusalem artichoke earned its name. The tuber is neither an artichoke nor from Jerusalem – so how did it acquire such a misleading moniker?

Samuel de Champlain, an explorer in the Americas, began the game of Telephone. He first tasted the Jerusalem artichoke (also known as the sunchoke) in Massachusetts and compared the taste to artichokes he ate in his native France. When the French began growing the tubers themselves, they agreed with de Champlain that the tubers resembled artichokes. They continued to call them artichokes, even though they are actually a member of the sunflower family.
Furthermore, the sunchokes do not originate from Jerusalem. The tubers were first cultivated in eastern North America and traded between tribes. European exploration in the New World brought the tubers over to Europe in the 1600s. Here they became a popular crop because they are inexpensive, easy to grow, and nutritious.

The Italian settlers in North America helped bring the sunchoke to Europe, but also helped it earn the “Jerusalem” part of its name. The Italians called the tuber girasole, the Italian word for sunflower, because the top of the plant resembled a sunflower. In another game of Telephone, girasole was corrupted into Jerusalem. Henceforth, the tuber became known as the Jerusalem artichoke.


Delicious and Nutritious

The Jerusalem artichoke is highly nutritious. Despite frequent comparisons to potatoes, the sunchoke contains little starch. The carbohydrates it does contain come in the form of inulin. Inulin is a polymer that can be converted into fructose, giving the sunchoke a sweeter taste than the potato and making it a great choice for diabetics. (People suffering from type 2 diabetes tolerate fructose better than sucrose or other forms of sugar.) The sunchoke is as versatile as it is nutritious. A quick scour of the Internet revealed numerous recipes for preparing the tuber.

I wish the grocery stores around me currently carried Jerusalem artichokes so I could try roasting, stir-frying, blending, and making Paleo “fries” out of them. Many recipes simply involve dicing the tuber, tossing it with olive oil, shaking with a series of spices, and roasting for about half an hour. This method is a classic for all manners of vegetables; the Jerusalem artichoke is no exception.


Sowing the Seeds of Your Sunchokes

For a rewarding experience, grow your own Jerusalem artichokes! Grab your trellis and sunhat and make your way to the garden. Dig small holes about three or four inches deep. Drop small tubers into the holes and bury them; keep them watered and prepare to reap the rewards. Plant them in the spring. According to Ms. Zacki’s gardening expertise, the tubers will sprout upwards first, toward the sun, as the Italians first noticed when they named the plant girasole. The top of the plant will bloom into a sunflower as the tubers grow sideways underground. Harvest the sprouted tubers in fall and early winter. I helped Ms. Zacki plant some Jerusalem artichokes in Ms. Zacki’s garden; I can’t wait to reap the rewards this fall.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

An Introduction to Ancient Mediterranean Food: Foods from the Time of Jesus

I have always been a digger of dirt, and as a child participated in gardening from planting to reaping. From a young age I caught onto the enjoyment of preparing and presenting food, the gift of hospitality was practically in my DNA. Always curious, I wondered where things came from, how the seed sprouted and produced, and how the grain and the gift of our daily bread was created.

But, why would I want to write about something of such an ancient nature, about a country I have never traveled, and narrow the niche by using the name of Jesus?

As a Christian woman, the symbol of bread as the body of Christ in Communion was of essence. So, why not delve into the world of ancient Mediterranean foods from the time of Jesus? The "curious child" in me craved more information, and the personal chef in me wanted to imagine, study, recreate, and offer others the opportunity to break bread and share the wine from the days of Christ.

I found few books on the subject matter, and those I did offered little to my taste. I did my own research and put recipes together that reflected what would have been consumed in ancient mediterranean times.

I started this blog to try to keep as true as I know to what existed. To keep the Kosher rules of not mixing dairy with meat, but I also have taken the liberty of adding some current items. Such examples as lime juice, instead of citron, canola oil for baking sweets, instead of olive oil, and a few other things to make your senses perk. These recipes were designed for you to enjoy the wonderful world of foods from 2000 years ago in Israel. So come, bring your curious nature, and bake bread beside me, while we share the feast of our Lord.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ancient Mediterranean Seasoning

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. These are all biblical herbs that have longevity, from medieval times to the 60's with Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair." Today, these herbs are an essential part of any kitchen.
Parsley, good for indigestion (and the breath!), was also thought of as a healing agent for a broken heart. Sage was known for strength. Rosemary represented faithfulness, love and remembrance. And thyme gave courage.
For me, all the spices and herbs that existed during biblical times were flavor enhancers. You can used this recipe for Ancient Mediterranean Seasoning to spice up many different recipes.

Ancient Mediterranean Seasoning


1/2 cup sea salt                                  2 tbsp onion powder
2 tbsp dried parsley                          2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp dried rosemary                      1 tbsp dill
2 tbsp dried thyme                            1 tbsp ground pepper
2 tbsp dried basil                               1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp dried oregano                         1 tbsp dried sage
2 tbsp garlic powder


Combine all ingredients except for salt into a blender and pulse until finely ground.

Once ground, add salt then store in an airtight container.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Homemade Hummus


4 garlic cloves
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained (reserve liquid)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste, can be found in most large grocery stores)
6 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoons chickpea liquid
1/3 cup of olive oil


Place all ingredients into food processor and blend until smooth. Season to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.