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It takes a certain amount of hubris to call one’s literary creation God’s Cook Book. To author Jamie d’Antioc’s credit, the subtitle is Tracing the Cultinary Traditions of the Levant.
What is “the Levant” anyway? I had a general idea of the meaning of this quaint, somewhat Victorian-sounding term, but just to be sure I looked it up. It means the region bordering the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, from northern Egypt to Turkey more or less – and therefore includes the lands of the Bible.
A gorgeous book
This is one gorgeous book, but I don’t find it really useful as a cookbook. For one thing, it’s huge, measuring 9 x 12 inches and weighing more than 4.8 pounds. But it can be a useful resource for anyone studying ancient Middle Eastern civilizations.
God’s Cook Book is lavishly illustrated with watercolors of plants, fruits and vegetables mentioned in the book as well as some showing scenes of life in the ancient Levant: camel caravans, harvesting, goat herding and more. The author thanks his mother for her choice of illustrations from the family archives.
Jamie d’Antioc, an engineer by training, served as chairman of several major financial institutions. Even though he ate in some of the world’s best restaurants, he was drawn back to the food prepared by his grandmother, who lived to be 108. He says her ideas about cuisine and its links to spirituality and longevity inspired this book.
That’s what his publisher says anyway. I found very little other information online about the author, who I’d never heard of before.
Foods “sent by God”
In his introduction, d’Antioc says he wanted to recapture his grandmother’s recipes and link them with an understanding of the foods we have eaten throughout history, “the foods sent to us by God.”
Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad, founders of the world’s principal monotheistic faiths, led similar lives, ate similar food and led their lives guided by God, says d’Antioc. He finds ample evidence in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Quran and Hadith (the recording sayings and act of Muhammad) about the kinds of food we should eat as well as how and when to eat them.
The book avoids any foods that are prohibited by any of the three faiths so that the recipes can be used by anyone who follows the dietary rules of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Before getting into the recipes, d’Antioc provides a short history of the Levant and an overview of ancient cooking methods and eating habits.
The book is divided into sections including Herbs, spices and other flavors; Bread; Dairy; Simple & side dishes (mostly salads); Soups & stews; Grain; Vegetables; Fish; Poultry; Meat; and more. Each section has its own introduction, followed by recipes. But the rationale for the organization of recipes isn’t always clear and you’ll find some in each section that seem like they belong elsewhere.
Quotations from scripture
Each section is also accompanied by verses from one of the holy books. At the start of the Grain section, where I found today’s recipe, is this, from Deuteronomy (24:19): “When you reap your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow; that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
Subsections also have explanations and quotations from the scriptures.
At the end of the book is a section on Inspired Eating, which includes subsections on Fasting, Digestion, Cleanliness, Prayer and more. There are lists of good recipes for weight loss, for vegetarians, for feasting and for children.
In all honesty, I didn’t find too many recipes I’m eager to try. Many use grains, herbs or other ingredients that aren’t easy to procure. How often have you seen melokhia in a store!?! But this one, for a pilaf of burghul (aka bulgar, aka cracked wheat), looked good and gave me an opportunity to use the pomegranate concentrate I’d made a few weeks ago by boiling down a quart-and-a-half of pomegranate juice (on sale at Costco) to one cup.
One change: I didn’t want to bother making clarified butter so I used olive oil instead.
It was a very tasty side dish and, aside from having to make the pomegranate concentrate, very easy.
While I wouldn’t recommend this as a cookbook, it’s a lovely coffee-table tome, and it would make a nice gift for a cookbook collector or anyone interested in Middle Eastern culture.