This week’s Torah portion is Tzav (the first important word in this week’s Torah portion; “tzav” translates to English, “command”). The Torah portion is all about sacrifices. I wanted to know whether Mesopotamian cultures influenced the ancient Israelites sacrifices. (I found an article entitled “The Techniques of the Sacrifice of Animals in Ancient Israel and Ancient Mesopotamia: New Insights Through Comparison, Part 1,” by Joann Scurlock of Elmhurst College (now Elmhurst University in Illinois). It described similarities but the article doesn’t ascribe causation.
Meat was expensive in Ancient Israel. I wonder whether the ancient Israelites would have owned bulls, steers, goats, and pigeons to fill all the sacrifices. Doctor Tova Dickstein, an expert in biblical and Talmudic food, has an answer. Based on three ancient sources, the minor Talmudic Tractate Kala Rabati 7, 6, Tosefta Hullin 1, 21, and the Babylon Talmud, Berachot 44:2, meat stew was very popular cooked with “lefet,” the Hebrew word for “turnip.”
To discover hints of how ancient food was cooked, Dickstein turns to contemporary traditional cuisine, in this case, the kitchen of a member of the ancient, tiny Samaritan community, Batya Tsedaka, of Holon. Here is Tsedaka’s recipe for meat and turnip stew.
Ingredients (Serves 4)
1 large finely chopped onion
1 large turnip, peeled and cubed
1 lb beef (chopped into small cubes)
2 tbsp olive oil
3 chopped cloves of garlic
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp black pepper
1½ tsp salt
1 cup red wine
½ tsp honey
Chop the onion into small pieces. Peel the turnip and cut it into small cubes. Brown the onion in olive oil until it is soft and transparent. Add the chopped garlic and the meat and continue to brown for a few more minutes. Add the spices, the wine and a little water and cover. Cook until soft, correct seasoning, then cook with the lid open to reduce the liquids. Serve.
To cook meat stew with turnip, you can eat like the ancient Israelites ate.