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A biblical banquet When the Presbyterian Women sit down for lunch Sunday, the menu will consist of foods used in ancient times

What would people in ancient biblical lands have for lunch -- and could that lunch be re-created? Sylvia Volk and Deidra EmEl asked themselves those questions recently.

It took some research.

Volk, who is in charge of a lunch Sunday for the Presbyterian Women of Western New York, and EmEl, who runs Tree of Life catering, a group of women from her church, Congregation of Israel, Knesset of Jesus, found out these things:

* They had grape leaves aplenty in ancient biblical lands -- but they didn't grow rice to stuff them.

* There were a lot of quinces then, but no apples. (Some scholars say Adam and Eve's apple was really a quince.)

* Fruits like figs and dates provided sweetness, as did honey. Granulated sugar as we know it was unknown.

* Olives and olive oil were basic.

* Meat was scarce, though there was a good selection of fish.

* Grains and legumes were the basis of the diet.

Volk's knowledge came from a biblical concordance that listed all the foods mentioned when she planned two similar though less elaborate luncheons in Oregon years ago. (There are more than 50 different food references in the two testaments.) Tree of Life catering concentrates on natural and organic ingredients, and its members will do much of the cooking at the luncheon.
And as if the dietary strictures the biblical history imposes are not quite enough, the two women also came up with other rules for the lunch. They wanted as much of the food as possible to be locally grown (about 80 percent of it will be), and they wanted the food to be free of gluten or wheat. (Because of wheat allergies, many of the churches in Western New York now use gluten-free communion wafers.)

They managed to come up with a tempting menu anyway:

Meze or hors d'oeuvre consisting of flatbread, olives, hummus, quince jam, figs.

Cold cucumber soup

Lentil Salad

Fish Stew

Scripture Cake (a non-authentic dessert, from Colonial times and based on biblical references).

EmEl researched recipes carefully for the meal.

"The gluten-free Flatbread on the menu was interesting," she said. "I played around with bean flour, and brown rice flour, and even thought about Ethiopian injera bread, which is made from a cereal grain called teff."

In the end, EmEl decided to use a dosa-like bread made from lentil flour. The recipe follows.

The Fish Stew presented a challenge, as well. The first thought was to use tilapia, often called "St. Peter's Fish," because it is similar to the fish found in the Sea of Galilee. But EmEl didn't like the idea.

"I found that most tilapia is farmed," she said, and because she is concerned about the environmental and health issues that farmed fish might present she chose instead to use whiting.

EmEl will also add local seasonal vegetables such as squash, zucchini and eggplant to the stew. "I was surprised that our local and Mediterranean vegetables are so similar."

Volk was concerned about stuffing the grape leaves. Since rice would be historically incorrect, she opted for barley. And, since barley-stuffed grape leaves are not exactly thick upon the ground in Western New York, the women of Westminster Church plan to make them.

Then there was the apple thing. Volk says even though quince is never mentioned by name, many scholars believe that was the fruit from the infamous tree in the Garden of Eden. But quinces are not exactly easy to find in Western New York either.

Volk finally bought a bushel from Hurd Orchards in Holley. EmEl will make jam for the flatbread.

The fall gathering at Westminster on Delaware Avenue will open with a speech by Louise Davidson, Presbyterian Women Churchwide vice president for justice and peace. The lunch will be followed by a worship service. Recipes for the food will be provided, and we give you a few tasty ideas below.

Reservations are necessary; only a few places remain. Please call 881-1424.

This will be used for Communion service as well as a base for the hummus. It's really a type of dosa, rather than flatbread. Dosa is a pancake from southern India.

>Dosas (Red Lentil Pancakes)

3/4 cup long grain rice
1/4 cup red lentils
1 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Oil for frying and drizzling

Place the rice and lentils in a large bowl, cover with the warm water. Cover bowl and soak for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain off the water and reserve.

Place the rice and lentils in a food processor and blend until smooth. Blend in the reserved water, salt, turmeric, pepper and coriander.

Heat frying pan to medium heat; add about a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil to pan. Using a quarter to half measuring cup, pour mixture into hot oil. Fry until golden on each side. Drain on paper towels and serve. Makes 6 dosas.

A kind of Mediterranean twist on a classic Mediterranean recipe.

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>Fusion Hummus

2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 cans (15.5-ounce) garbanzo beans, drained
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup cold water
Salt and pepper to taste

Strip rosemary leaves from stems; discard stems and place leaves in the bowl of a food processor. Add garlic and pulse until finely chopped. Pour in the garbanzo beans; process until evenly blended.

With the food processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil, scraping sides of bowl as necessary. Pour in the balsamic vinegar and process until evenly blended. Taste and add more vinegar, 1 tablespoon at a time as desired.

Pour in the water and process to make a spreadable consistency. Add more water, one tablespoon at a time if necessary. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill before serving. Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

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>Barley Stuffed Grape Leaves

24 grape leaves, preserved in water
2 1/2 cups cooked barley,
1/3 cup very finely chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh mint, dill or oregano (or to taste)
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or to taste)
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Approximately 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts, if desired
1 cup pearl barley
1 quart water
Salt, if desired

To cook barley: Soak the barley in the cold water to cover for 30 minutes, changing the water two or three times. Cook the barley in the water and drain and cool but do not rinse. You want the barley to be a little sticky.

Combine barley with onion, garlic, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Correct the seasoning, adding salt or lemon juice to taste; the mixture should be highly seasoned.

Rinse the grape leaves in a colander. Blanch the leaves, a few at a time, in a shallow pan of boiling water for one minute. Drain in a colander, rinse with cool water and let cool. Blot dry.

Lay a grape leaf on the work surface, stem end toward you, place a heaping tablespoon of the barley filling in a row along the bottom third of the leaf. Roll up the leaf to from a tight cylinder, folding in the side flaps, halfway up as you would to form an egg roll or a blintz. The idea is to form a compact roll about 3 inches long and 1 inch thick. Assemble the remaining grape leaves the same way. (They may be assembled several hours ahead and stored in the refrigerator.)

Place the stuffed grape leaves in the baking dish with 1/2 -inch of the stock or water. Cover the pan with foil. Bake the grape leaves in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until tender. Drain off any extra cooking liquid before serving. Serve hot or cold with dipping sauces.

e-mail: jokun@buffnews.com

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