Let’s get this out first: Kitty Morse’s texually-inspired cookbook A Biblical Feast is not a Jewish book. Or, to be more specific, it’s inspired by two books: One is the Jewish bible; the other is a Bible about a Jewish guy.
But, if there’s a narrative to the cookbook, it reads like the Casablanca-born Ms. Morse’s quest to discover the simplicity at the root of both her religion and her cuisine. As she writes in the introduction: “Somehow, I never considered the similarity between the way of life of the ancient Semitic tribes I was studying in the Bible and the culture of the people just beyond the city limits.”
The recipes in A Biblical Feast have that fresh, special, olive oil-juicy feeling to them. There aren’t many ingredients in most of the recipes, and the ingredients there are, you’ll want to be fresh and yummy.
In a few cases, the biblical connections are tenuous — a recipe for squash with capers and mint comes from a verse (in Jonah) that mentions a gourd — but other connections are more natural. A list of spices in the Song of Songs spins into a recipe for spiced, fluffed millet. One of my personal favorites is the recipe for braised cucumbers & leeks with fresh dill. It takes its inspiration from a verse in Numbers where the Israelites are complaining to Moses about the lack of food in the desert: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.”
Ms. Morse’s Christian Bible leanings are apparent, too. Though the majority of the recipes are taken from the Testament we share, there’s a a barley, beef & onion pottage from Revelation. A simple instruction from 1 Corinthians — “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (5:7) is a great rationale for including instructions for a sourdough starter. And her sardine-caper recipe — ironically, probably the dish that my Hasidic-raised professional-chef wife will love most — comes from the opening book of the Christian Bible. (Which, you’ve guessed it, is the Book of Matthew.)
One more thing Jewish readers will get a kick out of: her dried fruit, cinnamon and red wine compote, which we call haroset. The accompanying photograph — like all the food photography in this volume — looks absolutely stunning, and delicious, too. I’m forced to point out, it’s a far cry from any Passover seder table I’ve ever seen. But, hey, maybe that’s the point — that there’s one bible with a million different interpretations, and this book is Ms. Morse’s offering.