Hummus and a Kind of Gyro Burger Food for Ancient Israelites

Today Matt Swaim, Sonrise Morning Show/Sacred Heart Radio, chatted about what the ancient, common folk Israelites ate. Here’s what I found:

Meals eaten by ancient Israelites fell into 2 categories: daily and festive meals.

The daily diet of the ordinary ancient Israelite was mainly one of bread, cooked grains and legumes, like lentils and beans. . Agricultural workers comprised the largest part of the population.

Bread was eaten with every meal. Vegetables were eaten less frequently but were an important part of the daily diet. Most food was eaten fresh and in season, and fruits and vegetables had to be eaten as soon as they were ripe since there was no means of keeping them refrigerated. For instance, they drank goat and sheep’s milk mainly in the spring and summer, and also ate butter and cheese. 

Figs and grapes were common fruits, and dates, pomegranates along with other fruits and nuts were eaten in season, so only occasionally.  

Meat, usually goat and mutton, was eaten rarely and was reserved for special occasions such as celebrations, festival meals or sacrificial feasts. Game, birds, eggs and fish were also eaten, depending on availability. 

Were foods dried for later use?
It was important to dry foods in case of famine. Grapes were made into raisins and wine; olives into oil, figs, lentils and other beans were dried. Grains were stored for use throughout the year.  The typical diet was more vegetarian. 

Did the whole family get involved in preparing meals?

Daily meals were prepared by women. Two daily meals were usually eaten by the family, either in the home or in the field. The first meal was eaten in the late-morning, as a break in the workday, and could include roasted grain, olives, figs or some other fruit, bread, dipped in olive oil or vinegar, or eaten with garlic, onions or radishes and water or wine. 

There’s another good example of this in the Book of Ruth (Ruth2:14) when she was helping out in the fields and prepared and ate food with the workers.

What about the second meal?

That was the main meal and was eaten as supper in the evening, like we do today. That meal would have included a soup or stew cooked over the fire, along with the bread, vegetables in season, cheese and fruits, in particular melons in the summer. Milk was also part of the meal.


After you make this, taste and add more seasoning if necessary. I usually add more lemon juice, tahini, cumin & yogurt.

1 can, 15 oz, chick peas, drained

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2-4 tablespoons lemon juice

3-4 tablespoons Tahini 

Olive oil – start with 2 tablespoons

Salt and pepper to taste

Cumin to taste – start with a teaspoon

Greek yogurt to taste  – start with a couple tablespoons

Mash chickpeas by hand or in food processor until of desired smoothness.  Add everything else and blend well.  Serve with toasted pita wedges, raw veggies and a bowl of Mediterranean olives or crusty bread.  Store, covered, in refrigerator up to a week.

Gyro Burgers with Feta Cheese and Tzatziki Sauce

This is from friend, colleague and excellent Greek cook, Ellen Mueller. She and I taught together at Jungle Jims cooking school. Now if all you have is beef, go with all ground round. Or all lamb!

1 pound ground lamb

1 pound ground round

2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1 tablespoon minced fresh mint

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ pound feta cheese cubed

Combine all the ingredients except for the feta cheese.  Form the mixture into 8-10 patties depending on how big you want your burgers.  You can also make mini burgers and serve them on slider buns or small pita bread.  After you form the patties make a small indentation in the center.  Insert a small cube of feta cheese.  Surround the cheese with the burger mixture.  Grill the burgers until cooked through.  Serve with slice onion, sliced tomato and a dollop of tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

What a special sauce this is. You’ll be glad to have it, as it’s the sauce used as a Greek condiment on lots of food. Kay Hitzler was my talented sous chef at Jungle Jims cooking school. She also taught classes there and this sauce is a staple – everyone loves it.

1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded, shredded


1 ½ cups plain Greek yogurt

2 cloves garlic minced

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

¼ cup fresh chopped mint

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Place cucumber in a strainer over a bowl and sprinkle with salt.   Let drain for 15 minutes.  Squeeze cucumber to remove water. This is important  to make the sauce thick, not runny. 

In a small bowl, add yogurt and cucumber.  Stir in garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and mint.  Season with salt to taste.

Makes 2 cups, serving 4-6

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