Calling of the Disciples

On the second and third Sundays of Epiphany the lectionary moves to the calling of the disciples.  Furthermore, on January 18th, the Church celebrates the Confession of St. Peter.  That is where, on the shore of the Galilee, he confessed that Jesus was the Christ.

Most of the early disciples were fishermen.  They were busy working what appears to be a successful enterprise, but Jesus called them and asked them to fish for people.  He did this with only two words, “Follow me!”

Jesus still utters those words to those who are willing to listen.  Albert Schweitzer, the gifted theologian, physician, missionary, and organist, says it best: 

“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

While we were in the Holy Land on the Sea of Galilee, we gained a new respect for tilapia.  Tilapia is the main fish of the Galilee and its mild flavor is easily enhanced by Mediterranean spices. One of my favorite parts of the trip was when we ate a whole tilapia deep-fried with an Israeli coin stuffed in its mouth (just like the Bible Story.) It was amazing.

Since it would be hard to find a whole tilapia at your local grocery store, for our recipe we are using tilapia fillets and pairing it with couscous, a staple of Middle East meals. We are flavoring the tilapia with Za’atar, an ancient spice blend which often includes marjoram, oregano, and thyme along with sumac and sesame seeds. The result is a mixture with a strong, sharp fragrance that has clear nutty notes and pairs wonderfully with the mild fish.

To the couscous we have added pomegranate seeds, feta, and figs. The figs remind us that St. Phillip was seen by Jesus under a fig tree (John 1:48). The fruitiness of the figs blend well with the middle-eastern spice. And don’t forget to pick up some pita bread to enjoy with your meal.

This is kind of feast that Peter’s mother-in-law would have made Jesus in thanksgiving for her healing.  No wonder why Jesus, being from so many places, called the lake side town of Capernaum his home town. Enjoying this lakeside feast, you just might hear those faint words, “follow me.”

Pictured Above: Calling of the apostles by Domenico Ghirlandaio – 1481 – Sistine Chapel

Za’atar Spiced Tilapia with Fig and Couscous Salad

Ingredients for Za’atar Spiced Tilapia 

4 Tilapia filets
Za’atar seasoning
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch salt to taste
Parsley (minced, for garnish)

Instructions for Za’atar Spiced Tilapia 

  1. Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil on medium high in a non stick skillet. 
  2. Pat the fish dry and season both sides of the fillets with the Za’atar seasoning.
  3. When the oil is hot, add the seasoned tilapia to the skillet, and pan fry each side for approximately 4 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
  4. Add minced parsley to garnish, and a pinch of salt to taste. Serve with the Couscous Salad with figs and pita bread.

Ingredients for Couscous Salad with Figs

2 cups pearl couscous
3 cups water
12 figs (halved)
4 green onions (sliced)
1 cup of crumbled Feta
2 pomegranate
1 teaspoon honey (plus more for drizzling)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice
Pinch of Ground coriander
Salt and Pepper (to taste)
Mint and Cilantro (as garnish)

Instructions for Couscous Salad with Figs

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the halved figs on the baking sheet and drizzle with honey. Bake figs for approximately 10 minutes or until lightly browned and caramelized.
  2. Cut the 4 green onions into thin rings and finely chop the mint and cilantro. Pluck out the pomegranate seeds.
  3. In a medium sauce pan, bring 3 cups of water (with a pinch of salt) to boil on high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to low, stir in 2 cups of pearl couscous, cover, and let simmer for 8 – 10 minutes or until the water is absorbed. 
  4. For the dressing, pour 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, pinch of ground coriander and 1 teaspoon honey into a sealable container. Close tightly and shake. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Top the couscous with the green onions, pomegranate seeds, crumbled feta, honey-roasted figs, and dressing. Garnish with cilantro and mint.