Lentils and lentils. With four historical recipes: ancient Rome, Israel, Ethiopia, Egypt

Three different biotypes of lentils

By Federico Valicenti

Over the New Year holidays, many customers have asked me about the symbolic value and meaning of lentils on New Year’s Eve. Lentils, the main food of nomadic peoples since the Neolithic period, have a very beneficial meaning from their cultivation. Their cultivation begins in the lands of ancient Egypt, immediately becoming a nutritious food of small size, but with great depth in the art of cooking. From Egypt in 525 BC, and more specifically from the very ancient Pelusio on the banks of the Nile, said in one myth to be the home of the great Achilles, Egyptian ships are said to have regularly supplied Greek and Italian ports with lentils. And from here, in addition to eating, lentils also become an element of interpretation. In ancient times, lentils were also symbolically associated with death.

lentil field

It is enough to re-read the famous episode written in the book of Genesis, where Esau returned hungry from the village and saw Jacob cooking a plate of lentils. When he asked him for food because he was tired, Jacob asked instead for the firstborn and Esau accepted (cf. Genesis 25,29-34). Then he abdicated in favor of his brother, because he was the father, guide, and king of the Jews, and combined a trade which was disadvantageous to the one, and advantageous to the other. It is the first food prepared by man in written evidence at least 4000 years ago.

Esau gives up his birthright in exchange for a plate of lentils

In colloquial parlance, a paraphrase of people selling themselves for a pittance, a plate of lentils, which means getting a price far below what you give in return. Since then, ancient Jewish tradition dictates that when Jews mourn, they eat lentils in memory of Esau selling what was most precious to him. Lentils have been one of the most important agricultural and commercial crops in the Mediterranean for thousands of years, and one of the most common and favored foods in Rome, where Artemidorus, who was born in Ephesus and lived in Rome in the 2nd century, along with Athens, lived. In his dream work “Interpretation of Dreams”, lentils are associated with mourning, and Pliny praises them for their high nutritional value and calming properties.

It would be enough to know the history of the Egyptian column of the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, which was brought to Rome by the will of Caligula in the first century, because of how magnificently the vow was carried out, the obelisk crossed the Mediterranean Sea by ship. submerged and protected by a bet load. Lentils are served in a soup, puls-lentis, from which pulmento got its name, because it became polenta with the arrival of corn. Even centuries later, lentils will return to dreams, bringing good luck or mourning, depending on who interprets and likes this little bean.

In the Middle Ages, the wealthier classes, the wealthy nobility, relegated the use of lentils to the table of the poor, serving and eating them almost exclusively in monasteries and among humble but educated people who gave lentils the role they deserved. feed well, enjoy and spend less. Again, as if to emphasize its unfitness, it was prescribed by the renaissance physician Petronius as its goliard food as a hot and dry food suitable for those who wished to live cleanly.

Lentils were fed to horses in France during the reign of Louis XIV, and Alexandre Dumas considered them a bad food in his Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine of 1873. Like all foods and elements meant for eternity, fashion does not affect or suppress their virtues. Thus, the lentil, attached to the patriarchs, passed the symbolism of betrayal and accompanied mourning and death, tormented dreams, and received superficial judgments from people of noble depth but light taste. It comes to our time at the table set at the end of the year, when a food habit that unites all social classes, as a wish for prosperity and good luck for the coming year, ritualizes the eating of lentils.

And GF Giunchi tells us in his Teatro Naturale n. 17 (December 27, 2003 1.)

“A long table at the end of the year. In the center, like a keel on water, an oval plate of lentils in the warm aura of smoke evokes the fat and heavy zampon wrapped in the night vapors of the Nile, the cargo of an Egyptian ship. The ancient obelisk, which was “The Roman Emperor, lonely and mad, he wanted to change the course of time for his own glory and like all men”. Let’s take back the lentil and its history.

lentil soup with chestnuts and croutons


Lentils with coriander from ancient Rome
250 g of lentils
2 liters of water
1 leek is cut, washed and chopped
75 g of fresh coriander
5 g of coriander seeds
3 g of pepper, plus extra to finish the meal
3 g of mint seeds
3 g rue seeds
75 g of fresh mint or mint
10 ml garum (or anchovy paste)
10 ml defrutum (cooked sweets).
10 ml of vinegar
5 ml of honey
olive oil

Wash the lentils and put them in a pot with 2 liters of cold water. Bring to a boil, then add the leeks and half the fresh coriander. Chop spices and other herbs, add garum, vinegar, defrutum. Cook until the lentils are almost cooked. Check from time to time that the water does not evaporate. At the last minute, add the olive oil, freshly ground pepper and the rest of the chopped coriander.

Cooked in lentils Jewish cuisine:
6 cloves of garlic
5 tablespoons of seed oil
250 grams of chopped peeled tomatoes
200 grams of peeled red lentils
1 teaspoon of black pepper
2 centimeters of ginger
2 green peppers
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 liter of water
1 teaspoon of salt

Fry the chopped garlic cloves in a non-stick pan with a tablespoon of seed oil. Add finely chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peeled red lentils, a teaspoon of black pepper, grated ginger, diced green pepper and a tablespoon of lime juice. Pour a liter of water and salt over the lentils and continue cooking until the lentils are tender, about an hour.

Lentil plant

Lentils with spices From Ethiopia

1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, chopped
1/2 small sweet potato
1/4 red sweet pepper cut into cubes
1 teaspoon of olive oil
2 tablespoons of red lentils
1-2 teaspoons of tomato paste
1 glass of water
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1/4 teaspoon ginger
soy sauce
black pepper

Saute onion, garlic, ginger and potato in olive oil until onions are almost translucent.
Add red pepper and saute for another minute.
Add lentils, tomato paste and water.
Bring the water to a boil.
Add the paprika, cilantro, allspice, fenugreek and ginger and let the stew simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender and all the water has been absorbed. Add salt, soy sauce and black pepper and serve.

Lentils in broth from Egypt

400 g of red lentils
1.5 liters of chicken broth
onion, garlic, oil, coriander, cumin, pepper, celery, 1 lemon, 1 carrot, salt and pepper
Arabic bread

Fry the onion in extra virgin olive oil, then add coriander, cumin, pepper and finely chopped garlic. Mix well and brown for few minutes. At this point, add the red lentils, chopped carrots and chopped celery leaves.

Cover everything with chicken broth and cook on low heat for about 45 minutes. In the end, you will get a thick soup. If you find that the soup is too thick, you can add a glass of water to it. After cooking, add the juice of half a lemon and mix well with a wooden ladle.

To serve, make a saute with 2 well-fried onions, lemon wedges, and cut the bread into cubes to make small croutons. Garnish the soup with croutons of Arabic bread, golden onions and lemon slices to serve as a frame.

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