Saturday, 16 September 2006

my kingdom for some soup

The first time I made this soup was a disaster. A huge, horrible disaster.

I was at the stage where all I needed to do was turn the soup to low and allow it to simmer, but a distressed phone call from a crying friend proved a significant distraction and when I returned to my pot I had a pulpy mass of burnt lentil and a very smoky kitchen. Oopps.

But I persevered and on the second attempt I was rewarded with this healthy, flavoursome lentil soup – my kind of comfort food.

In the Old Testament (Genesis), which is shared by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, there is a story about a hungry young man called Esau.

Isaac and Rebekah were the parents of twin boys: Jacob and Esau. The boys were locked in a constant struggle, even from within the womb. Esau was the eldest of the sons and therefore was destined to inherit his father’s land, but Jacob had some tricks up his sleeve.

It seems Jacob knew his way around the kitchen and managed to whip up a meal so delicious that Esau was prepared to trade his birthright (rule over Israel) for a mess of potage – a bowl of Jacob’s red lentil soup.

Esau (who is also called עֵשָׂו Edom, which like the name Adam, means “red”) went onto other fame and fortune and Jacob took control of Israel.

It must have been bloody good soup!

There are as many versions of Esau’s Soup as there are of chicken soup. Every Arabic household has eaten Shurba al- 'Adas around their Levant and every Jewish bubbe has her own secret recipe. My version, although not worth giving up your birthright, is still pretty delicious, healthy and flavoured with lemon, garlic and cumin.

Lentil Potage
Recipe from Anne Sheasby’s The New Soup Bible. Serves 4.
1 onion, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
10 garlic cloves, chopped
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 (generous) cup red lentils, rinsed
1 litre vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
3 lemons, halved
½ – 1 teaspoon ground cumin
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil
Flat leaf parsley for garnish
1. Heat oil in large pot. Cook onion for 5 minutes, until soft. Add carrots, celery, potato and half the garlic. Cook until they start to soften.
2. Add lentils and stock then bring to the boil. Reduce heat, cover then simmer for 30 minutes or until potato and lentils are tender.
3. Add bay leaves, remaining garlic and half the lemons to the pan. Cook the soup for 10 minutes more.
4. Squeeze the juice from the cooked lemons and discard the rind. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemons also.
5. Puree soup in a food processor until smooth the return to stove.
6. Add cumin, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper.
7. Serve topped with chopped parsley, swirls of olive oil and lemon wedges passed separately.
Variation: This soup can be served cold with extra lemon juice.

Lentils (Lens culinaris) are the seeds from within the pod of a bushy plant. Each pod contains two seeds.

People have been eating lentils since the Neolithic era and they were one of the first domesticated crops. Colours range from yellow, red and brown to green and black.

In the vegetable world, only a soy bean contains more protein than a lentil – which is 25% protein. This accounts for its popularity in India where there are large vegetarian populations. In northern India lentils are known as dal and in the south they are called paruppu, akin to most dried legumes.

Besides containing protein, lentils are a great source of fibre, vitamin B1 and minerals, although green lentils have more fibre than red lentils (31% green; 11% red).

Lentils are eaten mostly in the Middle East, Mediterranean and South Asia, where they can be made into soups or combined in rice dishes.

India produces and consumes the most lentils, although Canada is the world’s largest exporter.

While reading about Esau’s and his weakness for a lentil soup, I stumbled across this very interesting website about bean soups in history. It was amazing to see just how many historical figures had gone balmy for liquid legume. There was also a list of the various bean soups from around the world.

That’s it for my latest Weekend Herb Blogging. In beautiful Italy, Piperita, from the delightful My Kitchen Pantry, will be hosting our group recap. Please go and have a look at all the recipes!




  1. Ahhh--this brings back such nice memories!! I used to make a version of this a long time ago. It makes me wonder why it's been so long since I did it? Your pictures look fabulous. And I really enjoyed reading all the information about this dish.

  2. I love the idea of cumin with lentils, and lemon is a brilliant touch. I bet this is wonderful stuff.

  3. your lentil soup looks great. thanks for sharing.

    and i've wondered about jacob's soup, too. it must have been amazing, obviously, to get the birthright.

    blue plate


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