Jacob’s Lentil Stew
The raw materials of the Sumerian diet… were barley, wheat and millet; chickpeas, lentils and beans; onions, garlic and leeks; cucumbers, cress, mustard and fresh green lettuce. The gardens of Mesopotamia, watered by irrigation canals, were lush with fruits and vegetables… As for vegetables, the onion was king, along with its cousin, garlic. Other vegetables included lettuce, cabbage, and cucumbers; carrots and radishes; beets and turnips; and a variety of legumes… To appreciate Mesopotamian daily life our imagination must breath in the pungent aroma of the seasonings that once rose from ancient stoves and filled the air… coriander (cilantro), cress, and sumin; fennel, fenugrek, and leek; marjoram, mint, and mustard; rosemary and rue; saffron, thyme and cumin…
Hyssop and sumac spices were common in Ancient Israel, but they may prove difficult to find in your local grocery store. Hyssop is mentioned in the Torah as a cleansing herb, used for purification rituals. I buy hyssop in bulk from an online spice company because I love its unique flavor (somewhere between parsley and mint). I’ve never seen it in a grocery store, though, except as an ingredient in za’atar spice blends. If you can’t locate hyssop, parsley makes a fine substitute. I found sumac at my local Whole Foods– it has a somewhat lemony flavor. You don’t need it in the stew, but it adds a nice layer of flavor. You could substitute 2 tsps of lemon juice if you wish, but be aware that lemons were not known to cooks in Biblical times.
Spicely brand Sumac can be found at Whole Foods. It’s organic and kosher certified, but it contains added salt, so season with care.
While the stew that Jacob cooks is clearly described as “red,” no spices that I know of from this time period would tint the stew red. Sumac has a reddish tint, but it should only be used sparingly because it has a pretty strong flavor. I have used red lentils for the recipe, but they cook up a light brown color. I suppose you could add some paprika to achieve a more reddish color, but paprika was not a known spice to the ancient Israelites. At any rate, this stew is delicious. Make it with vegetable broth for a vegetarian pareve meal. Chicken broth adds a nice flavor, though chicken and other meats were considered luxury foods in ancient Israel, so Jacob’s stew was probably vegetarian. It’s a simple and tasty meal, perfect for a cold winter afternoon. Bete’avon!
Gluten Free Modification: Omit the barley for a more soup-like texture, or substitute 1/4 cup brown rice for the barley. Rice is not a Biblical-era grain, but it makes a delicious substitute for those struggling with Celiac or gluten intolerance.
Historical recipe for Jacob's Lentil Stew and background on ancient Israelite food and cooking. Torah, Biblical cooking, Israel, Neot Kedumim
• 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro (coriander), divided
• 3 carrots
• 3 celery stalks, including leaves
• 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 large onion, diced
• 1 clove garlic, crushed
• 2 cups dry red lentils
• 1/4 cup pearl barley (omit for GF)
• 2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
• 1 1/2 tsp cumin
• 1 tsp hyssop or parsley
• 1/2 tsp sumac (optional)
• 1 bay leaf
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Roughly chop the cilantro. Scrub the carrots, then cut them into chunks (do not peel). Cut celery into chunks, including leaves. Reserve.
• In a medium sized soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add diced onion and sauté till translucent.
• Add garlic, carrot chunks, and celery. Continue to sauté till onion turns golden and ingredients begin to caramelize. Add red lentils and barley to the pot, stir. Cover mixture with 2 qts. of broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add 1/4 cup of the fresh cilantro to the pot along with the cumin, hyssop or parsley, sumac (optional) and bay leaf; stir.
• Cover the pot and let the stew simmer slowly for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes, until barley is tender and the stew is thickened.
• Amount Per Serving
• Calories 358 Calories from Fat 63
• % Daily Value*
• Total Fat 7g 11%
• Saturated Fat 1g 5%
• Sodium 138mg 6%
• Potassium 1059mg 30%
• Total Carbohydrates 51g 17%
• Dietary Fiber 21g 84%
• Sugars 4g
• Protein 23g 46%
• Vitamin A 106%
• Vitamin C 8.4%
• Calcium 7.6%
• Iron 32.8%
• * Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.