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[personal profile] melo_annechen

Lentils are one of those foods that crops up in a wide variety of cuisines, in one form or another. As one of the first crops domesticated, archaeological evidence in Greece shows they were eaten 13,000 to 9,500 years ago. Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian and European cooking all have a use for the lentil. The shape of the lentil suggested the name of double-convex pieces of glass used in magnification and early spectacles. The Latin name for lentil is lens, and is the name of the genus for this branch of the legumes.


Growing up in the American Southeast, however, I didn’t really have an introduction to lentils until college; black-eyed peas and pinto beans, yes, but no lentils. Mama was broader in her tastes than many of our neighbors, but when things were tight, we usually ended up going back to the traditional dishes. It’s trendy and called “locavorism” now, but back then, eating what was local was cheaper.


University is where I stepped out from the comfort zone and started trying recipes beyond the region, experimenting with new herbs and spices. I was still not using major pantry items I did not recognize, but the small steps were there.


That is, until I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism. They are not to blame for my oddities, but the group did make it easier to explain myself, at least to the mundanes. A large part of my SCA experience was cooking for feast, or rather, creating a dinner party for fifty to two hundred people, sometimes in semi-primitive conditions. Most of the time we were able to use summer camps that were empty in the spring and fall, giving us access to institutional kitchens, but sometimes I wonder how the kids got fed from some of these places, when their equipment seemed to be mostly donated household appliances. But I digress.


Researching foods that would have been served in Western Europe during the Middle Ages gave me another reason to branch out into another region, geographically expanding my repertoire. Delving into the recipes in Apicius and Lorna Sass’s cookbooks To The King’s Taste and To The Queen’s Taste helped broaden my tastes temporally.


However, cooking for feast means that even though the guests are primed to try the older recipes, there were many who would need to have something that was not “too weird”. Yes, someone might be sitting in a summer camp dining hall in their best houppelande, but if the only thing they recognize is the Carrots Apicius, so many will be hitting the drive-through at midnight. While I was not familiar with it growing up, I found a good number of my new friends did know and love lentil soup.


The basic recipe I started with came from Coulson’s cookbook The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. Written in 1980, it was a good standby for me, but I found it needed some adjustment, and not just for serving one hundred of your close friends. This is what I ended up with.


German Lentil Soup for eight


4 bacon slices, diced into lardons

2 medium carrots, sliced (about one cup)

2 medium yellow onions, diced (about one cup)

2 celery stalks, sliced (again, about 1 cup)

1 ham bone (with about ½ pound of meat on it, if possible)

1 16 oz package lentils

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

8 cups hot water

2 teaspoons salt

Juice and zest of one lemon, (at least 2 tablespoons of juice)



  1. In a 5 quart Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat, fry bacon until lightly browned. Push to the side of the pan.


  2. Reduce heat to medium, and add carrots, cook about one minute. Add the onions and celery. Cook until tender, about five minutes.


  3. Add ham bone, lentils, pepper, thyme leaves, bay leaves, hot water and salt.


  4. Cover and simmer over low heat until lentils are tender, about one hour. Discard bay leaves.


  5. Remove ham bone to cutting board, cutting off any meat. Cut meat into small pieces.


  6. Add meat, lemon zest and lemon juice to the soup. Salt to taste.



On the other hand, there were a rising number of vegetarians and folks with other dietary restrictions who might need at least one dish per remove or course to sustain themselves. By removing the bacon and ham, and substituting vegetable stock for the hot water, this makes a great vegan dish. If you lean to lacto-ovo vegetarianism, I find that one tablespoon of butter with one tablespoon of olive oil is a nice addition to the flavor profile.


Vegetarian Lentil Soup


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium carrots, sliced (about one cup)

2 medium onions, diced (about one cup)

2 celery stalks, sliced (again, about 1 cup)

1 16 oz package lentils

½ teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

8 cups vegetable stock

Juice and zest of one lemon, (at least 2 tablespoons of juice)



  1. In a 5 quart Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat, saute carrots in the olive oil, about a minute. Add the onion and celery, cooking until tender, about five minutes.


  2. Add lentils, pepper, thyme leaves, bay leaves, and vegetable stock.


  3. Cover and simmer over low heat until lentils are tender, about one hour. Discard bay leaves.


  4. Add the lemon juice and zest, stirring well. Salt to taste.



Notice the salt to taste bit - depending on your stock and how much juice you get out of the lemon, you might not need any salt, but you cannot know unless you taste it. Get a clean spoon for each taste, please.

Also, another remincer - please use an actual lemon, not bottled lemon juice.


Zeldes, Leah. "Eat This! Lentils, a Prehistoric Foodstuff - Dining Chicago." Dining Chicago RSS. February 16, 2011. Accessed February 14, 2016. http://www.diningchicago.com/blog/2011/02/16/eat-this-lentils-a-prehistoric-foodstuff/.

Coulson, Z. (1980). The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. New York: Hearst Books.

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