Lentil soup throughout the world
Lentil soup has been around since time immemorial.
It is a world famous soup made of cooked lentils, which, depending on the recipe, can be prepared with lentils of different colors, brown, red, yellow, or green.
Lentil soup can be thick or light, spicy or not. As a rule, vegetables are also cooked with the lentils.
Various lentil soups are traditional in the Middle East: in addition to the Egyptian one, shorbat adas, in Lebanon for example, green or brown lentils are added, with spinach, chard or cardoon, and it is called shorbat al adas bil Hammud.
In Syria, orange and lemon slices are served alongside the lentil soup, which is called rishta b’Addes. It is made from brown lentils and noodles.
In Turkey, it is called mercimek çorbası. It is one of the most famous and most consumed soups in Turkey. It is one of the fundamentals of Turkish cuisine, made with red lentils, flour, onions, carrots, water, cumin, tomato puree, dried mint and oil.
Still in Turkey, another lentil soup is just as famous : ezogelin çorbası or ezo gelin meaning “the soup of the Ezo bride”. It is a very common soup in Turkish cuisine. The main ingredients are bulgur, rice, and red lentils, flavored with olive oil, butter, onions, garlic, tomato, paprika and hot peppers.
Haleem, a hybrid between soup and stew, is very popular in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Although the dish varies from region to region, it includes wheat or barley depending on taste as well as meat and brown lentils. It is also called keşkek in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and northern Iraq.
In southern India, lentil soup is also called sambar or sambaaru. It is spicy and composed of Indian lentils, toor dal (pigeon pea), tamarind pulp and vegetables.
In the Punjab region, the variant is called dal makhani, meaning “butter lentils”, a thick and creamy lentil soup, whose main ingredients are black lentils (urad), red beans (rajma), ghee , and cream.
In Germany, linsensuppe or Frankfurter linsensuppe is a regional soup from Hesse. It is made of brown lentils and is flavored with vinegar, frankfurters, and dried meat. Some recipes add applesauce to it.
In Italy, the zuppa di lenticchie is sacred. Tradition has it that during New Year’s Eve, eating lentils is a sign of good luck and a wish for a rich and prosperous future.
Like beans and legumes in general, lentils are defined as the “poor man’s meat” because they are widely consumed as a substitute for it. Their particular shape, reminiscent of a coin, then contributed to the tradition according to which they bring prosperity and wealth if they are consumed on New Year’s Eve.
Lentils and shorbat adas in Egypt
Lentils hold an essential place in the hearts of Egyptians, for whom lentil soup is the main dish of the winter season but also that of the holy month of Ramadan.
Lentils are also used in many iconic dishes, including the delicious national dish, koshari, as well as shorbat adas.
Lentils, which are one of the staple foods of Egyptian cuisine, are considered by Egyptians to be a part of their history. Their cultivation began as early as during the age of Pharaohs and has continued since, until they became essential on any Egyptian table, at any time of the day, from breakfast to dinner.
العدس الليلة يوم عيده (“lentils tonight for his feast”), performed by Naïma Akef (نعيمة عاكف)
is a very famous song in Egypt which expresses the extent of the Egyptians’ attachment to meals made from lentils and the place they hold in every Egyptian house.
Ancient Egyptians have cultivated it for thousands of years, and it is considered a natural remedy to prevent ailments caused by the cold in winter.
Lentils have left Egypt and the Levant countries for many Arab and foreign countries and have become popular in the hearts of many as they contain nutritious fibers and proteins that treat many diseases.
History of lentils
If there was such a thing as a time machine and we could go back in time through the ages, at the origins of our history, we would discover that lentils have been the basic food of humanity since the Neolithic: they were in fact the first legume to be cultivated by man more than 7000 years ago.
Their cultivation, as it is easy to guess, begins in the region that was once the land of ancient Egypt, fertilized by the Nile and by its favorable floods which covered the desert with silt and thus favored the development of agriculture.
Lentils have taken on a very significant meaning from the start, probably because they are extremely nutritious. The first historical mention linked to their existence dates back to 525 BC and is related to a myth.
This myth was born on the banks of the great Egyptian river, in Pelusio to be exact, the home of one of the most legendary heroes of antiquity, the great Achilles. It is said that Egyptian ships loaded with these small lentils left from there to the ports of Greece and Magna Grecia in Italy.
Lentils are the first food cooked and prepared by humans of which there is a written record. And the source of this testimony, dating back almost 5,000 years, is nothing less than the Old Testament.
In fact, it is this well-known episode written in Genesis (25:34) which tells how Esau, son of Isaac, hungry after a hard hunting trip, met his twin brother Jacob who had cooked a soup with lentils.
When he asked his brother for some to eat, Jacob gave it to him on the condition that he renounce his inheritance and his birthright: Esau, who was not interested in these two things, agreed, but forever renounced his right to become king and guide the Jews for a bowl of lentils.
And it is precisely for this “wicked” exchange that the Jews often eat lentils when they are mourning: they do so in memory of the fact that Esau gave the most precious thing he had.
Even more, in the sacred scriptures, in the second book of Samuel (verse 17:28), it is written: “… they brought beds, basins, and earthen vessels, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans and lentils… ”
While in verse 23:11, it is written: “… And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines had gathered together into a troop where there was a piece of ground full of lentils: and the people fled from the Philistines… ”
In the book of Ezekiel (verse 4: 9), it is written:”… Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself… ”
Leaving the sacred scriptures and returning to a more historical context, lentils have been one of the most important products of agriculture and trade in the Mediterranean basin for millennia.
They were one of the most popular foods on the tables of Greeks and Romans, and were so widely considered that when Caligula, the 3rd Roman Emperor from 37 to 41, brought the Egyptian obelisk to the Vatican (which today towers over Saint Peter’s Square), he made it travel across the Mediterranean, protected only with a load of these small legumes called lentils.
In addition, it was Artemidorus, a Roman scholar by adoption but Ephesian by birth, in his treatise on the interpretation of dreams, Onirocriticon (2nd century), who made the first symbolic association with lentils, by linking them to the announcement of mourning.
In addition, in the centuries that would follow, the lentils came back to torment dreams by adding luck or mourning depending on who interpreted and loved this little legume.
Pliny the Elder, on the other hand, offers at the time a completely different and more positive perspective than the announcement of mourning; it improves the high nutritional value of lentils, by glorifying its intrinsic capacity to inspire peace and tranquility for troubled souls.
However, over the next few centuries, the meaning of lentils, heralding imminent deaths or bearing abundance varied according to the interpretation of dreams.
In the Middle Ages, lentils left the table of the rich and noble to become the most humble food in the canteens of the poor. It is precisely this attribute of “humble food” that would lead Doctor Petronius during the Renaissance to designate them as a suitable meal for those who wish to live a chaste life.
At the court of Louis XIV, in France, lentils were then used as food for horses, while Alexandre Dumas, who was certainly not a fan of these legumes, defined them in his Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine of 1873 as “a bad food”.
2016 has been declared by the United Nations to be the year of the lentil.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that February 10 was to be known as the World Pulses Day, to ensure its contribution to sustainable agriculture and raise awareness of the nutritional value and benefits of eating legumes of all kinds, the most common being lentils first, but also beans, chickpeas, and peanuts.
A “genius” anecdote
It is probable that very few people are familiar with the anecdote according to which the genius, Albert Einstein never said a word before the age of 9. His desperate parents subjected him to numerous medical exams, but without a clear and decisive answer. Then suddenly, one evening at dinner, in front of a steaming lentil soup, he said these words: “the soup is too hot”.
His parents, delighted and curious at the same time, asked him why he had never spoken before. Little Einstein’s answer seems to have been fairly comprehensive and just as surprisingly brilliant for his age: “Because so far everything was fine!”
Delicate and invigorating, this lentil soup is a real delight and is highly recommended to help with the cold of long winter evenings.
Shorbat adas is a mild dish in which the spiced but non-aggressive taste of cumin enhances the softness of red lentils, a legume that lends itself to rapid cooking due to its lack of skin which makes it perfect for purées and soups.
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 scallions diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 carrot grated
- 1 large tomato peeled, seeded and diced
- 2½ cups water
- 1 freshly squeezed lemon
- 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro (coriander leaf)
- Pour the oil into a stewpot and heat it over medium heat.
- Add the onion and cumin and brown over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, then add the grated garlic and mix.
- Brown for 5 minutes over low heat.
- Add the lentils and carrot, mix well again and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add the tomato, turmeric and bay leaves and brown over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the water and half of the cilantro. Season with salt and pepper then cover the stewpot and cook for 25 minutes or until the lentils are cooked through.
- Remove the stewpot from the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir well.
- Serve the soup as is or mix it to obtain a velvety softness..
- Add the rest of the cilantro before serving.