Ancient World, Antiquities, Publications

Comfort Food the Ancient Greek Way: Zeno of Citium’s Lentil Soup Recipe

Meals and Recipes from Ancient Greece by Eugenia Salza Prina Ricotti

For her book Meals and Recipes from Ancient Greece, author Eugenia Salza Prina Ricotti had to become something of a food detective. The Greeks didn’t have cookbooks as we do; instead, hints at their cuisine exist in their literature, in poetry and dramas.

Many of the recipes in this book derive from a single text written by Athanaeus in Rome in the third century, The Deipnosophists—also known as The Gastronomers or The Banquet of the Learned and as Philosophers at Dinner.

While some recipes—say, stuffed suckling pig—might challenge the modern cook, this lentil soup recipe from Zeno of Citium is quite easy, and makes a cozy winter meal. Lentils were then, as they have remained, cheap and widely used. “You men of fair Alexandria,” Athanaeus wrote, “have been brought up on lentil food, and your entire city is full of lentil dishes.”

Ingredients for Zeno's lentil soup

Zeno’s Lentil Soup
1 lb. lentils
8 cup broth
1 large minced leek
1 carrot, sliced
1 stalk of celery, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
2 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
12 coriander seeds

Rinse the lentils thoroughly, then put them into a pot with the broth to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour. When the hour is up, skim the top, add the vegetables, and simmer until cooked through, about 30 minutes. If the soup seems too watery, pass some of the lentils through a sieve. Now add the vinegar and honey. Pour into serving bowls and add a good dollop of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons per serving), sprinkling on coriander seeds and salt and pepper to taste.

The soup is surprisingly rich and flavorful, even though the aromatics go in the pot without being sautéed. A good-quality, fruity olive oil makes for a luxurious first spoonful.

If you’re wondering if you’re really supposed to count out exactly 12 coriander seeds—no more, no less—you’re not alone. “This commendable precision regarding a quantity is not common in ancient recipes,” Ricotti writes, “but assuredly these 12 coriander seeds radically change the flavor of the soup.”

Zeno's lentil soup

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One Comment

  1. Nick
    Posted October 24, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    This looks great. I’ve been really curious about ancient food recently because I’ve been eating more & more of a vegan and Mediterranean diet. I even found a recipe for an ancient Hittite lentil stew! I can’t wait to try this recipe – it looks delicious & is vegan, too! Thank you.

2 Trackbacks

  • [...] up to a corrupt society, subsisted on lentils. The Stoic philosopher Zeno of Citium apparently made a mean stew with leeks, carrots, vinegar, honey, and coriander. Aristotle is said to have liked his lentils [...]

  • By Exploring Stew: Second in a Series on September 20, 2013 at 2:42 am

    [...] of carrots and celery to the mirepoix and well as additional vegetable to the soups and stews. Zeno of Citium’s Lentil Soup Recipe, was uncovered by author Eugenia Salza Prina Ricot for her book Meals and Recipes from Ancient [...]

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