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Lentil Soup

Lentil Soup

In classical Greece, lentil soup was the food of the poor and those who embraced poverty philosophically. In the fourth century BCE, Cynic philospher Crates of Thebes encouraged his followers to eat nothing but lentils. In the 3rd century, the Greek-Egyptian writer Athenaeus envisioned a banquet in which philosophers would be served course after course of lentil soup and argue about the best recipes. The one ascribed to Crates' disciple Zeno of Citium, the father of Stoicism, includes cumin, and might resemble my recipe for Egyptian lentil soup. References to lentil soup appear in many other classical texts.

The recipe I chose to make comes from Michelle Berriedale-Johnson's The British Museum Cookbook. It's not radically different from the Egyptian one, but this one has marjoram instead of cumin. Alas, I had no marjoran so I subsituted with oregano. I also ommitted the carrots (my daughter hates cooked carrots but loves lentil soup) and the celery, as I didn't have any. I'm not that sure the Greeks would have used these anyway.

The results were very good - specially when the soup was reheated some time later. The flavors do need some time to meld. I still prefer the Egyptian version, however.

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Lentil Soup


  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, shredded (optional)
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped (optional)
  • 1 lb red lentils
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp. Marjoran or oregano
  • 6 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • salt & pepper to taste


Pul the onions, garlic, carrot and celery (if using), lentils, olive oil, bay leaves marjoram and water in a cooking pot. Set on the stove over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Adapted from a recipe in Michelle Berriedale-Johnson's The British Museum Cookbook.

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