Jacob’s Lentil Stew


When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there,iwc replica watches for I am famished”… But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Genesis 25:29-34


I’m always intrigued by references to food in the Torah, and this passage is one of my favorites. In the passage, Esau sells his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. I’ve often wondered how this stew tasted- it must have smelled delicious for Esau to consider selling his birthright. In ancient times, the birthright was a sacred position belonging to the firstborn. The family name and titles were passed along to the eldest son, as well as the largest portion of the family’s inheritance. In the case of Esau and Jacob,hirolex birthright was particularly significant, since the holder of the birthright was next in line to carry on the family lineage of the patriarch Abraham. Yet Esau sells his valuable birthright to his brother Jacob for a simple bowl of lentil stew. Either Esau was truly famished, or that must have been some stew!



A few weeks ago, I set about recreating Jacob’s famous lentil stew using ingredients and spices that were cultivated during Biblical times. The result is a delicious and comforting stew recipe that you can enjoy at home! I doubt I’d sell my birthright for it, but it’s pretty tasty.




All of the ingredients in this stew recipe were available and consumed during Biblical times. Lentils and barley were important sources of nourishment for the ancient Israelites. During my visit to Israel last summer, I met with ancient foods expert Dr. Tova Dickstein at Neot Kedumim Biblical Landscape Reserve.



Tova Glickstein and Tori Avey


She explained to me that barley was the chief grain cultivated in Biblical times, and was eaten more frequently than even wheat. Barley most often was ground and made into bread or cooked into stews. I’ve added a bit of barley to thicken Jacob’s stew and make it a complete protein source, but it you prefer a more soup-like consistency you can leave it out. The other major ingredients in this stew-carrots, celery, and onion-have been cultivated since pre-Biblical times and the early Bronze Age in Ancient Mesopotamia.



Herbs and spices like cilantro, cumin, hyssop, parsley, sumac and bay leaves were well known to ancient cooks, and used to add flavor to otherwise bland dishes. 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. Sumac can also be hard to find, but you don’t need it in the stew-it simply 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.



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 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!





1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro (coriander), divided
3 carrots
3 stalks celery, including leaves
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 cups red lentils
1/4 cup pearl barley
2 qts. vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp hyssop or dried parsley
1/2 tsp sumac (optional)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste



Serves 6
Kosher Key: Pareve or Meat depending on broth used


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 saute

till translucent. Add garlic, carrot chunks, and celery. Continue to saute 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.

At the end of cooking, season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish bowls of stew with the remaining fresh cilantro. Serve as a one-pot meal or with a side of sliced bread. In

Biblical times, this sort of stew was usually served with bread on the side so it would be

more filling. While Biblical bread was generally coarse and unleavened, I’d recommend

serving this with a rustic whole grain sourdough loaf or bread made from barley.




Tori Avey has a food blog entitled “Shiksa in the Kitchen“, which explores the history of Jewish cuisine along with other historical culinary topics. She is also a contributing blogger specializing in biblical food on Travelujah.

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