The Parasha of the Lentil Stew

In this week’s Parasha, Toldot, we read one of the better known Bereishit stories in which Esau sells his birthright to Yaacov for a bowl of lentil stew: “And Jacob gave Esau bread and a stew of lentils, and he ate and drank and arose and left, and Esau despised the birthright.”  Looking beyond the interpretations of the sages, I have to think that that must have been some lentil stew for it to have changed the entire course of Jewish history. 

I cannot possibly assume to know what was in that stew. On her website, “The Shiksa in the Kitchen“, Tori Avey has done some in-depth research to come up with a very authentic recipe that aims to replicate the ingredients of the time.

I have taken a little more license. My recipe for Indian Red Lentil Soup (Dahl/Dal) was clearly not what Yaacov served his brother, but I did suspect that had Esau tasted this aromatic lentil soup, he would just as quickly have sold out. My concession to the details of the parasha is that this recipe uses red lentils, and we read that the stew was indeed red.

This recipe was given to me by a wonderful and caring woman called Telma from Mumbai, who enriched my culinary repertoire.



1 ½ cups small red lentils

Red Lentils

3 onions

Fresh ginger root peeled

1 medium sized green chili

3 large potatoes cubed

3 tablespoons oil

3 cloves of garlic crushed

1 carrot

4 peeled fresh tomatoes

1 tablespoon chicken soup or vegetable powder

Salt to taste

1 400 ml (14 fl oz) can of coconut milk

1/2 cup fresh chopped coriander

How to do it

1. Place in a large pot the lentils, potatoes, crushed ginger (I use a piece of ginger that’s a little bigger than the size of a walnut) one of the onions diced, and the chili (remove the seeds and the white parts, and work with gloves on for this part).

2. Cover with water (till about 2-3cm/1 inch above the lentils) and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are cooked (they will pretty much disintegrate – don’t worry, that’s the point). Turn off the heat.

3. In a non-stick pan, heat the oil and brown the remaining two onions that you have quartered and sliced. Add another helping of fresh ginger (same quantity as before) and then the garlic. Once the garlic is slightly colored, remove from the heat and add to the lentils.

4. Peel the tomatoes by soaking them in boiling water for about 5 minutes and then the skins should slide off easily. If the skins don’t split open by themselves, poke a sharp knife into the tomato and that should start the process. Remove the core (hard part in the middle) and mash. Add them to the pot.

5. Peel the carrot. Once you have peeled the outside layer off, keep peeling the carrot from halfway up the carrot to the end, going around the carrot. This way you will get very thin short slices of carrot. Keep going until you reach the core and then stop and peel the other half of the carrot in the same way. Add the carrot slices to the pot.

6. Add the soup powder, coriander and coconut milk to the pot and bring to the boil and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Tip: You can add extra water if it is too think and you want to serve as a soup.

Serve hot as a soup or over rice as a side dish.


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