Esau’s Lentils


What can I say about lentils except that they are awesome! Radical even. I came across several recipes for Esau’s Red Lentil stew (also called Jacob’s pottage), a dish inspired by ancient times. In addition to ethnic dishes, historical and ancient dishes fascinate me. What a story about a birthright and lentils that was! I cannot deny that the story of Jacob and Esau is a very fascinating one for me. So, I was eager to try to make lentils that seemed to be worthy of a birthright.

“25 And the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment. And they called his name Esau. 26 And after that came forth his brother, and his hand had hold on Esau’s heel. And his name was called Jacob. And Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. 27 And the boys grew. And Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field. And Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison. And Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 And Jacob boiled pottage. And Esau came in from the field, and he was faint. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage . For I am faint. Therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said, Sell me first thy birthright. 32 And Esau said, Behold, I am about to die. And what profit shall the birthright do to me? 33 And Jacob said, Swear to me first. And he sware unto him. And he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils. And he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.”

Genesis 25:25-34 American Standard Version

This lentil dish is similar to the popular dish of the Arab world, called Mujaddara, which often includes rice in addition to the lentils. Rice is not likely a grain of the ancient Biblical times (according to scholars), so Mujaddara is a very close derivative, but not less tasty, in my opinion. My version of the Biblical inspired dish includes barley, a grain that was common in the Bible era and area. The inclusion of this grain makes this a very hearty dish. A meal-in-one bowl!

Another thing, hyssop was a herb that was very common to Biblical people so use it if you can find it. Otherwise, use parsley, which was also an herb known at the time and place.


To start, here the lentils have been soaking for about 30 minutes. They have absorbed some of the water so I added more. I put the lentils in the strainer and placed it in a bowl of water, making sure that the lentils are fully submerged. I like soaking lentils, then rinsing them. You don’t need to soak, but that’s my preference. Rinsing them, however, is a must to get rid of dust or debris. Make sure to take out any small stones or anything else that could get into the package.


The chopped vegetables and aromatics:  two carrots, 3 celery (+chopped leaves), onion (I used red onion to go along with the red lentil theme), garlic, and one cubed potato waiting in water. Scholars say that potatoes were not likely eaten by peoples of the Bible, but I have chosen to add it since I also needed to find a good use for it. You can leave them out if you want for a more authentic pottage that Jacob might have made.


Sautéing the onions, spices, and potatoes.


After the potatoes have softened a little, I added the garlic, celery, carrots, stock and bay leaf. Keep the celery leaves for later.


Once the liquid came to a boil, I added the pearled barley (or another grain), cilantro, and parsley/hyssop. Let the barley cook for about 25 minutes, then add the lentils. If you want to use a different grain (such as buckwheat groats or kasha) it will cook at a different amount of time. For instance, if your kasha takes 1 hour, then you would cook it for about 40 minutes, then add the lentils and cook for about 20 minutes longer so that the lentils and the kasha are done cooking at the same time. It’s about timing! You can, of course, leave out the grain entirely.


Then goes in the lentils to cook for about 15-20 minutes. If you want your stew to have more of a red color to match Esau’s description, you can add some tomato paste (but tomatoes, like potatoes, were not likely known in the Biblical area at the time)


Once the lentils have cooked, I added the chopped celery leaves and it’s done! Garnish with parsley/hyssop.


Looks less red here for some reason. Must be the lighting 🙂

Esau’s Lentil Stew

adapted from The History Kitchen

Serves ~4


  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1-2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large potato, cubed (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped (you can leave the skin on if you want)
  • 3 celery stalks, including leaves, chopped
  • 1 quart stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable works fine)
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup pearled barley (for gluten-free alternative, use same amount of kasha and cook in the stock with the vegetables for the amount of time indicated on package so that it finishes cooking at the same time as the lentils)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro (or use 1 tablespoon dried cilantro leaves)
  • 1 tablespoon hyssop or parsley, finely chopped (can use 1/2 tablespoon or so dried parsley/hyssop)
  • 1 cups dry split red lentils, rinsed well (can soak for 30 min.-1hour)
  • 1-2 tsp red wine vinegar (or white vinegar)
  • dash of tomato paste (optional)
  • chopped hyssop, parsley or cilantro for garnish
  1. Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven. Add the onions and cook for about 2 minutes until softened. Add the cumin, chili powder, and salt & pepper to taste. Cook for about a minute. Then add the cubed potatoes and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the potatoes start to soften. Don’t completely cook it as it will continue to cook as we simmer the stew.
  2. Add the garlic, celery (set aside the celery leaves), carrots, stock, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to a simmer and mix in the pearled barley, cilantro, and hyssop/parsley. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 25-30 minutes until the barley is soft, but still not fully tender. Stir every now and then.
  3. Then add the red vinegar, tomato paste, and the red lentils. Simmer for another 20-30 minutes or until lentils are soft and fully cooked. Garnish with hyssop, parsley, or cilantro.


We ate this red lentil stew with a gluten-free flatbread, which I will write about in the next post! In the meantime, for these chilly winter days, I encourage you to try this version of red lentil stew inspired by Jacob and Esau. 😀

12 thoughts on “Esau’s Lentils

  1. Pingback: Wrestling With God | YOU DECIDE

  2. Your lentil dish looks delish–healthy, too! Thinking lentils need to be cooked up at my house soon–thanks for the recipe:-). Appreciate you stopping by foodforfun’s muffin with friends.

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