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Recipe for
Lenticula (Spicy Lentils)

by Anthimus De observatione ciborum ("On the Observance of Foods")

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Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens.

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AFAIK, this recipe comes from Grant and was inserted by original site author (I will say again to PLEASE buy these author's books! By doing so, you will help support them — even for books that are older and might not sell as well anymore... These authors do not do this for money, they do it for love. Please support them!

*Note: This recipe is quite similar to another, Aliter lenticulam that we have in the Food of the Common People and Military section — that one is Apicius V, II, 3.

Although the word “lentil” comes from the Latin lenticula, it was the Egyptian who propagated this crop into neighboring areas. In the Greco-Roman era, the ship that transported Caligula's obelisk to Rome was weighed down with 800 tons of lentils, and in Greece, Aristotle said they were a common food among the working classes.

This dish has a clean fresh taste that takes the lentils away from their some-times rather dreary image. The description in Roman times of sumach as Syrian merely indicates the spice's supposed place of origin. Its sharp lemony taste means that, as here, a lemon can be substituted, although citron was the only citrus fruit known to the Romans. Citrons have a thick skin, a great deal of pith and are more than twice the size of lemons; they are still grown in the southern Mediterranean today for candying. If you can find sumach, you will be rewarded with not just a lemony taste, but also a hint of incense in this most aromatic of spices. To make the dish more presentable, I suggest using ground coriander seeds and fresh coriander leaves rather than the roots and all approach adopted by Anthimus.

Original recipe:

Translation: Lentils are good when washed and carefully boiled in fresh water. Make sure that the first lot of water is poured away, and a second lot of hot water added as required, but not too much, and then boil the lentils slowly on the stove. When they are cooked, add for seasoning a little vinegar, together with the addition of that spice which is called Syrian sumach. Sprinkle a spoon* of this spice over the lentils while they are still on the fire and stir in well. Take the lentils off the fire and serve. You can add for flavouring a good spoonful of oil from unripe olives to the second lot of water while the lentils are still cooking, as well as one or two spoonfuls of coriander including the roots — not ground but whole — and a pinch of salt for seasoning.


  • 200g/6 oz lentils
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar
  • Juice of half a lemon or 2 t. sumach
  • 1 slice of lemon
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 t. ground coriander seeds
  • A handful of coriander leaves
  • Sea salt


  • Boil the lentils in 1 pint of water for about 30 minutes or until tender.
  • Then drain off the water, add the vinegar, lemon juice, slice of lemon, olive oil, half a a wineglass of water and the ground coriander seeds.
  • Season with salt and simmer gently with the lid on for 20 minutes.
  • Just before serving, chop the coriander leaves finely and sprinkle over the lentils.
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