If your entire idea of ancient Roman food and eating habits was formed by Caligula, then this healthy, hearty, and downright sensible lentil stew will certainly challenge that assumption. And if you're thinking, "Laganophake? That sounds Greek. Who is she kidding with this Roman stuff?" you get a gold star! Although this is a traditional Roman dish, its origins are Greek.
But wherever it comes from, this lentil stew has definitely withstood the test of time. The fragrant spices, wine, and onions come together to lend a subtle sweetness to the earthy flavor of the lentils; somehow it tastes simultaneously of the past and present.
I adapted the recipe from Roman Cookery, but I did change a few things. For one thing, I found that the lentil-water-ratio didn't quite work, and so I added more lentils to make it come out right. You want the stew to be so thick that you could theoretically scoop it up with your fingers - though I used a combination of libum (Roman cheese bread) and a nice, modern fork!
Roman Lentil & Red Wine Stew
adapted from Roman Cookery by Mark Grant
- 1 cup Masoor lentils (Grant's recipe calls for Puy lentils. Just make sure to use a lentil that will keep it's shape even when soft.)
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cups water
- 3/4 cup red wine
- 1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
- 1-2 tsp dried dill
- couple of sprigs of fresh thyme and oregano, chopped fine
- handful fresh parsley (for garnish)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- pinch of aniseed, smashed
- sea salt, to taste
Fry the onion until soft. Add all the other ingredients EXCEPT the thyme, oregano, and parsley. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, about 45 minutes. Check and stir occasionally, as you want to monitor the water levels. If it's drying out, add some water; if it seems too liquid after 30 minutes or so, take off the lid to let the moisture evaporate. Add the thyme and oregano before serving, when the stew has thickened and the lentil are soft: