Medieval Lentils with Wild Oregano and Watermint


De Flore Dietarum is a beautiful book of dietetics that dates back to the 11th century and belongs to the tradition of the Salernitan Medical School. The first part is dedicated to general dietetic principles, among which the humoral theory, followed by a list of foods with their main characteristics. Sometimes, we even find recipes, as in the case of the lentils we are presenting today.
As we have seen in the past, ancient and medieval physicians consider legumes quite hard to digest, and as a consequence, they require specific preparations to improve their qualities. Lentils, for example, must be cooked two times, discarding the first cooking water, then cooked again. According to Galen, lentil broth has different properties than the lentils themselves: it is, indeed, moistening, whereas the boiled lentils are astringent, so the broth and lentils are used for different purposes.
Lentils boiled two times, writes Galen, must be pounded and seasoned with garum or salt and an astringent ingredient, such as vinegar, a recipe not particularly different from the one that we read in the 6th-century dietetic letter De Observatione Ciborum, in which the author, Anthimus, uses sumac and vinegar.
Galen also recommends a preparation with the addition of chard, similar to the one written in the 15th century by Michele Savonarola, who suggests chard or spinach, preferring a lean dish seasoned with oil instead of meat, the same alternative given by the anonymous author of De Flore Dietarum.
If you prefer the version with meat, choose a fat cut, for example mutton, pork, or beef, chopped into small pieces. Add the meat to the lentils after discarding the first water.

We used dry wild oregano and watermint, but if you want, use the fresh or dry varieties you prefer. The author, in addition, recommends big lentils, but we chose small ones to reduce the cooking times.

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100 gr lentils
black pepper
olive oil
white wine vinegar

Pound the black pepper and cumin in the mortar, adding the mint and oregano. Boil the lentils briefly, then discard the water and pour new water. Add the spices and herbs and stir, with a bit of olive oil and a little more vinegar. Add a couple of pinches of salt. Boil the lentils until they are completely tender.
The cooking time may change considerably, depending on the size and variety of lentils you are using. We chose a small kind that required about half an hour.

Original text
Lentes frigide sunt in II gradu, sicce in III, propter hoc melancolicum sanguinem generant. Si vero eas temperare volueris, grandes et nove et coquibiles eligantur et emundentur et in aqua elixentur; qua eiecta, in aqua coquantur et cum aceto condiantur, et origano et menta, pipere et cimino et oleo vel pingui carne recenti.

The lentils are cool in the second degree, dry in the third, and for this reason, they produce melancholic blood. If you want to make them more temperate, take lentils big, new, and apt to be cooked, clean them, and simmer them in water. Discard it and cook them in [new] water, seasoning them with vinegar, oregano, mint, cumin, and oil or fresh, fat meat.

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De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. A 6th-century Byzantine text on dietetics
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-4
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

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