The Cultural Significance of Lentil Soup

Lentil soup is a dish with a storied cultural history that has since become an integral part of modern times. In order to understand where we are, you must have a greater understanding of where we have been, though. That’s where lentil soup’s story gets even more interesting.

For many, the lentil soup story begins in Jewish culture. Shabbat meals and holiday dinners will often feature lentil soup and have for centuries now. Since the dish originated in the Middle East, an interesting conversation has emerged. Is this dish truly a part of Jewish culture or is it part of Middle Eastern culture?

One thing is for sure: lentil soup has been bringing people together across the globe for as long as anyone can remember. It is a pivotal holiday staple that evokes positive nostalgia for a wide range of people. By taking a closer look at the origins of the dish and how it has evolved over the years, it is easier to paint a clearer picture.

Is The Soup Jewish or Not?

The answer here is not a simple one. Jewish scholars will point to a passage in the Parashat Toldot. Jacob sells his birthright to Esau and is given a delicious lentil stew in return. In modern times, Jewish families will often make their own pot of lentil soup as a means of passing these lessons down to their children. This allows the new and old generations to come together, strengthening their bond in the process.

While it would be nice to know how they prepared lentil soup during the olden times (after all, it’s not like they had slow cookers then), we are going to out on a limb and assume that the same general principles applied. All we have ever needed are lentils and some basic liquid. During this time period, it is probably safe to assume that water was used.

What Is The Origin of Lentils?

Originating in the Middle East, lentils are believed to be the first lentil in the world. They were also quite popular during the time period because they were convenient and easy to use. Lentils could be cooked quickly, providing families with a delicious and nutritious dinner that could be prepared within 20 to 30 minutes time.

Because of their longstanding place within Jewish tradition, lentils occupy a special place within the culture. If the small, round lentil is being consumed, this is a symbol of life. When funeral services take place, lentil soup is often provided as a comfort meal. They will always have a crucial place in Jewish culture during the mourning process.

Were Lentils Mentioned In The Torah?

Lentil soup is always going to occupy a very important space in the hearts of the Jewish people, but they were not mentioned in the Torah. That does not make them any less of a part of the Jewish cultural lexicon, though. Soups, salads and various cultural staples (such as maqluba and Sephardic rice) deploy lentils as a crucial ingredient.

Lentil Soup’s Introduction to the Americas

Lentil soup did not make its way to the Americas until it was introduced to the culture by explorers from Spain and Portugal during the 16th century. That does not mean that cultivation began at this time. Lentils have been cultivated in India since 2500 BC.

What Are the Additional Cultures That Embraced Lentil Soup?

The close association of lentil soup with Jewish culture does not mean that its cultural impact has been limited in any way. It also holds a special place within the cultures of the Middle East and South Asia. Turkey, Egypt and India all enjoy lentil soup on a regular basis. To the surprise of no one, lentil soup has remained a staple in the Middle East since its origin.

As it turns out, we are all in search of a dish that is tasty, good for you and easy to make. In Middle Eastern cuisine, there are a number of variations on lentil soup that all hold a sizable amount of cultural significance. The Egyptian variation is known as Shorbat Adas and serves as an exemplary aspect of the nation’s cultural heritage. It is often served at a number of holiday gatherings.

Coriander and cumin are used as key ingredients for this dish, providing a shining example of the country’s innate ability to get the most out of very humble ingredients. Morocco has their own unique spin on the soup, as their variation is a tomato and red lentil soup that is known as Shorbat Rumman. Their take on lentil soup is also meant to serve as a proud showcase of the nation’s cultural traditions.

In Moroccan culture, bold spices are celebrated and dishes are supposed to have a vibrant feel. Cumin and coriander are used to create their variation on lentil soup, as well as paprika. Morocco is proud to serve as a gateway between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, with this soup providing a prime example of this lasting cultural connection. Food truly brings people together and lentil soup is no different in this regard.

What About Italian Lentil Soup?

Last but certainly not least, we would be remiss if we did not mention the crucial place that lentil soup occupies within Italian culture. The lentil is not as popular within Italian culture as it is in Jewish or Middle Eastern culture but that does not mean that it is not served at all. When it comes to the Italian lentil, this soup is often served once the New Year has arrived.

In Italian culture, the dish is usually served during the cooler months. Since it is made with spices and vegetables, this makes it an ideal choice for those chillier days that arrive once the calendar has flipped to the fall and winter months. Italians love to serve this soup on January 1st because it is supposed to serve as a great harbinger for the new year to come.

It is a proud New Year’s tradition that has been passed down for decades and thanks to the persistence of these recipes, it will continue to remain a staple. In fact, in many cultures, tradition dictates that the dish is served precisely at midnight. No time is wasted when it comes to ensuring that all of your friends and loved ones have the best luck once the new year has arrived.

Many cultures have rituals that are focused on prosperity and good health each year and foods like these will remain at the center of them. Italian families will gather at the table and share their musings on the year to come and the blessings that they have received during the previous year. This type of big feast is known as a ‘cenone’ in Italian culture.

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