Chowders, Soups and Stews

A Mess of Pottage (Lentil Soup)


I used to make this a LOT years ago.  I probably started making it when I was a vegetarian – the book it comes from is all vegetarian – and after making it once, apparently I started making it in larger and larger batches, because right next to the list of ingredients/measurements – there are columns with my increased amounts – for double, triple, and quadruple the recipe. 

It’s really good, and even better, it’s incredibly easy.

The recipe comes from an old (okay, 1975 – but the book is falling apart, so it seems older) small press cookbook entitled "Cooking with Conscience,"  by Alice Benjamin and Harriet Corrigan.  It was published by Vineyard Books in CT, and at the time this was published, it cost $2.00.  On the cover, it reads "A book for people concerned about world hunger."

There are 52 recipes in this slim volume.  The one I’m featuring is number Twenty-Two.  To be honest, I don’t know if I ever bothered trying anything else besides this wonderful lentil dish. 

Anyway, here’s what the authors wrote about this dish:

"We couldn’t resist having one dish called "A Mess of Pottage."  According to some Biblical translations, Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for "a mess of pottage."  Other translations say "bread and lentiles" and still others say "bread and lentil soup."  In any case, it was lentils and probably cooked with onions, butter, and a few herbs.  Who knows? — this might even be somewhere close to the original.  (Except those were red lentils, and brown ones are easier for us to find.  And he certainly didn’t add powdered milk.)  Serve with any whole grain bread to help complete the protein and a plate of raw vegetables such as carrot sticks and celerey.  Serves 3 or 4."

I served this for dinner with a salad of mixed greens, sliced fennel, fresh basil, and diced roasted chicken (left from the previous night’s dinner), and a warm baguette, some olive oil, and a couple of cheeses.  Alex, predictably, didn’t like it on sight.  Julia tried it, liked it, but didn’t eat much.  My husband liked it eNORmously.  And I took my first spoonful and wondered why it’s taken me so long to make this again. 


Here’s all you need:

1 cup lentils


3 large onions, chopped (I sliced mine)


(Oops!  Those darned onions – they made my eyes water and I couldn’t see clearly.  I’ll try again…)


(That’s better!)

1 clove garlic, minced


1/2 stick butter or margarine


1 tsp cumin powder

3 T dried parsley

1/2 tsp paprika


2 tsp salt

3/4 cup powdered milk (I used liquid milk from the fridge.  I didn’t have any powdered.)

And here’s all you need to do:

Put lentils in large pot with a quart of water. 


Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer.  Meanwhile, cook onions and garlic in butter until golden


and add them and all other ingredients,


except the milk, to the soup. 


Cook until lentils are tender and stir in powdered milk.


Isn’t that simple?  And lentils cook pretty quickly, so really, in the time it takes for the lentils to finish cooking, you can throw together a salad.  And if you start warming some bread when you start cooking the lentils, it’ll be nice and crusty (and perfect for dunking) by the time everything is ready.  For very little cost or effort, you get a hearty, delicious, healthy meal.  Definitely worth trying.


7 thoughts on “A Mess of Pottage (Lentil Soup)

  1. Did you use 3/4 c. of liquid milk? Like you, I don’t have any powdered milk in the house. I do, however, have a lot of lentils!

  2. Hi Shannon, I didn’t measure it – but I probably used about that much. A fair amount of liquid had cooked off while I was simmering the lentils, so the liquid milk kind of replenished that.

  3. I’m a little confused. If I use powdered milk is it 3/4 c of the powder, or reconstituted powdered milk? Looks delicious!

  4. Denise, you use 3/4 cup of powdered milk – it gets reconstituted in the liquid. I just used regular milk because I didn’t have any powdered when I made the recipe for this post. Sorry about the confusion!

  5. I love this cookbook – have tried a good many recipes. Not a vegetarian, but found it very inspiring and easy to use. This recipe is a family favorite.

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