Monday, 10 June 2013

Lentil and Root Veg Mash with Spelt Lagana (Part 1 of 2)

The sun has now been shining for the fifth day in row (a rarity here in Northern Ireland!), and feeling inspired by all the bright colours, I thought we'd give this lentil and root vegetable mash a try.  As you can see, it looks lovely and bright and cheery, but does it taste that way too?

In this first post we'll make the mash itself, and in the next we'll cook up some simple spelt-flour flatbread to eat it with.  The original recipe only calls for parsnip (and we know how good they taste!), but I see this as a perfect opportunity to cook some carrots too.  (Fun fact: Carrots were purple in antiquity!)  To make this recipe more accessible, we'll be leaving out 'fleabane', a daisy-like plant which is no longer used in cooking.

Lentil and Root Veg Mash
(Serves 2)

"Boil the lentils in a clean pan with some salt.  In the mortar, crush some pepper, cumin, coriander seed, rue, and fleabane.  Add vinegar, honey, liquamen, & defrutum.  Mix this with the lentils.  Cook and mash parsnips, and add to the lentils.  When it is cooked, add some extra virgin olive oil and serve appropriately." - Apicius, 5.2.1


  • 1 Parsnip
  • 1 Carrot
  • 100g Split Red Lentils
  • 1 tsp Coriander Seeds
  • 1 tsp Rue
  • 1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp Liquamen
  • 1 tbsp White Wine Vinegar
  • 1.5 tbsp Honey
  • 3 tbsp Caroenum
  • 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil


  • Add the lentils to a saucepan and pour in enough water to cover them.  Throw in a pinch of salt, and bring to the boil.  This will take approximately 20-30 minutes, and will require you to add more water every once in a while.
  • Peel and chop up the carrot and parsnip, set them into a saucepan full of water, and bring to the boil.
  • Whilst everything is boiling away, toast the various herbs and spices in a dry frying pan for around a minute, being careful not to burn them.  Grind them all up together in a mortar and pestle.
  • Once the lentils have turned to mush and the liquid has largely boiled away, add the spice mix and pour in the various liquids (except the oil).  Stir it all together and let it simmer while you sort out the root vegetables.
  • When the parsnips and carrots are cooked, drain the water from the pan and mash them up.
  • Mix the lentils and root vegetables together with the tbsp of olive oil.  Heat in the pan for a little while longer until the liquids have mostly evaporated.  Serve and enjoy!


This mash makes for a remarkably filling meal - I had intended this recipe to serve just one, but it quickly became apparent that I would need help to finish it!  Besides being filling, the dish was delicious.  The lentils added a subtle, salty flavour to the meal, providing a wonderful backdrop to the sweetness of the parsnips and carrots.  The sweetness of the root vegetables was further emphasised by the caroenum and honey, and the saltiness of the lentils by our friend the fish sauce.  The dish was afforded some warmth by the cumin and coriander seeds, but rather amazingly, the stand out flavour and aroma came from the rue, despite so little being used.  Final verdict?  Filling and flavoursome - always a good combination.


  1. Absolutely fantastic! Could not get enough of this. This is by far the easiest ancient recipe that can be translated into modern use- as a party dip.

  2. Looks delish! When I was young my mum made something similar, but more modern.... Carrots and parsnips, but no lentils. Often potatoes, and sometimes brown beans were served on the side. I wonder what lentils would have been like?

  3. I found this post some time in early July, I think, and read it with great interest. I posted a comment, but it seems to have gotten eaten (with lagana, no doubt!), so I'm starting over again.

    The reason this recipe was of particular interest to me was that my annual Cena Romana was coming up on the 21st, and I always make a lentil recipe: Roman lentil recipes are usually quite good, and (if you make a substitution for the fish sauce) they are perfect for vegetarians.

    So then I looked up the Latin:

    Lenticula ex spondilis sive fondilis: accipies caccabum mundum, adicies in mortarium piper cuminum semen coriandri mentam rutam puleium, fricabis, suffindis acetum, adicies mel, liquamen et defritum, aceto temperabis, reexinanies in caccabo. Spondilos elixatos teres et mittes ut ferveant. Cum bene ferbuerint, obligas. Adicies in boletari oleum viridem.

    Two things. First of all, while puleium does derive from pulex "flea," it is pennyroyal, not fleabane. While they were both used by the ancients to repel fleas, pennyroyal was actually quite common in cooking, whereas fleabane was not—it still had a role in Roman banquets though, apparently being strewn over the couches. There are a rather surprising number of names for different species of fleabane in antiquity. But returning to pennyroyal, in case you are not familiar with it: it is closely related to mint, and I like to describe its odor as "Just like a skunk, except good." It was used as an abortive in antiquity, so, like rue, pregnant women should definitely avoid it (you probably need to eat a lot of it to cause a miscarriage, but why take the risk?)

    The second thing, is this word spondylus (variously spelled.) This is in origin the Greek word for "vertebra," but it ends up having a ridiculous variety of other meanings. Among these meanings are a type of shellfish (Andrew Dalby identifies it with the spiny European oyster, and the top of a cardoon (so, roughly equivalent to the top of an artichoke.) Now, editions of Apicius hotly debate which one is meant here (Grainger and Grocock, whom I usually trust, believe it's the shellfish, but if so the confusion must be ancient, since the sfondili recipes of section 3.20 are placed right after the cardoon/artichoke recipes of 3.19!

    ... but I have never seen anyone identify this word with carrots before! Where did you find this identification?

    (Oh, and as for colors, my understanding is that European carrots were white, which is why the Romans were always confusing them with parsnips, but that Persian carrots were purple. Supposedly the orange carrot eventually resulted from cross-breeding the two!)

    1. I'm not sure my reply can do this comment justice, but I will give it a go.

      My use of carrots and parsnips in this recipe owes more to a mistake than it does to translation. My usual Apicius website was down for a while, so I had to visit another. This version had translated 'spondylus' as 'cow-parsnip'. In my haste, I noticed 'parsnip' and was satisfied with that. The addition of carrots was due to the fact that I had carrots which needed using, they go well with parsnips, and they were available to the ancient Romans.

      Whilst I see that I didn't follow the recipe listed in Apicius, I'm still satisfied with this one. For one, it uses ingredients which the Romans had access to - this makes it feasible. Secondly, it's tasty! Finally, my intention with Pass the Garum is to make Roman cooking accessible to all. Very often I have to say no to recipes because they contain ingredients which are just too difficult to source! In this case, carrots and parsnips are much easier to find than cow-parsnips and cardoons, and result in a very plausible Roman dish.

      Oysters, although quite expensive, are easier to access. As such, in the future I may well re-make this recipe with oysters and mint (you are right to discourage the use of pennyroyal, as with Rue, I think).

      Thanks for taking the time to share your research with me.

    2. First of all let me correct a careless error in my original comment. Corrections in bold:

      Among these meanings are a type of shellfish (Andrew Dalby identifies it with the spiny European oyster), and the top of a cardoon (so, roughly equivalent to the heart of an artichoke.)

      Now, returning to the conversation: what do you know, you're right: the only identification listed by André is Heracleum sphondylium "common hogweed," which is apparently nearly the same as "cow parsnip." Unfortunately I know nothing about either species (I'll check if Dalby mentions them, but off hand I don't recall seeing it.)

      André is generally considered extremely reliable, but it is indisputable that the word also refers to a shellfish and part of the cardoon.

      Now, as for making the recipe with easily available items, I have been experimenting with cardoons lately, and they do taste almost exactly like artichokes. So fresh artichoke hearts would be a good substitute. Only problem is, it's a lot of work to get an uncanned artichoke heart, and once you get to it you really want to just eat it! But, again, that assumes "cardoon tops" are really what is called for here, which is controversial.

      As for pennyroyal, it does taste vaguely like mint, but not, I think, close enough to use mint as a substitute. I've never really found something that tastes close enough. Hmm, actually I think maybe that catnip plant I bought early this summer might approach it. Let me do a taste test and get back to you! But even so, the easiest way to get catnip is dried for the use of... cats, and I don't know if that will taste the same as my live plant.

      But in any case, I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

    3. Catnip? I can picture all the cats in the neighbourhood trying to get into my kitchen when I remake this!

    4. I think I killed my catnip plant, so, sorry, I can't confirm this ;)

  4. Just made this for dinner tonight, it was quite good! There were a few differences in mine though. I didn't use Rue or a substitute at all, I used apple cider vinegar since it was all I had, and I forgot to add the olive oil! Over all it was fairly sweet with the herbs providing an interesting balance to the sweetness. I think I'd add more salt.

  5. About the Roman Bread recipe.. We still make those every morning in Greece. They're called egg-slices (litteral translation). Also, in Belgium and France they also do this kind of bread, it's called Lost bread (pain-perdu). So, just like Garum (which is now used mainly in the Phillipines under the name Bagoong) Roman cuisine still is of actuality today :)