10.1.8 Another Alexandrian sauce for grilled fish

pepper, lovage, green coriander, onion, stoned damsons, passum, liquamen, defrutum and cook it.


We saw the fishmonger the other day. He had some really gorgeous looking sardines in. I found them irresistable, which was a little bit of a logistical problem. We canceled the rest of the day’s plans so I could get them home and prepared as soon as possible. They were that fresh.

Happily, all of the ingredients were easily available, which was a surprise this late in the season.

A couple of months ago we went to the wine making supply shop and bought almost 70 lbs of grape juice, fresh pressed to order. We made a gallon and a half of defrutum, and the rest into sapa.

I used this and some bortyrised wine trying to pass itself off as a tokaj as the passum.

There was a nice second round of lovage in the garden, and plums were still available at the fruit stand. Not damsons, but plums nonetheless, and they worked out acceptably well..

All of the solid ingredients were chopped and simmered.. A lid would have been helpful, but it was forgotten. Some of the water evaporated, leaving a denser, more caramelised sauce.

I did use a potato masher as the solids softened, and considering the intended audience, I strained the sauce well before plating.

Other recipes for grilling fish (Scappi, not entirely relevant) mentioned leaving the scales on the fish, and gutting them as cleanly as possible.

The scales insulated the very delicate meat, and allowed the skin to come off very cleanly. That was a factor in protecting the delicate flesh, as well as in being more easily able to present the fish at table.

Serve with lots of napkins, and plan to do laundry.


sardines (6)

3-4 sardines per person,

4 large plums or 8 smaller ones,

4 oz whole cilantro plant, preferably including roots

5  oz reduced grape juice

3 oz fish sauce

a baseball sized onion (I had a leek)

2 -3 oz fresh lovage, or the leaves from one bunch of celery


Coarsely chop all of the fruits and vegetables. Place in a pot with the liquid ingredients, and simmer until fully cooked.

sardines (7)

Grill, roast, pan fry, or otherwise prepare the fish as you are most comfortable doing.

The prescribed method calls for carefully placing the fish on skewers and grilling by charcoal, which is an excellent and delicious method.

Mash the sauce well, in order to release juices from the fruit. Strain and place on the plate, or in a separate dipping bowl.

sardines (11)

Serve hot.



Aliter caroetas: elixatas concisas in cuminato oleo modico quoques et inferes; cuminatum coliculorum facies

Boil the carrots and chop them in a cumin sauce with a little oil, finish cooking, and serve. Make the cumin sauce as for cabbage. (3.9.3)

(part of an ongoing series in which I share recipes presented at The Lay of El Cid hosted by Barony Bhakail)

This is one of the simplest, quickest, and most delightful side dishes I know. It’s inexpensive and can be on the table from ingredients to completion in under 15 minutes, when making a half recipe for two people.

If you need a recipe to demonstrate the contemporary viability of historical food, please consider this one. It’s nice.


1 lb carrots
½ gallon poaching water
1 Tbs salt
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tsp cumin

Trim and peel the carrots, leave them whole, watching for woody cores.
Poach in salted water until done.
Drain water, chop coarsely.
Return the carrots to the pan. Add oil, dust with cumin.
Watch the temperature, allow to get evenly coated and begin to blister.
The pan should be slightly brown and orange with toasted, not burnt, bits of cumin and carrot.
Taste for salt, plate.

Serves 4

Grocock, Christopher, and Sally Grainger. Apicius, a Critical Edition with an introduction and English translation by. Devon: Prospect Books, 2006. pp 172-173. Print.

Minutal of Apricots

Apicius contains a number of dishes labeled as Minutal.
These dishes are all hashes of one form or another, whether they are vegetable, seafood, or meat. They also all finish with a “tracta”, a disc of prepared semolina, crumbled in to thicken the sauce for presentation.

Sometimes you have to work with what is in the pantry. In this case, it was what was in the yard. Though the instructions specifically called for dried onions and mint, and fresh apricots, I have it the other way round.

This dish is considered a “compound” dish, a dish of several elements. It is a sweet and sour pan casserole of meat, onions, fruit, and sauce.

The first instructions call for a cooked shoulder of pork. I don’t have a shoulder, I have ribs. I poached them with seasonings chosen to work well with the Minutal, by placing wine, pepper, dill, onion, and a little fish sauce in a pot, putting the meat in, and adding water. I then raised the temperature to a boil, slapped a lid on the pot, and turned off the heat. When the pot cooled, I put it away in the fridge overnight.

When it was time to make the dish, I had a little problem. I have fresh onions, fresh dill, fresh mint, but I do not have fresh apricots.

The instructions call for dried “Ascalonian” onions. That’s a scallion, a green onion. I think that means I have to dry some scallions this week, toward the future.

The apricots I have are dried minced apricots, which will cook up quickly and help thicken the dish, rather than juicy ripe apricots which will add some tang and a lot of juice. That’s a little sad. At least they have no sulfites or sweeteners. If those were all I could find, I would use slightly under-ripe peaches or make a different dish completely.

Adicies in caccabo oleum liquamen uinum; concides cepam ascaloniam aridam, spatulam porcinam coctam tessellatim concides. his omnibus coctis teres piper cuminum mentam siccam anetum, suffundis mel liquamen passum acetum modice, ius de suo sibi; temperabis;. Praecoqua enucleata mittis, facies ut ferueant, donec percoquantur. tractam confringes, ex ea obligas, piper aspargis et inferes.

Put oil, liquamen and wine in a pan.
Add dried scallions and already cooked, cubed pork.
Cook together.
Add seasonings and liquids, taste.
When seasonings are correct, add apricots
and simmer until they are cooked.
Crumble in a tracta, cook til thickened. Serve.

What I did is not what I would do with an ideal pantry.

assembled ingredients arrayed

2 TBS olive oil
1 TBS fish sauce
4 oz onion, diced, or scallions, or optimally, dried scallions.
16 oz pork (or turkey thigh), poached til fully cooked, cooled and diced

½ tsp pepper, ground
1 tsp cumin
1 sprig or 1 tsp mint
1 sprig or ½ tsp dill
1 TBS honey
1 TBS raisin wine or must syrup
up to ¼ c fish sauce (be wary of oversalting the dish)
up to ¼ c wine vinegar (if you are using a sweet wine, balsamic would work here to sub in for the syrupy quality the passum would have provided)
Up to a cup of wine. I had a local white, but would suggest a red, such as a Chianti.
6 fresh apricots or 2 oz of dried unsulphited unsweetened apricots.

Turn on the heat, warm the pan, and when you add the oil, also add the fish sauce and a splash of the wine.
When it is warm, add first the onions, then the diced meat. Warm it through.

onions and precooked meat  in the pan

Place the seasonings in the pan, stir to try to distribute them more evenly.
Add the honey, melt it in to the pan, then add the passum (or balsamic,) wine, vinegar (unless using balsamic) and blend together. Add half of the fish sauce, then taste for salt. Add the rest to your taste.
Place your fresh apricots in the pan, or fold in the dried ones so they are covered by liquid and can rehydrate in the sauce.
Watch the pot carefully, the fresh ones will make a wetter dish, the dry apricots may absorb too much liquid and encourage burning. Be prepared to add a little more wine to the dish so it does not burn.

before adding the apricots and thickener, the dish is dark brown and has a lot of broth

When the apricots are fully cooked, add thickener, to the dish, allow it to cook through, and serve.

We both thought of this dish as an interesting analog to pulled pork BBQ. The flavors are different, but the notes and elements of well cooked meat that “pulls”, a rich thick sweet tangy sauce, and deep notes of earthiness combine to make a very pleasing summer or winter dish.

I have made this since with fresh apricots. The difference is, as expected, most notable in the tartness and in the liquidity. The fresh fruit did affect the tenderness of the meat as well.

the finished food in two different bowls. There is a sheen on the food from rice flour

Should you choose to use turkey thigh, I strongly suggest skin off, bone on, and low temperature so as not to toughen the dish.
We had it with bread and a salad, but did not need the bread. We planned to use the leftovers for lunch the next day but they did not last long enough.

I sometimes riff on a recipe rather than following them. I grew up cooking by theme rather than by specifics, but with historical cooking, it is somewhat more of a challenge to get into the mindset of the palate.

Lately I have been doing a lot from Apicius, and the other night I decided to just go with it.

We had a couple of turkey thighs to cook. They went into a pan with some chicken broth, some chopped up celery, a handful of coriander, a handful of oregano, and a little asafoetida. I popped  a lid on it for the first 20 minutes, then removed the lid, added salt and pepper and raised the temperature to roasting.

Another ten minutes in, I added some moscato (it’s what I am using as grape syrup right now, not perfect but it balances things well enough) and finished it with red wine vinegar.

It was pretty darned good.

2.4    Lucanicae
 Lucanicus similiter ut supra scriptum est

Teritur piper cuminum satureia ruta petroselinu condimentum bacae lauri, liquamen,
 et admiscetur pulpa bene tunsa ita ut denuo bene cum ipso subtrito fricetur.
 Cum liquamine admixto, pipere integro et abundanti pinguedine et nucleis inicies 
in intestinum perquam tenuatim productum, et sic ad fumum suspenditur. 

Lucanicae are made in a similar way to that written above (refers to 2.3.1, same page)
 Pound pepper with cumin, savory, rue, parsley, bay berries, (spice) and liquamen.  
Add meat which has been thoroughly pounded so that it can then be blended well with the spice mix. 
Stir in the liquameen, whole peppercorns, plenty of fat and pine nuts. Put the meat in the skins, 
draw them quite thinly, and hang them in smoke.

 Smoked sausage? What's not to love?
This is for a fresh-style sausage for immediate use.  

 Well, there are some challenges here.

 What is "condimentum"?
 I read a lot of the book, and the three seasonings that keep coming up are black pepper,
 liquamen, salt, and honey. Pepper and liquamen are explicitly mentioned here,
 but there could not be enough liquamen to season the quantity of meat. In order to properly salt the meat, 
there would have to be enough liquamen to make soup. I opted to use the “condimenti” note to add salt.
 The one I thought about, considered, and rejected, was honey. If the sausage had tasted unbalanced, 
I would have added it.

  Another challenge was the bay laurel berries. I consulted with the herbalist, trying to figure out 
how to approach the problem.
 She did some research, informing me that the flavor of the berries is listed as similar to that of the leaves, 
and that I could make an infused oil in order to extract and disperse the flavor neatly. 
I could also purchase an essential oil, but the flavor value would be uncontrollable in the proportions called for.

 I did some shopping at various ethnic markets, and found ground bay leaves to be used as a spice at a Polish market.
This is what I opted to use, taking the hint and grinding my own in order to have an organic mass rather than adding
 an oil to the product. Since then, we have also sourced the actual berries, and will be able to confirm the 
flavor comparison soon.

 Not having Rue in stock, I skipped it. I also passed on the whole peppercorns and pine nuts;
 although I have them, we discussed and opted to pass for our home usage. 
The whole peppercorns can be an unwelcome dental surprise, and we both find the flavor of pine nuts unappealing.

 I purchased custom-ground meat, laid out the seasonings, and assembled the sausage. 
 After allowing the seasoned meat to sit in the fridge overnight, I fried up a small amount, 
adjusted the salt, remixed, and began stuffing sausages.

 (a note; you don't need the fancy sausage thingy, a funnel works, a carefully cut beer bottle neck works,
 a sense of humor works)

 After stuffing, I used a stovetop smoker. It can work well, but in this case it just made the sausage steam itself. 
This was an issue I could have solved, but opted not to, as I did not wish to smoke us out of the house.
 If I had opened the lid to release steam, I would have also released smoke, effectively stopping my ability to cook.
 I opted for a short-term smoking. The goal, based on my experience with similar sausage types, was a half hour.

 A question to consider is the type of smoke. What woods would have been used in a Roman smokehouse? 
Oak (European, not the same) is available, fruitwoods are as well, chestnut is a part of the local ecosystem, 
 perhaps grape could be an option as well. I did some digging to try to find out what woods are used in similar
 sausage smoking in Lucania now, but no solid answers yet. Mesquite, hickory, and some modernly common others
 are not European, and some woods just taste less good than others.

 I opted to use cherry, as I had it to hand and it is not as assertive as the others which were available.
 I will use apple or grape next time if possible.

  Now I had the spices and the flavors in place, and it was time to go.
With a stove top smoker, a sausage stuffer, and a dishwasher, I had the equivalent of eight kitchen servants.

11.5 lbs ground pork, ground, heavy on the fat.
11 tsp ground bay leaves, sieved
11 tsp winter savory
¼1/4 tsp black pepper, ground
½1/2 tsp cumin seed, ground
11 tbs fresh parsley, minced
11 tbs salt
11 fl oz fish sauce

 an ounce of whole peppercorns soaked in wine or liquamen overnight and three ounces of toasted Italian pine 
nuts would have been added had we a taste for them.

One 5' length of thin sausage casing, soaked, inspected, and with water run through the length.

A half cup or so of smoking wood, in water, in the fridge. I put it in a zip bag and keep it in the fridge,
 if longer than a day, I toss it in the freezer.


 Toss the seasonings together, pour the garum over them. Fold the meat together with the seasonings, blend completely.
 Place in a container, chill for about 20-30 minutes.
Fry a sample to taste, in order to be certain of seasonings. Adjust if needed.
 Allow to sit overnight in the fridge.

 Prepare your sausage stuffing method (pastry bag, appliance, funnel, whatever it takes)
 Fold in the peppercorns and pine nuts if you are using them.
 Stuff the sausages.
  The instructions call for them to be “stretched thin.” I used a thin casing, and considered flattening them, 
but the size of my equipment suggested I keep them as they naturally appeared.

 Prep your smoking method (weber-type grill, offset smoker, dedicated outbuilding?)
and smoke the sausages for about 30 minutes. Much longer can make them acrid unless you are skilled with the task. 
Full kielbasa-grade smoking takes a bit different effort, and salumi-style drying smoke still more finesse.
  Though the purpose of the original is for portability, the difference is in the detail of the smoking.

 When they are done with smoking, they are usually not completely cooked. 
Grill or fry them to completion. 

 I like to make them in a coil, though smaller sausages, hot-dog sized links, or what-you-will would all be perfectly nice.

Let’s start with 3.3 Asparagus.

Dry the asparagus, put it upright in hot water.

 That’s the instructions for basic cooked asparagus. I didnt change a word from the translation.

No call for salt, no call for anything other than the simplest boiled asparagus.


From there, I went to my target recipe, 4.2.6, which calls for the trim and snipped ends from the asparagus cooked by recipe 3.3

Using the trim from the vegetable, pound in a mortar with the other ingredients, then strain.

Cook the liquid in an oiled dish, or add an egg to thicken, then use.


I do not have asparagus, it’s string bean season now. String beans are a distinctly modern vegetable, but I like them, I have them, and I consider them a not-unreasonable substitution for asparagus in current context, though not for historically minded service.

a mess of string beans, standing in for asparagus

lots of them.

I chose not to boil the string beans, as I strongly dislike them cooked that way.

After pan-searing them with a bit of red wine, I selected out a handful of cooked string beans, and put them with the rest of the ingredients (except sorrel, which I could not get in good condition) into a processor, and liquefied.

all items in the processor

mortar and pestle gives a different texture.

At this point the sauce was raw, the fresh onion made the liquid quite “hot”. It requires a bit of cooking to unify the flavors.

separating the liquid sauce and preparing to cook it for use

not yet cooked or thickened.

Instructions suggested cooking the sauce with an egg to add body, and serving it over chicken or fish.
To cook the sauce with the egg, at least from a modern kitchen perspective,  the egg must be “tempered”, or acclimated to the heat of the sauce so as not to curdle. To temper an egg, see the note below.

Recipe: Apicius 4.2.6 Another Patina of Asparagus


  • ¼ c cooked asparagus or tender green vegetables
  • ¼ c loosely packed lovage leaves
  • 1/8 c loosely packed cilantro, well picked
  • 1/8 c sorrel, not from a jar.
  • 1 fresh green onion, about the size of a golf ball
  • ¼ c red wine
  • slightly less than ¼ c liquamen (fish sauce, or in a pinch, somewhat less of soy or worcestershire)
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper


  1. Place all items into a processor or mortar and pestle. Liquefy. Strain.
  2. Set aside solids for an application where they will add flavor, such as stuffing poultry.
  3. Cook liquid just enough to take out the rawness of the fresh onion, or
  4. use liquid as a cooking sauce or poaching liquid for delicate meats.


-Not the most evocative or memorable sauce

-not very pretty.

+highly seasonal

+extremely versatile

+ simple enough to make, can be good for a novice to practice on

+ can be prepared in advance and frozen well.

Quick notes

A cover  for the lack of Sorrel might be a bit of lemon peel or a squirt of lemon at the end

As a substitution for Lovage consider some celery leaf.

The recipe does state flexibility, mentioning greens, briony, wild herbs, and other such tender vegetables as alternatives to the asparagus.

Being presented as a dish of of a using up of leftovers to make a sauce for other things, only one of the small components is actually a second usage. In a high volume kitchen, this recipe does fill a hole, but for current menu planning it’s a little more of a unique thing.

After a straining, I used the solids to coat a chicken, and some of the strained sauce went to glaze a meatloaf.

Other of the sauce dressed the rest of the seared string beans.


a roast chicken which has been rubbed with the solids from the sauce before cooking

flattened chicken with the solids of the sauce.

To temper an egg, crack an egg, and whip it.

Heat the liquid portion of the sauce in a pot.

Remove about a teaspoon of hot liquid from the sauce, and place it into the bowl containing the egg,whip briskly until incorporated.

Continue adding heated sauce slowly, slowly raising the temperature of the eggs as you continue.
This allows the sauce to incorporate and warm the egg without scrambling.

Place the egg and sauce back in the pot over a very low flame and stir, do not allow it to curdle.

Should the sauce begin to set like an egg rather than a custard, strain before service. It can take practice.


Uncooked Sauce for a Chicken


Put dill seed, dried mint and laser root into a mortar, pour on vinegar, add date, pour on liquamen, a little mustard and oil, flavor with defrutum, and use it as it is

(intended for a plain poached chicken)


Apicius 6.8.2 , a variant, adds honey and liquamen.

Intended as a finishing baste for a par-poached chicken, which is to be roasted.


all of the listed ingredients in small individual bowls, ready to be remeasured in to the recipe

It's a habit.

It’s hot, we want simple food that won’t heat up the kitchen, and which can be varied by using interesting sauces or amendments. This sauce looked slightly atypical of Roman food in that it does not call for lovage, but otherwise had many of the representative flavors.


The most important takeaway from this is when putting dates into a mortar and pestle, make sure they are moist! Soak them in advance, steam them, do something. Be sure they will not fight back. Think of them as potential superballs =) Then again, it could be dates so dry as to be a sugar; almost to a powder or crystalline. Pick your direction. I went for moist.


a pharmaceutical mortar and pestle with a single date and a small amount of vinegar being meaured in

I work in increments, an eighth of a teaspoon at a time. It takes a while.

The balance of seasoning is challenging, and is the heart of Roman food. Too much or too little of any one spice is going to be the death of the dish. Of course, we have no clue what Latin speaking cooks were after in terms of flavor detail, and have a lot of guesswork, but based on the types of seasonings, the order in which they are listed, and the stated uses of them, my best guess turned out pretty tasty and easily adjusted.


Defrutum is concentrated grape juice. Sometimes it can be gotten at a health food store. I simmered (non-concord) grape juice down to obtain it. It’s sweet and intensely grapey. If you have raisins, you can hydrate them and blender them to get a sugary grapey syrup as well, which could work.


I made a tiny amount, but with care, the service can adjust up. The mint is least likely to scale up well.


Our first reaction was ! A1 ! (with mint!)


the mortar and pestle with a dark, slick, homogeneous sauce

yes, it is earthy!

We plan to make a rather larger batch and see if it holds, and to try to honey/liquamen variant another day. This batch went with a plain roast chicken, and was just exactly not enough for two people.

Recipe: Uncooked Sauce for a Chicken


  • ¼ tsp asafoetida (sub for laser)
  • ½ tsp dried mint (adjust down as you make more, it will overwhelm)
  • ½ tsp dill seed
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1 date
  • 1 tsp liquamen (fish sauce)
  • ½ tsp mustard powder (might be prepared, might be dry. I chose dry)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp defrutum (raisin sauce)


  1. Turn the asafoetida, mint, and dill seed into powder.
  2. Add the vinegar, stir some, and then add the date.
  3. Grind the date in until it is homogeneous, then add the liquamen, mustard, and oil.
  4. Fold together, then add just enough raisin syrup to sweeten and add a round grapiness.


Ratings; Some less common ingredients Hard to do in a blender or processor Very reliant on exact strength of your spices’ freshness for balance Uncooked Ages nicely over several days Is somewhat assertively familiar to our palates.

Number of servings (yield): 1


A salad, or perhaps a chutney, of boiled beets and leeks, dressed with passum and liquamen, cumin and pepper.


cubed beets, diced leeks, and a grape sauce in a yellow bowl

it's festive, and gently sweet and sour

The joy that is farm market season is upon me! Overwhelming and worrisome at times, I wind up with a plethora of stuff I have no particular interest in.

This time, it was a magnificence of beets. Oy.


I know beets are red. I know they are unexpectedly sweet, but people pickle them. That’s about all I know.


Leeks, beets, a bottle of grape juice, and a bottle of fish sauce

beets and leeks are both very sandy, be aware of cleaning them cautiously

Apicius calls for beets and stored leeks to be boiled, plated, and dressed with a boiled sauce.


The sauce calls for Passum, which according to my books is a reduced grape juice used as a sauce, flavoring, sweetener, and so-on.

I had to source non-concord (a new-world grape) juice to boil down for the passum, grape must syrup, which was rather more of a challenge than expected. I got a de-alcolised wine and a grape juice, but went with the grape juice for this run. I did try to get wine grape juice, but it will be a bit more effort.


a saucepan containing boiling reduced grape juice, with the fish sauce being added.

dishwashing is serious business

After boiling down the syrup, cubing and boiling the beets to tenderness, and blanching the leeks, I chilled all of the components separately overnight, then prepared them for service.

First I tried slicing the leeks a few ways, but found that a simple large dice was most conducive to eating. Being that they can get slimy when boiled, the cut allows them to separate and maintain a pleasant texture.

The beets were cut to a similar size, and plated with the leeks.


beets and leeks in the bowl, before being sauced

Keep utensil size in mind when chopping the veggies

The sauce was simply the “passum” with cumin, black pepper, and a little liquamen to balance the sweetness, and allowed to boil hard for a minute to set the flavors.


A surprisingly light and refreshing salad, which could easily be served cool on a summers’ evening.

As an alternative, you can chop the leeks and veggies even smaller, simmer them in the sauce, and serve as a condiment rather than a salad.  It tastes quite nice, which is a relief. I have a lot of beets!

Recipe: Apicius 3.2 An Easily Digested Relish


  • 1 beet, cooked til tender in salted water
  • 1 leek, cooked til tender in salted water. Shock in cold water.
  • 1 cup grape juice (not concord) or similar fruit juice, reduced by half
  • 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin, ground
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, ground


  1. Dice the leeks
  2. dice the beets
  3. plate them. Think “easy to eat with a salad fork”
  4. Boil the reduced grape juice, fish sauce, cumin, and pepper together.
  5. Pour over the salad as a hot dressing.

Quick notes

-Beets stain

-Leeks need to be treated cautiously, they can get slimy when cooked

-easy to overdo the pepper, make the sauce in advance and be sure of your balance

-easy to oversalt, the boiling water and the liquamen are both salty

+Easy to prepare in advance

+Reasonable, seasonable, and less-common ingredients, unlikely to have “beet fatigue”

+Beet water can easily be made into soup.

The yard has finally gotten with the program and begun to offer mint. It is spring, and we will be eating more green things. Yay!

It took a little doing, but I found a recipe that intrigues me in Apicius (Grocock and Grainger edition) which called mostly for ingredients we have. Apicius leans on several things we don’t keep for a variety of reasons, but this one lined up pretty well

This is another of those “problem” recipes in that the title calls for lentils, but the recipe does not. I opted to make the dish twice; once with and once without.

The next instruction called for “soda” in the English, but “nitrum” in Latin. Nitrum can be found described as salt, as a toxic salt, saltpeter, baking soda, nitrogen, and a number of other useless things. My impression, based on my understanding of Roman water transit and storage, is that something alkaline added to water helps soften beans, keep dishes cleaner, and otherwise make life more digestible. It is possible, and this is conjecture, that the instruction is to add something to the water as we modernly might add baking soda to soften beans, but it might be simple table salt as well.

Being that I know my lentils cook well in my water, I added salt for flavor, but did not add soda.


cooked peeled chestnuts, uncooked lentils, bottles of vinegar, fish sauce, honey, and oil, herbs and spices

What color bowls would have looked better?

I have precooked chestnuts. They are peeled, they are tender, and I am happy with their texture and ease of preparation. The lentils used are French green lentils, though brown flat lentils would have made more visual sense.

I cooked one cup of lentils in water with a little salt, and set them aside. After bringing the heat up on the chestnuts in water, I added the honey, vinegar and liquamen (I use an anchovy-based fish sauce), and allowed the pot to simmer until the chestnuts showed their readiness to fall apart. Then, with my pestle, I began to crush them.

Two things happen here. The “lentil” reference begins to make sense; it looks just like Dal, and the hot pan contents want to try to kill the cook. Be careful with splashing, it takes very little pressure to crush the chestnuts, which are now simmering in liquid honey. Boiling honey hurts a lot.

Chestnuts are very very starchy, so the pot thickened quite fast. I did add a little more water to the pot so it would not stick and burn.

In the “chestnut only” version, I crushed them as completely as I could allowing the pot to thicken as it could. In the “with lentils” variety, I first crushed them about halfway, until they looked like chopped walnuts, and served them alongside the lentils, then for the second portion, I crushed them further and folded the lentils in.

chestnuts in a pan, partly crushed.

ready to either be served or crushed further.

How do I post three images across? I’d like to make this tidy.

On tasting, I added a little more vinegar and a little more liquamen, then dropped the heat and folded in the mint and spice mixture.

I do not cook with rue, it’s one of the ones the herbalists warn about, and I do not wish for a bitter taste at this time. If I wished to enhance the bitterness, I would add a dandelion leaf , and if I wished to enhance the herbal note, I would add tarragon. I was holding the dandelion and put it back, it did not appeal at the moment. On the other hand, I did use pennyroyal, which is also an herb of concern. I grow it and like it, but do not usually feed it to others.

One of the spices called for is “laser”, which according to research seems to be most functionally similar to asafoetida. I like asafoetida. It ties together well with the fish sauce and adds a subtle note of character to a dish when used sparingly. If you have not used it, it’s interesting to play with, it’s the resin of a form of giant fennel. Too much of it can be quite appalling, a small amount can add an oniony note.

The oil added in cooking was far more utilitarian than the one I garnished with. The final oiling kept the top of the portion from drying out, and added another lovely layer of flavor.

Lentils served alongside chestnuts in a ceramic bowl.

one way to serve the dish

a thick porridge of chestnuts in a pottery bowl, showing fine flecks of fresh mint

I did not share this bowl.

Recipe: Apicius 5.2.2

Summary: Lentils, Chestnuts


  • 8 oz lentils.
  • 8 oz chestnuts, cooked and peeled (available in bags, jars, or frozen, or you might prefer to do the work)
  • 16 oz water
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp coriander
  • ¼ tsp asafoetida
  • a small bunch of mint, about ¼ cup fresh
  • a couple of leaves of rue, or a dandelion leaf, or a little tarragon, if you wish
  • 1 TBS olive oil (for cooking)
  • 1 TBS honey
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • 2TBS liquamen/fish sauce
  • 1 tsp olive oil (for garnish)


  1. Simmer the chestnuts prepared chestnuts in water with salt.
  2. Place spices and herbs into mortar and pestle, or spice grinder, and make small. You should have about 2 tablespoons when it’s all chopped up.
  3. Add honey to the simmering chestnuts.
  4. Once the honey dissolves, add the vinegar and fish sauce. Continue to simmer.
  5. When the pot begins to look cloudy, add the cooking oil and start crushing cautiously. You may choose to only break the nuts, or you may prefer to mash them as I did.
  6. Watch for sticking and add more water if needed.
  7. Taste for balance, add more of what your palate thinks it needs. Mine needed another splash of vinegar.
  8. Add the herbs and spices, fold in.
  9. Stir until it feels a little stiff but not too stiff, and plate.
  10. Pour a little of the garnish quality oil overtop, and serve.
  11. Add lentils, or serve alongside lentils, or add to lentils and fold in, or forget lentils entirely, as it makes sense to you.

Preparation time: 30 minute(s)

Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 2



+Mostly cheap and easy ingredients

+Low-stress cooking,

+Flexible recipe, tasty when served a variety of ways

-really needs the liquamen (vegan substitute; kelp and soy sauce)

-relies on a variety of seasonal herbs