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.
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.