lentils with saffron

lentils with saffron

Lentils with saffron is an adaptation by Sam and Samantha Clark of Moro. It’s based on one from a 13th century Andalusian cookbook translated as “Best of Delectable Foods and Dishes from al Andalus and al Maghrib”. Polly Russell of the British Library, tells the story of its discovery in the Financial Times Saturday MagazineHaving been miscatalogued as a medical text, the British Library approached a culinary scholar in the US who was able to identify it. The author, Ibn Razin Al Tujibi, was a young, educated man born in Murcia, in the south of Spain in 1227. Forced into exile, he wrote the cookbook in Tunis to commemorate the  cuisine he had grown up with.  Al Tujibi wrote 475 recipes full of detail and humour. Written by someone who clearly loved food, it is a cultural record of ingredients, farming and cooking. 

Lentils with saffron is a simple, one-pan dish which is nutritious and inexpensive, using only a touch of saffron. Although lentils with saffron isn’t a traditional combination in Lebanon, its inclusion here adds a touch of poignancy to the dish. This precious spice is being exported to provide an income for the farming community in the Bekaa. Those not able to leave the country. Have a go, and enjoy a recipe that links us to home cooking from 800 years ago. 

serves 4 generously 


6 tbsp Zejd extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
3 tsp ground cumin
small bunch of coriander, chopped and stalks set aside
2 red onions, chopped
250g small brown or Puy lentils
small pinch of saffron
1 L water
salt and pepper
splash of vinegar (wine based, verjus if you have it)


  1. In a largish pan heat 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on a medium heat. When hot (but not too hot) add the garlic, cumin and coriander seeds, frying for a minute until they smell fragrant. Add the coriander stalks and 3/4 of the chopped onions. Leave to soften for 10 minutes, taking care they don’t burn.
  2. Add the lentils, saffron and water to the pan. Bring to the boil, and leave to simmer for 40-60 minutes, or until the lentils are soft and starting to fall apart, like a sauce. If there is too much water, simmer for a bit longer without the lid. Season with 2 teaspoons of salt and some pepper towards the end of the cooking. 
  3. Remove from the heat, and stir in the chopped coriander, and the last 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. 
  4. Sprinkle a dash of vinegar on to the remaining raw onion.  Keeping a bit back as a garnish, mix the raw onions into the lentils. 

Sprinkle the remaining red raw onion on top with a generous helping of Zejd’s extra virgin olive oil. Serve with flatbread, or pitta, to scoop up the lentils. 

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