Maybe you've heard this one before:
A long time ago, a woman carries two babies inside of her belly. They wrestle in her womb, each longing to be first-born, until her labor pains come and one baby boy emerges, ruddy-fleshed and with a full head of hair. The second is longer, leaner, and grasping the heel of his now older brother.
The ruddy one becomes tall and strong. He hunts for game, bringing home limp animals slung over his shoulder, ready for the fire. The ankle-grasper stays by the fire, seasoning and stirring pots of stew.
"Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I am famished," said the ruddy one, throwing down his burden, and thrusting a bowl towards his brother.
"First, sell me your birthright," said the second-born, with a little laugh, stirring the pot.
"Look, I am about to die. What good is a birthright to me?"
And so the ankle-grasper poured his ruddy brother a bowl of this ruddy lentil stew. He gave him some bread. And the older brother ate and drank, and then got up and left.
A humble, simple pot of soup sits in the middle of this ancient, Middle Eastern story of two brothers, Esau and Jacob. This isn't fancy food. This isn't feast food. It isn't the wild game, dripping with fat, roasting over the fire, that the older brother brought home. This is just simple, every-day fare, the kind you eat for lunch most days, the kind that you find waiting for you when you get home.
And yet, it is delicious. If you have never cooked with red lentils before, they are a little revelation. Bright red in the bag, they look like little chips of a legume, but when cooked down, they yellow, soften and melt into the soup. Smooth and creamy, when this soup cools a little, it sets up into a thick and stodgy stew. Yes, I said it: stodgy. Palestinians like to keep this soup very simple: a little onion or garlic, maybe, a few spices from the cupboard, lemon squeezed on top. It is a humble, everyday sort of soup, but it sings until you scrape down the bottom of your bowl.