Friday, February 5, 2016

A Foolish Trade Off

Just inside the main doors of the public library in my town, there are special displays of books grouped by specific topics. Often there are cookbooks with covers designed to catch one's attention. Their ploy almost always works with me.

I enjoy reading cookbooks more than most fiction, and especially if there are colorful photos of the recipes.

A few weeks ago one of the books that snagged my interest was Zahav by Michael Solomon, who is the owner and chef at a restaurant of modern Israeli cuisine in Philadelphia.

Caramelized Onions

He had instructions for Caramelized Onions, which I've heard is very good, so I carried the book to a quiet table set against a back wall and began perusing the pages. 

Caramelized Onions are an ingredient he uses in a dish he calls Mujadara, which is essentially a combination of rice and lentils. But what really arrested my attention is that Mujadara is known for being the dish that Old Testament Jacob traded with his brother Esau for his birthright.

photo credit

If, like me, you are a life-time attendee of Sunday School then you will recognize this story of the twin brothers, sons of Isaac and Rebekah. To quote from Genesis chapter 25, "...Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents....Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished."

As the story goes, Esau was so hungry that he traded his birthright (his inheritance as the eldest son) for a bowl of the stew his brother Jacob was cooking. Later on, their were huge repercussions from that impulsive and terribly foolish act.  

My big question: "WHAT was in that stew?!" It must have been something fantastic for Esau to give up his inheritance.  I checked out the cookbook from the library and stopped at the grocery store to buy the necessary ingredients.

The recipe called for Basmati rice, which does have a pleasant scent to it when cooked. I used brown lentils. You cook them separately with garlic and spices and then serve them together in a bowl. 

As Beloved filled his bowl, I asked him if the scent was especially alluring, like enough to give up his birthright? 

Hmm. Not so much.  We ate in silence for a few minutes and then I decided the experiment could be over. The recipe had called for only 1/4 cup of the Caramelized Onions, which all by themselves are a treat.  We both spooned more of that onto the rice-with-lentils entree and that made a pleasing difference.

But not enough to forfeit an inheritance.

My conclusion: either the legend is wrong about this being THE recipe, or our twenty-first century tastebuds are more discriminating.

My other conclusion: be very wary of impulsive decisions. They often turn out to be huge mistakes. 

One more thing: just about anybody can make a pot of rice and a pot of cooked lentils without special instructions. But I will share with you my adapted recipe for the Caramelized Onions. They are delightfully sweet, very tender, and good enough to eat all by themselves.

Caramelized Onions
Caramelized Onions
Recipe adapted (that means I made a couple of changes) from page 287 of Zahav by Michael Solomonov. This is a gluten-free recipe.

1/4 cup olive oil
6 large yellow onions, halved and sliced

Warm the oil over low heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and a couple pinches of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring periodically, until the onions are completely brown and almost spreadably soft, about 2 hours. Caramelized onions freeze well and will keep for 2-3 months. Makes about 1  1/2 cups. Eat as is or incorporate into other recipes.


  1. This was such an interesting post! I know the story of Esau well...what in the world was he thinking? I must say, we love caramelized onions, but the rest of the dish doesn't sound so good. Enjoyed my visit, hope you have a wonderful day.

  2. Savory stew is what I always think of when hearing the Jacob and Esau story. I think it might be very tempting to give up a birthright if one is starving. Stupid, but tempting. Caramelized onions are so yummy. I have never cooked them that long, but might give it a try to cook them a little longer. I'm sure that they would be an added layer of flavor for many many dishes.

  3. Good question! I too have wondered what was in there? ...And how hungry that guy was! : )

    I too made a good lentil stew this week, maybe I will post the recipe soon. Those onions sure make things taste good, right? : )

  4. Oh,caramelized onions look and sound absolutely delish!!! Hope you are having a great weekend!