There are many reasons to love lentils for all the health benefits and nutrition they provide at such a low monetary cost. With almost 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber in one cup of cooked lentils it is no wonder that cultures the world over consider lentils essential to their diet. In marked contrast to the long soak and cooking process of beans lentils take less than an hour to simmer and in some cases, such as sprouting and soaking for pancakes, they require little or no cooking at all.
It is when you introduce the mighty lentil into your diet that you discover that this powerhouse food is not only packed with nutrition, but is also delicious and can be prepared in a wide variety of ways. If you are only familiar with the common Spanish Brown or the small French puy lentil than you are in for a pleasant surprise to discover that there are many more types and each a powerhouse in its own way.
Lentils originated in India and became a daily part of the Indian diet. Meals almost always include a lentil dal, for instance and are balanced with a serving of rice, rotis, a vegetable dish, yogurt and a salad. Here you find a variety of lentils providing a more diverse protein source, especially for vegetarians and vegans. Look for these lentils in your local health food store or Indian market and try them out for yourselves.
Red Lentils (Masoor): require no soaking and are quick to cook. Easy to digest and perfect for soups, stews and Indian dal.
Yellow Lentils ( Toor/Arhar): require soaking and need a longer cooking time than the red lentils. To speed the process a pressure cooker can be used or break out the crockpot and let them simmer for the afternoon. When using a pressure cooker add a teaspoon of oil to prevent the scum from clogging the pressure valve.
Split-pea Lentils (Chana): a deep yellow color they have the same appearance as a green split pea and can be cooked in much the same manner, which requires time and watching. These lentils also can be cooked using a pressure cooker or crockpot, so do not let their cooking time put you off using them in your recipes.
Green Lentils (Moong): deep green in color and called mung beans in China, these lentils are perfect for sprouting or used in a wide variety of Asian and Indian recipes.
Black Lentils (Urad daal): often prepared in curry recipes, they are also used to make the lentil pancakes, poppadums and dosas.
Brown Lentils: most common type used in traditional lentil soup. When overcooked they turn to mush, which can work well when making a lentil pate.
French Green (Puy) Lentils: small, flavorful and stay firm during long simmers. Great in salads, casseroles and stews.
Pour a half to one cup of green lentils in a quart jar. Cover by half with pure water, place the lid back on the jar and leave on the kitchen counter overnight. Next morning drain the water, rinse the lentils and drain again. Screw on a sprouting lid or cover with 3 layers of cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Turn upside down in a colander and rinse/drain twice a day, morning and evening for about 3-4 days. Seal with jar lid and refrigerate.
Tips for Cooking Lentils
1. Place 1 cup of lentils in a strainer and rinse them well, making sure to remove any small stones or shriveled lentils.
2. Place in a heavy saucepan or soup pot, cover with 3 cups of water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, skim off any foam and simmer until tender. Depending on the type of lentil cooking time can vary from 10 – 60 minutes. 1 cup dry lentils yields 21/4 cups cooked.
3. Since salt, as well as, tomatoes lengthen the cooking time of both lentils and beans add these ingredients towards the end of the cooking process rather than at the beginning. Cook the lentils and in a separate skillet sauté onion, garlic, ginger and spices and add them once the lentils are tender.
Using Herbs and Spices
Lentils work well in recipes that call for strong herbs and spices and long cooking vegetables such as carrots, onions and cabbage, which add a sweet taste; vegetarian sausage or whole grains for a stew like consistency; spinach, kale or Swiss chard when making lentil soup; and always celery, which compliments the small green lentils in a compatible marriage of flavors.
Italian style lentils: use the small but hearty French green lentils with onion, garlic, dried basil, thyme, oregano and red pepper flakes. Add vegetarian sausage or other protein of your choosing.
Cajun Style lentils: sauté onion and garlic in olive oil and add a mix of chili powder, paprika, allspice, cayenne and thyme. Add the rinsed green lentils and water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender. Salt to taste.
Indian Style Lentils: cook red lentils in water. Meanwhile sauté cumin seeds, curry powder, onion, garlic, and ginger in ghee or coconut oil. Add to lentils along with a handful of baby spinach and simmer until greens are cooked. Salt to taste.
French Style Lentils: sauté chopped leeks in olive oil in a heavy soup pot. Add rosemary, thyme, savory and basil, then green puy lentils and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender. Salt to taste.
Roasted Butternut Lentil Salad
½ butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed (about 4-5 cups)
4 small red onions, quartered lengthwise
1 clove elephant garlic, peeled, julienned
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup assorted dried mushrooms, soaked
1 cup cooked French lentils
4 oz. organic goats feta cheese
¼ cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1. Place the butternut, onion, and garlic in a medium size bowl.
2. Drizzle with half the oil and a small amount of salt. Mix to coat well.
3. Spread on a well oiled baking sheet and place in a preheated 400-degree oven.
4. Roast until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, in a skillet sauté the mushrooms and elephant garlic in remaining oil for about 3 minutes. Set aside.
6. When squash is done assemble on 4 plates: squash, onion, and French lentils.
7. Drizzle anchovy dressing over the vegetables, top with the mushrooms, then the feta cheese and finally the walnuts.
8. Serve while squash is still warm.
Yield: 4 servings
Juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
6 anchovies (more as desired)
Place ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Refrigerate when not using.