Lentils are a member of the legume family which are plants bearing pods with rows of seeds inside. They are ideal as a quick source of protein, fiber, amino acids and are low on the glycemic index. They are very low in saturated fat and cholesterol and are also a good source of iron, folate, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. For one cup of cooked lentils you get a whopping 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber! That means they fill you up. They cook very quickly, and depending on which type you are using some faster than others. You don’t need to soak lentils like other beans, and it there is much controversy as to salting before or after the cooking process. It has been my experience that after soaking, adding salt to the cooking water can slow things down a bit, but because beans contain calcium and other minerals, these make the cell walls sturdy anyway. Adding salt can sort of fill in spaces in the cell walls, and make it take a bit longer, but with lentils it doesn’t really matter. It can produce a more flavorful result and since they don’t need to be soaked prior to cooking go ahead and add salt. Now, regularly I would say to cook your beans in a pressure cooker, as I am a huge fan of these. Lentils, however, will not fare well in a pressure cooker, and will become mushy and paste-like as an end result.
The most common varieties of lentil you have eaten are probably the delicate and peppery French green, or “Puy”, and the earthy Brown lentil. Split peas are considered to be a lentil as well. In Indian cooking “Daal” is a common dish and is another name for lentil, as well as “Gram”. The delicate yellow or red variety is used most commonly for this cuisine and while they don’t retain their shape very well after cooking, they are delicate and flavorful with a velvety texture that is very enjoyable.
Dried lentils are best because of their quick cooking and that they don’t need to be soaked beforehand. You can find most types I have mentioned in any grocery store, and also in the store’s “international” or “ethnic” aisle. My go to for varieties of any kind of food is “Cooks Thesaurus” on the web.
If you are dining out, and you are searching for the lentil, your best bet would be Middle Eastern, Greek, or of course, any Mediterranean type restaurant. You can easily find lentils added to many dishes, or alone in a salad, and are most likely prepared with unsaturated oils, like Olive oil.
To cook simply pour the amount of lentils you are going to use into a clean bowl, and rinse them with cold water picking out any debris, or stones, or discolored ones. There usually aren’t many of these these days anyway. Then drain them into a colander, and using a ration of : 1 part lentils to 3 parts water or stock, simmer until they are tender. Usually for brown or green lentils this takes about 15-20 minutes. For the more delicate red, or yellow “daal” I mentioned, it takes a whopping 5-10 minutes! Woo Hoo! Split peas can take another cup of water as they swell a bit more than their cousins.
Lentils love assertive flavors like citrus, garlic, onion, spices and fresh herbs. They stand alone or compliment vegetables, poultry, or fish, especially Salmon.
A simple dish you can make quickly would be a red lentil salad, with spinach, lemon juice, fresh parsley and minced garlic with some extra virgin olive oil.
- 1 pound fresh or frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
- 4 cups cooked red lentils
- juice of 1 fresh lemon
- 1 cup rough chopped flat leaf parsley
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed or minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
You can also take some cooked, puy lentils and make the same. Or make a hardy stew with crushed, low-sodium tomatoes, garlic, pepper and oregano.
- 4 cups cooked lentils (or 2 cups raw)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cups vegetable stock (or 6 if cooking the raw lentils as is)
- 1 can low-sodium crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 white onion finely chopped
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic, smashed or finely minced
- 3 tablespoons fresh, chopped oregano, or 1 tablespoon dry
- salt and pepper to taste
In a sturdy pot on medium heat, sweat the onions with a little sprinkle of salt until they become translucent, add the garlic and tomato paste and stir for about 1 minute and quickly add the stock and lentils. Cook for about 10 minutes or until it comes to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer a bit and add your oregano or fresh herb of choice. A dash of red wine vinegar, or lemon juice will brighten up this stew.
These are just two simple examples of quick and healthy ways to prepare lentils. I hope you will consider them a lot more in your diet as they are one of the easiest ways to get both high protein and high fiber in an easy way.