Legume to Love: Lentils

by in Healthy Recipes, July 15, 2009

Lentil and Rice Salad
Back in April, Toby gave us some great info on beans, and then earlier this month she talked all about peas. Now it’s time to give lentils some love. If you’re not already into these super-nutritious legumes, here are some great reasons to give them a try.

Lentil Low Down
Dating as far back at 7000 B.C., lentils are one of the oldest cultivated crops. They don’t seem to find their way into many American dishes, but you’ll spot them a lot in French, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Lentils come in a variety of colors, including green, brown, red, yellow and black. Brown and green lentils are the most common — most grocery stores have them. Look for French lentils (“lentilles du Puy”) and red varieties at specialty stores. The French kind are also green but slightly smaller, and “red” lentils actually have a light pink-orange hue.

Lentils have a sturdier texture and more peppery flavor than beans, peas or other legumes. You can buy lentils dried or canned (I prefer dried), and unlike dried beans, you don’t have to soak them for hours before cooking.

Nutrition Facts
Legumes such as lentils have a nutritional advantage because they provide both healthy protein and complex carbohydrates, and they’re full of fiber to keep you satisfied longer. The soluble fiber found in legumes has also been shown to help lower cholesterol.

When you eat a combination of grains and legumes (such as rice and beans or bulgur and lentils), you create what’s called a “complete protein.” These power combos contain the same protein building blocks as meat, which makes them a great way for vegans and vegetarians to get protein.

One cup of cooked lentils has 230 calories, and one serving will give you 37% of your daily iron and more than half your daily fiber. Lentils are also high in folate, thiamin and vitamin B6 –- all important for a healthy heart. Plus legumes, lentils included, contain all kinds of antioxidants from plant compounds called phytochemicals.

What to Do with Lentils
Always rinse and pick through your dried lentils before cooking to remove any debris (accidentally biting down on a small pebble is no fun). Cook them in water or broth for some extra flavor. Wait until the lentils have finished cooking to season with salt (adding salt too early will make them tough). Once cooked, just toss them into soups and salads.

Lentils go well with earthy spices such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric. The classic Indian dish known as Dahl (or Dal) is made when you simmer these kinds of spices with cooked lentils. Sautéing is one of my favorite ways to prep them. Place them in a bowl and cover with boiling water; let them sit for 15 minutes, drain and then sauté with olive oil and aromatic veggies such as onions, carrots and celery.

Feeling adventurous? I actually found an Alton Brown recipe for cookies with lentils in the batter -– a must-try!

TELL US: How do you love your lentils?

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Comments (27)

  1. Jennie says:

    I love lentils. My favorite way to prepare lentils is as tacos or nachos (see allrecipes.com, type in "lentil tacos" for a great recipe). I've tried to move my carnivorous family away from meat in the last few years and am always looking for meat-substitue recipes. The first time I made this recipe, I prepared the tacos myself & my family had no idea it wasn't meat. They loved these tacos! We make this recipe as tacos or nachos about once each week & often serve it to guests who are leary at first, but always leave asking for the recipe.

    I just discovered this blog about a week or two ago. It's great!

  2. I've been using lentils for years and love them – in soups, in salads, etc. One time I brought a lentil salad dressed with a vinaigrette of olive oil and red wine vinegar and tossed with lots of fresh Italian parsley to a covered dish party and everyone loved it. One person said, "Who brought the lentils? They're great."

    I like lentils because 1) they're good for you, 2) they cook really quickly, and 3) they are very versatile and you don't have to soak them first like other beans. You do have to be careful not to overcook them or they turn mushy. I like your idea to saute them, which I haven't tried but will. Besides, they're very French.

  3. Mmmm – i have been eating black beluga lentils all week in stir-frys and salads. They are SO filling – I just love them!

  4. Sereena says:

    I love them in omelettes!!! I add them in just before I am about to flip it for the first time. The lentils get a little firm on teh outside, but nice and creamy on the inside. Really yummy addition when you're dieting and can't have cheese. Oh, and I ALWAYS add garlic :)

  5. lena says:

    I have had lentils since I was a kid. I come from an Italian background so we just make lentil soup out of them. It tastes better than just plain pea soup and is soo easy to make. You just cook them in lots of garlic and olive oil. We also have tossed in Linguica which is a Portuguese sausage or we have thrown in some harmony. Whatever you add it just comes out great.

  6. gloria says:

    I buy lentils to make homemade dog food. its healthy for them too. but after buying it for years for them, I decided to cook them for my family and we all like them. Am gonna have to try the lentil tacos, without the family knowing at first…lol

  7. Diane says:

    Funny thing there is the article about lentils this week! I just tried cooking with them a couple days ago. I had avoided them because I thought I didn't like the texture, but a friend made some that I liked, so I thought I'd give them another try. Was I happy I did. I made a yummy lentil stew that the whole family loved. Now I am eager to try more recipes incorporating lentils. They are so inexpensive and good for us.

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