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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