Lentils are dried, round and flat on one side. In pairs, they are the seeds of dried legumes (pulse). In French, they are called lentilles. They are always eaten shelled and cooked.
Types of Legumes
- Puy lentils (French)
- green lentils
- red lentils
- yellow lentils
- beluga lentils (black)
Lentils are low cost, highly nutritious, versatile, and have a long shelf life. They are dry but also available canned.
Lentils are a complex carbohydrate which means that they provide a lot of energy with a low glycemic index to keep you feeling full for a long time. They are also very high in fibre which is good for digestion and should be eaten to lower cholesterol. As a plant, they are a good source of protein and when eaten with something like rice or whole wheat bread, they are a complete protein from plants. They are low in fat and are also a good source of potassium, folate, iron, and manganese.
Lentils originate in Central Asia. The Romans and other societies along both sides of the Mediterranean (Europe and North Africa) ate them regularly. They were and still are a staple ingredient in so many places around the world.
Ways to Cook
Lentils can be cooked in all sorts of ways. The main thing is to rinse them and simmer them. Impurities, dirt, and dust needs to be washed off then they need some type of moist heat cooking method. They do not need to be soaked ahead of time like dried beans although that can speed up the process.
There are some things to note about cooking the different types of lentils:
- red--easy to cook to soft, suitable for purées and soups
- brown and green lentils--keep their shape when cooked so they are tender but not powdery or mushy, are good for salads, stews and casseroles
- beluga lentils--are slightly smaller and more round than others, they keep black colour and look like beluga caviar
Herbs, spices, citrus, yogurt, and vegetables all pair well with lentils. They have an earthy and robust flavour.
Lentils are an important food in vegetarian and vegan diets because they are very high in protein for plants. Rice and flatbreads are typically served with vegetarian lentil dishes. Lentils are often used to replace ground meat in vegan recipes like meat sauce. However, lentils also go well with roasted meats like pork, chicken and beef.
Lentils can also be sprouted by soaking, rinsing and repeating. They are very nutritious, easy to do at home, and can add a nice crunchy element to dishes like salads.