I was a youngster the first time I had lentil soup – I’m guessing maybe 11 or 12 years old. I liked it a lot, and after that I always associated lentils with soup. Until one day I was “enlightened” by a younger (oh, horrors!) girl working at a health food store in Honolulu who declared: “Lentils aren’t just for soup.” Wow. My mom never made lentils, so how was I supposed to know? Once grown and on my own, I began experimenting and discovered one of my very favorite meals was a simple, yet hearty lentil loaf with a fresh green salad.
Lentils are the world’s oldest cultivated legume, appearing on the scene somewhere in the neighborhood of 7000 BCE! The name comes from the fact that the shape of a “len”til looks like the “len”s of an eye. And, like eyes, lentils vary in color ranging from black to brown to reddish orange, coral, gold and slate green. They’re easy to prepare and cook more quickly than many other legumes. Different varieties have different textures and are generally used in different types of recipes. For example, brown and green lentils hold their shape well and are great for casseroles, salad, or to ladle over grains or potatoes, whereas split red or yellow lentils disintegrate easily when cooking and are perfect for soups and stews.Adding lentils to your diet is a tasty way to improve your health. Consider that they are high in fiber, packed with plant protein, low in fat and low on the glycemic index, which means they don’t cause a spike in blood sugar after eating. The USDA Nutritional database shows that one cup of cooked lentils contains:
17 grams of protein
Less than 1 gram of fat
15 grams of fiber
Iron, phosphorus, folate and plenty of other good stuff
Lentils can help keep your digestive system working “regularly”, help you keep blood sugar levels healthy, and help you keep healthy cholesterol levels. How? The fiber they contain is both soluble and insoluble. Fiber also helps keep you fuller longer, which helps you eat less.While you can buy canned lentils, they are so easy to cook from dried that I really encourage you to give it a try. Here’s a basic recipe:
1 cup washed and drained lentils
3 cups water
Sea salt and pepper
Bring lentils and water to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until tender, about an hour. Drain excess liquid if needed. Add seasonings to taste.While lentils are for more than just soup, it can be a great place to start. Here are a couple to get you started: Hearty Lentil Soup and Lentil Soup with Smokey Ham.And here are some “more than soup” ideas:
Turn lentils into a salad with chopped veggies and a favorite vinaigrette dressing. Try this over a bed of baby spinach leaves with a slice of hot crusty whole grain bread. Get started with this Lentil and Couscous Salad with Arugula.
Stew or simmer lentils and serve over whole grains, like in this Red Lentils with Garlic and Onions.
Cook up this delicious Slow Cooker Chickpea and Lentil Stew while at work one day.
Stuff cooked and seasoned lentils into pita bread with sprouts and veggies for a great sandwich.
Roll them up in whole grain tortillas with avocado slices and fresh tomatoes.
Make Lentil Walnut Burgers on whole grain buns.
Mix them with hot cooked grains.
Serve them over hot cooked pasta.
Turn them into a non-meat loaf.
Make them into a bean dip or spread, like this Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Hummus.
Serve them as a bed for steamed or sautéed veggies.
Try them as Lentil Tapenade.
Try them curry style. Here’s a recipe for Lentil Curry with Cashews and Yogurt.
All varieties of lentils are good but my favorite is the little French green variety, also called Le Puy lentils. They are about 1/3 the size of the more common green lentils. Although originally cultivated in France, they are now grown in Italy and North America. They are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals, similar to blueberries and black grapes. And they are high in minerals, especially iron and magnesium. Here’s a wonderful recipe for French Lentils with Onion and Carrot.Do you love lentils? Got a favorite lentil recipe? I’d love to hear about it!