Lentils are good for us, easy to prepare and inexpensive to incorporate in our food budgets. Lentils originated in India. There are a variety of lentils providing a great protein source, especially for vegetarians and vegans. Look for lentils at your store and give them a try. With everything getting so high, these will be a good alternative for our budgets.
Red Lentils: require no soaking and are quick to cook. Easy to digest and perfect for soups, stews and Indian dal.
Yellow Lentils: require soaking and need a longer cooking time than the red lentils. To speed the process a pressure cooker can be used or break out the crockpot and let them simmer for the afternoon. When using a pressure cooker add a teaspoon of oil to prevent the scum from clogging the pressure valve.
Split-pea Lentils: a deep yellow color they have the same appearance as a green split pea and can be cooked in much the same manner, which requires time and watching. These lentils also can be cooked using a pressure cooker or crockpot, so do not let their cooking time put you off using them in your recipes.
Green Lentils: deep green in color and called mung beans in China, these lentils are perfect for sprouting or used in a wide variety of Asian and Indian recipes.
Black Lentils: often prepared in curry recipes, they are also used to make the lentil pancakes, poppadums and dosas.
Brown Lentils: most common type used in traditional lentil soup. When overcooked they turn to mush, which can work well when making a lentil pate.
French Green Lentils: small, flavorful and stay firm during long simmers. Great in salads, casseroles and stews.
Tips for Cooking Lentils
1. Place 1 cup of lentils in a strainer and rinse them well, making sure to remove any small stones or shriveled lentils.
2. Place in a heavy saucepan or soup pot, cover with 3 cups of water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, skim off any foam and simmer until tender. Depending on the type of lentil cooking time can vary from 10 – 60 minutes. 1 cup dry lentils yields 21/4 cups cooked.
3. Since salt, as well as, tomatoes lengthen the cooking time of both lentils and beans add these ingredients towards the end of the cooking process rather than at the beginning. Cook the lentils and in a separate skillet sauté onion, garlic, ginger and spices and add them once the lentils are tender.
Using Herbs and Spices
Lentils work well in recipes that call for strong herbs and spices and long cooking vegetables such as carrots, onions and cabbage, which add a sweet taste; vegetarian sausage or whole grains for a stew like consistency; spinach, kale or Swiss chard when making lentil soup; and always celery, which compliments the small green lentils in a compatible marriage of flavors.
Italian style lentils: use the small but hearty French green lentils with onion, garlic, dried basil, thyme, oregano and red pepper flakes. Add vegetarian sausage or other protein of your choosing.
Cajun Style lentils: sauté onion and garlic in olive oil and add a mix of chili powder, paprika, allspice, cayenne and thyme. Add the rinsed green lentils and water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender. Salt to taste.
Indian Style Lentils: cook red lentils in water. Meanwhile sauté cumin seeds, curry powder, onion, garlic, and ginger in ghee or coconut oil. Add to lentils along with a handful of baby spinach and simmer until greens are cooked. Salt to taste.
French Style Lentils: sauté chopped leeks in olive oil in a heavy soup pot. Add rosemary, thyme, savory and basil, then green puy lentils and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender. Salt to taste.