Lentils – A Plant Protein Superfood!

by | Jun 8, 2020 | Article | 0 comments

photo: Pixabay/yilmazfatih

Many have the impression that cooking a healthy meal requires purchasing expensive, hard to find or obscure ingredients.  Much of the time, that’s not so!  Take lentils as an example. These budget-friendly, readily available, easy-to-prepare pantry gems are one of the oldest cultivated cooking staples across the world.  And, wow, do they pack a superfood punch!  Nutritionally, lentils are a great source of protein, fiber, calcium, iron, potassium, folate, and manganese.  One cup of cooked lentils provides about 230 calories, 18 grams of protein, 16 grams of fiber, and only 1 gram of fat. In addition, lentils are naturally gluten-free and are very low on the glycemic index.

Lentils are commonly referred to as a legume, but you may have also heard them called a pulse.  Oftentimes the terms are used interchangeably, but to clarify, the term legume refers the plant – one that produces fruit grown in pods. Pulse refers to the edible seeds of a legume plant, such as lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas and peanuts.  Although their origin can be traced to Asia and North Africa, today Canada is the world’s leading producer and exporter of lentils, followed by India and Australia.

SELECT
Lentils are most often purchased dried, although canned are available in some markets.  There are four main categories for lentil types – green, brown, red or yellow, and specialty lentils.  Although there are many sub-varieties, the most common ones found in grocery stores are whole brown lentils and split red lentils.

When selecting lentils, consider how they will be used.  Whole lentils generally hold their shape and texture making them ideal for use in salads or side dishes.  Split lentils are smaller and have the outer seed coat removed.  They cook quickly and tend to lose much of their shape, making them ideal thickeners for soups, stews or purees.

STORE
Dried lentils are very pantry-friendly.  Although the best quality will be obtained if used within a year, dried lentils will last well beyond that time.  Store lentils in the unopened bag or transfer to an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Cooked lentils stored in an airtight container can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for three to six months.

COOK AND USE
Lentils cook relatively quickly and do not require soaking ahead of time like dried beans, making them a great choice for weeknight meals.  They are traditionally used in many types of cuisine and are quite versatile.

Cooking lentils:
As a general rule, 1 cup dried lentils produces about 2 ½ cups cooked lentilsBefore cooking, sift through dry lentils in the unlikely event there is a stone or other debris, then place lentils into a mesh strainer and rinse thoroughly. If using canned lentils, rinse thoroughly for up to one minute to reduce the sodium content from the canning process.

To cook dried lentils on the stove top:

  1. Place 3 cups liquid (water, broth, stock) into a large saucepan with cover.  Add 1 cup of dry lentils. To infuse flavor into lentils while simmering, consider adding fresh or dried herbs, a bay leaf, diced or sliced onion and whole or crushed garlic cloves.  Get creative!   NOTE: Do not add salt to the cooking water so as not to make the lentils tough.
  2. Bring to a low boil, cover tightly, reduce heat and simmer gently over low heat until they are tender. Consult specific recipes for precise cooking times.  Drain any remaining liquid.
  3. Season lentils with salt after cooking is complete.  Toss gently to distribute.

Canned lentils can be used at room temperature, chilled in salads or heated in soups, stews, casseroles and other dishes.

TYPES OF LENTILS

BROWN
(WHOLE) 
  • Range in color from light brown or khaki to dark brown
  • Mild, earthy flavor
  • Commonly found in grocery stores
  • Hold shape well during cooking
  • Use in salads, soups, stews, casseroles, or veggie burgers
Cooking Time: 35 – 45 minutes
GREEN
(WHOLE)
  • Range in color from pale to olive green to blue slate color
  • Rich, earthy flavor, slightly more bold or peppery than brown lentils
  • Similar to brown lentils in shape and texture; hold shape very well
  • Use in salads, side dishes, as a base for fish or meat
  • Considered a high-quality lentil; generally, more expensive than brown or red varieties
Cooking Time: 35 – 45 minutes
RED OR YELLOW
(SPLIT)
  • Range in color from red to orange to yellow
  • Milder, nutty, sweet flavor
  • “Split” in half with the outer seed coating removed
  • Become very soft and lose shape when cooked; easily pureed
  • Commonly used in Indian Dal and Middle Eastern cuisine
Cooking Time:

  • on their own – 7 – 15 minutes
  • in soup, stew – 15 – 30 minutes
SPECIALTY
(WHOLE)
French Puy Lentils

  • From the Le Puy region in France
  • Dark slate color
  • Hold their shape very well
  • Rich, peppery flavor
  • Tend to be more expensive; commonly used as the center of the meal or featured side dish

Black Beluga Lentils

  • Small, shiny black color when cooked, similar look as caviar
  • Full-bodied, earthy flavor similar to a black bean
  • The most nutritious of all lentils
  • Tend to be more expensive; commonly used as the center of the meal of featured side dish
French Puy Lentils
Cooking Time: 20 – 30 minutesBlack Beluga Lentils
Cooking Time: 25 – 30 minutes

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES