Lentils on the radar screen

Nothing like a never-ending pandemic lock down to inspire me to investigate the darkest reaches of the pantry. What foods have been buried in there for months (or longer). Happily, I found lentils.

I really need to think about lentils more often. Lentils are a legume — a bean — but unlike other beans they don’t need hours of soaking and cooking. They cook up pretty quickly, more like brown rice or farro.

Other benefits:

  • inexpensive, even the gourmet varieties
  • versatile, especially the gourmet varieties
  • loaded with nutrients: all varieties

Like all legumes, lentils are high protein. And like legumes, but unlike meat, lentils are low fat, high fiber and loaded with other nutrients. Here’s a chart comparing nutrients for lentil varieties you can find at your big chain grocery stores or local speciality groceries. The listings are for 1/4 cup dry lentils, which cooks up to 3/4 to 1 cup, depending on how much water you use.

1/4 cup drycaloriesproteincarbsfiberiron
red lentils1801330153.8
black lentils180133094
French (green)1701329153.6
brown lentils1801330153.6

I left fat off the table, because the fat content of lentils is too low to bother about: less than 1 grams per serving. As you can see, protein is significant, and fiber is really significant. I included iron to show that lentils are a very good source of this mineral, an important point for vegetarians and vegans. Lentils are also high in potassium, magnesium, zinc and folate.

The most common lentils in grocery stores are brown lentils that are used in lentil soup. They cook quickly, to a soft texture, which makes them a good choice for soups. My preference lately is for black or French (green) lentils, both of which cook more like grains, to an al dente texture. They’re great for salads, whether cold or hot/room temperature. Red lentils are the choice for Indian spiced dal, seasoned with curry spices and garnished with cilantro and plain yogurt. There’s a recipe in “Feed Your Vegetarian Teen 2nd Edition.

I made a lovely salad recently with the black lentils I discovered in my pantry. It would serve 2 people with good appetites. Here’s what I did:

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup black lentils. You could also use French green lentils.
  • 1/2 avocado (or whole avocado, if you really like avocado), in chunks.
  • 1 red ripe tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion, or scallions
  • 2-3 TB minced cilantro, flat leaf parsley or fresh oregano, or a combination of these (a TB of fresh mint would make it interesting).
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • juice from 1/2 lemon, or to taste
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil, about 3 TB
  1. Cook the lentils in 2-1/2 cups water until al dente, about 30-40 minutes, depending on your stove and your preferences. The lentils should not be mushy or fall apart!
  2. Drain off any excess water and put lentils in a mixing bowl
  3. Toss with 2-3 TB olive oil, using a fork. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss together gently.
  5. Serve right away, at room temperature. Or refrigerate and serve cold on a bed of lettuce.
  6. Accompany with artisanal bread or flat breads.

I would have taken a photo, but the salad got eaten up quickly, so I didn’t have a chance.

Again, I highly recommend black and French green lentils for interesting salads or casseroles that are delicious and take advantage of lentils’ quick cooking versatility.

Copyright: All content © 2020 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.