Lentils are pulses, which are the edible seeds of a plant. Their name is derived from the Latin term –lens, most likely due to their shape that resembles a convex optic lens. Lentils have been in existence for over 8,000 years, originating in the Near East and Mediterranean; back then they were known as a poor man’s food and often shunned by the rich. Today they are recognized as an excellent source of protein and are often utilized as a primary source of of it, particularly for vegans. About 50% of the world’s lentils are consumed in India. The flavor of lentils is a very earthy, savory flavor and, like mushrooms, they tend to take on the flavor of the cooking liquid, be it water, chicken, vegetable, or beef broth.
Lentils and split peas are are not the same thing, but they are cousins. Split peas have had their outer coat removed (thus, they are “split from their outer coats”) whereas lentils retain their outer coat. For this reason, split peas cook quicker than lentils. Lentils differ from other pulses (chickpeas, beans, peas) in that they do not require soaking. Simply rinse and add them to liquid.
Lentils Might Be The Perfect Food!
High in protein, low in complex carbohydrates, fat, and cholesterol, and gluten-free are just a few qualities of the amazing lentil. Based on the daily recommended intake (RDI) of a 2,000 calorie diet, a half-cup of lentils provides 26g protein and 18g fiber (72% of the RDI). They are also high in folate, offering 50% of the RDI, 25% potassium, and 45% iron.
This dish is filling, satisfying, easy to make, and quite cost efficient. In addition to the nutritional benefits of the lentil, it provides cartenoids (beta carotene), vitamins A and E from the carrots, as well as fiber from the celery, and the powerful antioxidant lycopene from the tomatoes.
When preparing lentils, simply rinse, add to liquid, bring to boil (uncovered) then simmer until tender. Like rice, lentils expand exponentially – three cups of water per one cup of lentils yields about 3-4 cups of lentils. Also, lentils serve as a thickener, so additional liquid may be required as the lentils cook due to the fact that they absorb the liquid. On medium heat, they generally take 25-30 minutes to become tender. When adding lentils to a sauce or soup, add them a minimum of 25 minutes prior to serving. When serving lentils as a side or stand alone dish, simply rinse, bring to boil, and allow to simmer until tender. Lentils may also be pureed and seasoned to create various curries and dips.
Lentil Soup (serves 12)
1 cup lentils
1 cup yellow onion (chopped)
2 cups sliced carrots, sliced to 1/8” (about 3 large carrots)
1/2 cup celery, chopped (about 2 stalks)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 28-oz can of petite diced tomatoes
32 oz vegetable broth (4 cups)
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
- In a dutch oven, add oil, onion, carrot, and celery; cook on medium-high until onions are translucent (5-8 minutes)
- Add tomatoes(with their liquid), broth, and bay leaves
- Bring combination to boil
- Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 25-30 minutes until carrots are tender
- Reduce heat to low
- Add lentils
- Cover and simmer 25 minutes, checking frequently on soup (more liquid or water may be required at this point; keep an eye on the soup so it won’t get too thick)
- Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste
- Remove bay leaves prior to serving
- Increase the nutritional value of this recipe by adding kale or spinach during the last 5 minutes of cooking
- The carrots provide a touch of sweetness to this soup, however, if a more savory flavor is desired, parsnips, turnips, or zucchini may be substituted for carrots
- Additional spices that work well in this recipe are cardamon, coriander, smoky/sweet paprika, or chili powder
- Add 1/2 to 1 cup of high quality coconut milk at the end of cooking to convert this soup to a sweeter, creamier version
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