Lentils are one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world. High in protein, lentils are small, thin- skinned and fast-cooking, requiring no soaking. They are delicious, economical and extremely versatile.
Like many foods, the history of lentils extends thousands of years into our past. Among the first locations where they were found, was the region of Qalat Jarmo in Iraq. The popularity of lentils has spread all over the world and was used as a primary source of nourishment during WWI and WWII. India is the country where most lentils are consumed; over fifty varieties are grown there. Indian chefs have developed a national dish, dahnsak, where they use five to nine different types of lentils and curry.
Lentils come in a variety of colours, the more popular are in shades of brown or green. The small French green lentils are darker and cook firmer than the standard green or brown lentils. Red lentils are sometimes split and sold as red split lentils. They cook very fast and work great as a thickener in stews or soups. They turn bright yellow during cooking. Yellow lentils also cook quickly. Finally, there are black lentils also known as beluga lentils because they resemble caviar, tiny and hard to find.
So there you have it, a world full of lentils, just waiting for you to dig in.
If we look at the popularity of the lentil in different countries we will find the same story. Lentils were considered a poor man’s food. In fact, they were considered dangerous to eat. It was believed people could lose their vision or die from nightmares. Despite the threats, people continued to eat them. One reason might be because lentils are one of the best meat substitutes. To obtain 25 grams of protein you have to eat 136 grams of meat but only 100 grams of cooked lentils.
There isn’t much flavour to lentils; they need the company of spices to get tasty. If we turn to Indian cuisine we’ll often find recipes where the lentils are boiled with cardamom, fennel seeds, cumin, onions and curry. You can also boil the lentils in orange juice, apple juice, tomato juice, beer or wine. Cooked lentils can be used in a green salad, bread dough, and vegetable pate or as a spread or dip.
When preparing your lentil dish, measure out the amount of lentils you want to cook. Spread them out on a baking sheet and remove small stones and other debris. Rinse three times in cold water. Discharge anything that floats to the top. This is important as lentils are notorious for hiding small stones and they are no good for your teeth. If you choose to soak your lentils, always discharge the water. But you really don’t have to soak lentils as they cook very easily.
What I have found interesting with lentils in my cooking is that they work well with any type of traditional meal. The infusion of flavours in lentils can be balanced to enhance the taste of any dish. Next time you roast a chicken, try to stuff it with a mix of cooked lentils, spices and bread crumbs.
How to cook lentils
one and a half cups of lentils
3 cups water
1 tbs. chopped onions
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
one quarter cup crushed tomatoes
First clean and rinse lentils in cold water. Take a pot and let the lentils come to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let the lentils simmer about 15 minutes. Now add the rest of the ingredients and let simmer for another 10 minutes. Drain if you want to use the lentils for a salad. Some lentils like the split red and yellow lentils cook and fall apart after 10 minutes. This works well as a thickener in a soup or stew. In general one cup of lentils makes three cups cooked.
2 cups green/brown lentils
1 large eggplant, thinly sliced
5 tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely cut
2 carrots, diced
3 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 tbs. dried herbs: marjoram, basil, oregano
3 cups of crushed canned tomatoes
2 potatoes, small cubes, cooked
2 small zucchinis, sliced
1 tbs. finely chopped black olives
1 tbs. pine nuts
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
3 tbs. all purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup chicken stock
half a cup grated cheddar cheese
salt & pepper to taste
paprika for topping
Cook the lentils as described above. Drain and put aside. Fry the slices of eggplant and zucchini. Drain the oil and reuse the oil for cooking the onions and garlic. When soft add carrot, celery and spices. After five minutes add the crushed tomatoes, black olives and pine nuts. Cook for another five minutes. Remove from the heat and gently toss in the cooked potatoes and lentils. Prepare the sauce by mixing oil and flour. Gently heat and when boiling, add milk and chicken stock. Keep stirring until thick. Then cook for another five minutes. Set aside to cool down. Beat in the eggs, salt and pepper and shredded cheese. Take a deep baking pan. Grease with leftover oil from eggplant and zucchinis. Place a layer of all the cooked vegetables except for the slices of eggplant and zucchini. Pour two thirds of the sauce over the vegetables, then place the eggplant and zucchini on top and pour the rest of the sauce over. Sprinkle with paprika and bake in a preheated oven 350F for half an hour or until nice and golden brown on top. Let sit fifteen minutes before serving. Serve with a mixed green salad. This dish can be frozen up to six months.
Makes 6 servings
1 cup brown lentils
2 and half cups water
2 bay leaves
half a cup fine cut onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
half a cup celery, diced
1 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. mixed dried herbs like: marjoram, tarragon, dill, parsley and thyme
1 tsp. ground cumin
half tsp. sesame oil
half a tsp. lemon juice
half a tsp. sea salt
one quarter tsp. pepper
three quarter cup rolled oats
three quarter cup bread crumbs
Cook the lentils with the bay leaves until tender and splits open, about forty-five minutes.
Sauté the onions, garlic and celery until soft, add the rest of the ingredients. Mix in with the lentils. Process the oats in a blender. Mix the bread crumbs and oat with the lentil batter and start making patties. Makes about 12 patties. You can freeze them. Serve on Kaiser buns with a green salad.
Hungarian lentil soup
half a cup brown lentils
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 tbs. chicken soup base mix
half a cup chopped onions
half a cup dices carrots
half a cup diced parsnip
2 tbs. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup crushed, canned tomatoes
1 tbs. mixed dried herbs like: basil, thyme and oregano
2 tsp. Hungarian paprika
one bag spinach, rinsed and stems removed
Cook the lentils in water with the bay leaves until tender. Meanwhile sauté onions, garlic, carrots and parsnip in olive oil about five minutes. Add paprika, herbs and the crushed tomatoes and let simmer for another ten minutes. Add the cooked lentils together with the chicken soup base mix. You may have to add some more water if the soup is too thick. Just before serving add the spinach. Serve with fresh baked bread.
Makes 4 servings