Oh the mighty lentil. It is loved by many and a mystery to others. While lentils are slowly growing more popular over here in the west I know there are still a lot of people who either A. do not know what they are or B. know what they are but do not know how or why they should be eating them.
I am here to present you with a little guide on all things lentils; from knowing the different varieties, how to cook them and answering why they are just so darn good for you.
Firstly, what is a lentil? They are small, lens shaped legumes that come in a variety of colors, textures and flavours. They are a nutrition powerhouse high in fibre, complex carbs and protein while low in fat and calories.
Why should we include them in our diet? There are literally SO many reasons to add these little beauties to your diet but here I've compromised a list of a few key ones.
1. THEY ARE EXTREMELY HIGH IN PROTEIN 1 cup of cooked lentils = 18-22 GRAMS OF PROTEIN!! Which is almost half the amount needed daily for woman and 1/3 the amount needed daily for men. This makes lentils an awesome choice for meat alternatives or soy alternatives.
2. THEY ARE SUPER LOADED WITH NUTRIENTS AND MINERALS Lentils are extremely rich in iron, folate, manganese, potassium and B vitamins!! They also are a great source of fibre. 1 cup of lentils generally equals: 30-35% of daily recommended iron 90% of daily recommended folate 45% of daily recommended manganese 21% of daily recommended potassium 65% of daily recommended fibre
3. THEY ARE DIRT CHEAP Here in Canada a pound of red lentils will usually cost anywhere between $2.50 and $4.00 (depending if it is organic or where you buy from) Which yields about 7 cups cooked! So In turn if you were to eat a cup a day for dinner you would spend around 3-4 dollars for the entire week! Making lentils a MUCH cheaper alternative to meat (chicken, pork) or even meat alternatives (tofu, tempeh etc)
4. THEY ARE LOW IN CALORIES This is a super amazing food to eat if you are watching your weight or wanting to lose weight. 1 cup of cooked lentils will generally equal 230-280 CALORIES!
5. THEY ARE EXTREMELY VERSATILE Lentils are these little hidden gems that can be used in all sorts of cooking and baking (yes even baking). They have a meaty like texture so they can turn boring vegetarian dishes into something spectacular. These are some of the way you can use lentils:To thicken sauces for pastaTo make creamy muffins or baked goodsTo substitute beef in tacos, meat sauces, shepherds pie and sloppy joes. To make homemade veggie burgers and "meat" balls. To make perfect stews, soups and dals.
6. THERE ARE A TON OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF LENTILS WITH DIFFERENT COLOURS/TEXTURES AND FLAVOURS The most common lentils you will come across are:
RED= good for dals, soups, thickeners in pasta sauces, burgers, curry and baking!
GREEN OR FRENCH= good for topping off salads and also as warm side dishes as they have a more firm texture!
BROWN= good for hearty, meaty dishes like pasta "meat" sauce, sloppy joes, shepherds pie, stews, tacos, lentil "meat" loaf (my fav) and lots more!
BLACK= good for salad bases, curries and basic spiced lentil meals. Black lentils are the most nutritious out of all!
SO HOW DO I COOK THEM? Before cooking any variety of lentil always make sure you rinse them completely and pick through for any stones. I usually rinse them a few times through until the water runs clear. NOTE: lentils do not NEED to be soaked but if you suffer from any digestion problems I suggest soaking them either overnight or even for a few hours before cooking.
COOKING METHOD! Place lentils in a pot and fill the pot with water so the lentils are fully submerged, then bring to a boil . Simmer for 15-40 minutes (depending on variety of lentil chosen and pre soak time) Once they are cooked to your desired texture, strain them and rinse with cold water.
COOKING TIME FOR EACH VARIETY: RED= (Fastest) Not soaked takes 15-20 minutes, pre soaked can take 5-10 minutes! This is the mushiest variety GREEN/FRENCH= (Longest) Not soaked takes 30-35 minutes, pre soaked can take 20-30. This is the firmest variety. BROWN= Not soaked takes 20-30 minutes, pre soaked can take 15 minutes. This variety holds it shapes well as long as it is not overcooked. BLACK= Not soaked takes about 20-30 minutes, pre soaked can take 15 minutes. This variety will hold its shape well.
Lentils are my absolute favourite protein packed food to cook with and I never go a week without cooking them!! The versatility makes it one of the easiest foods to cook with and allows for amazing meals to be made super quick and easy.
Hope this guide helps you explore the wonderfully delicious and nutritious realm of lentils. Namaste!