I was shocked to discover a few days ago that a father-son duo very near and dear to me did not know what lentils are. Wuh?!? How could I have failed them so miserably that not only have they claimed never to have had lentils (which may or may not be true) but that they did not even have the word “lentil” in their vocabulary. Must quickly rectify. (Have already made them a simple lentil side dish and showed them the 6-or-so types of lentils that I keep in the pantry.)
Let’s do a little lentilography.
Lentils are basically one-half of the legume family (the other would be beans), which is a vital part of the protein food group (which also consist of meat and nuts, basically). The word lentil, in some other language (Arabic?) means “lens.” They are shaped like little lenses, thus the name. They have been around some 13,000 years or so and were domesticated early on in the Middle East. This makes sense, since lentils star in cuisine throughout the Middle East, India, and the Mediterranean, extending up into Europe (such as France and England). Like beans, lentils are sold mostly dried and also canned, and vary in color from red to yellow to brown to black to white, in size, and can be whole, skinned, or split. There is some overlap between lentils and split peas (like how peanuts are really not a nut, or tomato is really a fruit, or whatever).
Lentils are very high in protein. They contain fiber, folate, vitamin B, and minerals. They are important to vegetarians, who often eat them with rice to make a whole protein. Sprouted lentils are very healthy for you. And there are as many ways to cook and enjoy lentils as there are any other staple (think bread). They are naturally low in fat, very affordable, and easy to learn to prepare (much easier than bread).
I once posted a blog on What Economy? in response to a friend’s request for lentil recipes. I am going to re-post it here, in hopes that at least one of these very varied recipes will inspire you to either try lentils or to expand your lentil repertoire. These recipes are by no means exhaustive of the ways you can prepare them, but are some of the ways that I use them. (Also, remember that you can sprout lentils and then they become a great–and super healthy–sandwich and salad topper.) (Another note: although lentils are very easy to prepare, you do have to rinse them ahead of time, picking them over for stones. This is important; don’t skip.)
CROCK POT SLOPPY JOSHUAS
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat, in a skillet.
- Add 1 small-diced onion, 1 small-diced green bell pepper, and 2 pressed cloves garlic and cook until translucent.
- Transfer mixture to a crock pot. (Of course you could just cook it on the stove top, as well.)
- Add 1 cup crushed tomatoes, 1 cup catsup, 3 cups water, 1 1/2 cups brown lentils (picked over and rinsed), 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon mustard, 2 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup, 1 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste.
- Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
- Serve on (preferably homemade and/or whole grain) toasted hamburger rolls, with cheese if you like.
SWEET LENTIL CHILI
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.
- Add 1 diced onion, 1 diced red bell pepper, and 2 pressed cloves garlic and saute until onion is translucent.
- Stir in 2 tablespoons chili powder (or more to taste). (You may move to the crock pot at this stage.)
- Add 1 1/2 cups brown lentils (rinsed and picked through), 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (or whole, mashed manually), 1/3 cup molasses, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 2 cups water, 1 cup apple juice, and salt and pepper to taste. (You may also add diced jalapeno to taste.)
- Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for at least 20 minutes, until flavors have melded. I love to serve chili with a grain, so rice would be obvious here, but I like pasta or quinoa.
When I was in college, a Malaysian friend’s mother visited, and she came over to my house and made us a wonderful dinner of dal and rice. I had never had dal before, and I was immediately enamored. Unfortunately, she made her dal by feel and was unable to communicate any sort of recipe. But I make dal at home all the time–especially when the pantry is bare or we need to save money–and it is always popular and filling, much like American Spaghetti.
- Combine 1 cup red lentils (sorted for stones) and 2 1/2 cups water with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Lower heat and simmer about 20 minutes, until lentils are mushy. Do not leave very unattended and add more water if needed.
- Meanwhile, combine 1 clove garlic, 1/4 chopped jalapeno, 1 tablespoon cilantro, and 2 teaspoons minced ginger in a mortar and pestle or in a mini food processor.
- Add to cooked lentils and stir in the coconut cream off the top of a can of coconut milk.
- Taste for salt and coconut cream and serve with plain yogurt and chapatis or naan.
OUR FAVORITE DAL
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat.
- Add 1 medium, chopped, yellow onion and saute for 5 minutes.
- Add 3 tablespoons ginger and 4-5 cloves garlic, pressed, and saute another 1-2 minutes.
- Add 3 cups chicken broth (or veggie or water), 1 cup red lentils (rinsed sorted for stones), 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon optional cayenne, and 1 teaspoon turmeric. Bring to a boil.
- Lower heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until lentils are mushy.
- Whisk in 2 tablespoons ghee or butter and 3 diced roma tomatoes and taste for salt, cook another 5 minutes.
- Mound with 3/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro and serve with brown basmati coconut rice and chutney of your choice.
Mjeddrah is a very popular and straight-forward Middle Eastern dish. It’s very homey and filling.
- In a soup pot, bring 4 cups water (or broth) and 1 1/2 cups brown lentils (rinsed and picked through) to a boil.
- Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes, checking periodically that they don’t scorch.
- Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat 3-4 tablespoons olive oil. Add 1 diced onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and saute until onions are browning. Add 3/4 cup brown rice and saute until rice 3 minutes.
- Add rice and onions to the lentils. Cover and cook another hour, until everything is tender. You may need to add a significant amount of water as it cooks.
- While the Mjeddrah is cooking, make a fine-chopped salad of the following: spinach, cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, and bell pepper (and optional sprouts). Toss with a dressing made of: 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 clove pressed garlic, 1 teaspoon honey, and salt to taste.
- To serve, top lentils with salad and serve.
- Bring 4 cups veggie, chicken, or beef broth to a simmer in a large saucepan.
- Stir in 3/4 cup brown rice and 3/4 cup brown or green lentils (rinsed and picked over).
- Cook about 35 minutes, until tender, adding water if liquid has evaporated.
- Stir in 3 sliced scallions or 1/2 minced shallot, 1/4 cup minced parsley, and optional chopped almonds or walnuts, and serve as a side dish.
- In a soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Add 3 thinly sliced carrots, and 8 cloves thinly sliced garlic. Saute until soft.
- Add 4 cups water (or veggie, mushroom, chicken or beef broth), 3/4 cup brown or green lentils (yellow in a pinch, rinsed and picked through for stones), 2 cups crushed tomatoes, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 3/4 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon julienned ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon sage.
- Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 35 minutes, until lentils are tender.
- Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.
- Add 1-2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced, and 2 teaspoons honey.
- Cook, stirring frequently, until onions have browned.
- When stew is ready, add 1 cup frozen peas to the stew and cook until peas are hot, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately topped with onions and optional goat cheese crumbles.
- In a soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Add 2 cups fine diced onion and saute until it begins to brown.
- Add 3 tablespoons tomato paste, stirring in, then add 3 cloves pressed garlic, 1/3 cup fine diced celery, 1/3 cup fine diced carrot, 2 bay leaves, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 cup chopped parsley. cook for 3 minutes over medium heat.
- Add 2 quarts water (or veggie, chicken, or beef broth), and 1 1/2 cups French, brown, or green lentils (rinsed and picked over), and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer for about 1/2 hour until lentils are tender.
- Stir in 1 tablespoon dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar.
- You may let it stay on the stove to further meld until ready to serve. Optionally, you can remove the bay leaves, puree, and stir in cream, serving with garlic crostini.
- Soak 2 cups red lentils in water for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat 1/4-1/2 cup oil (probably peanut or olive) in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add 1-2 large, small-diced onions and saute until golden.
- Add 3 tablespoons tomato paste and 1/2 teaspoon paprika and stir in.
- Add 1 1/2 cups water, 1 head pressed garlic, 1 teaspoon julienned ginger, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir.
- Add another 1 1/2 cups water and the drained lentils, reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes, until lentils are mushy.
- Serve with injera.
RED LENTIL-LIME SOUP
- In a large soup pot, combine 2 1/2 quarts water, 2 cups red lentils (rinsed and picked through), 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 tablespoon butter, and 1 teaspoon salt.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until lentils are mushy.
- Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Saute 1 minced onion, 2 teaspoons cumin, and 1 1/2 mustard seeds or 1 teaspoon dry mustard until onion is soft.
- When lentils are ready, add in onions and the juice of 3 limes. Remove from heat.
- Back in the cleared-out skillet, melt another tablespoon butter over medium-high heat.
- Add in 1 bunch rinsed spinach and saute until spinach has just wilted.
- Serve soup topped with spinach and a dollop plain yogurt, and some optional cooked basmati rice.
This recipe is a shepherd’s pie, and the best recipe I have for one, at that. It is also the most labor intensive recipe here, but makes a special winter supper.
- Cook 3 medium potatoes (like Russet or Yukon) until they can be mashed properly. Set aside.
- Cook 1/2 cup brown or green lentils until they are tender. (I steam mine.) Set aside.
- In a medium sauce pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Saute 1 diced small onion, 3 chopped carrots, 1/2 cup shredded spinach, 1 chopped stalk celery, and 1 chopped large tomato, until carrots are tender.
- Stir in lentils, 1/2 teaspoon dry basil (or 1 tablespoon fresh), 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Simmer until the liquid evaporates and no more.
- Meanwhile, mash together the potatoes, 1/4 cup milk (soy or rice works well, too), 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil, and salt to taste.
- Oil a deep pie dish and spoon in the lentils. Top with the mashed potatoes and smooth over.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350F, until the top is browned. Broil if necessary, at end.
- Meanwhile, in the rinsed-out sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute 1 small minced onion and 6 minced mushrooms until soft.
- Stir in 2-3 tablespoon soy sauce, a pinch dry basil, a pinch dry dill, and pepper to taste.
- Remove from heat and work in 1/3-1/2 cup flour. Slowly whisk in 1 1/3 cups veggie, chicken, or beef stock.
- Return to heat and continue stirring until the gravy has thickened.
- Remove from heat and whisk in 1 teaspoon mellow miso. Optionally, puree gravy. I do this so my kids don’t see the mushrooms.
- Serve lentil pie wedges smothered with gravy.