The Mighty Lentil

By Mary_RD on Nov 05, 2010 10:00 AM in Recipes

Edited By +Rachel Berman

Considering that lentils are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet that have sustained man since prehistoric times and are unbelievably inexpensive, then why don’t Americans eat more lentils?  The lentil seems to be a forgotten or misunderstood food, and that is truly our loss.

Meet the Lentil

There are hundreds of varieties of lentils, separated by their size and color.  In the West, the most common variety is the round, brownish lentil that is shaped like a biconvex optic lens. (The word lentil comes from the Latin for lens.) Lentils can be green, black, yellow, orange or red, but the green and brown lentils hold their shape best when cooked.

Lentils were one of the first foods ever cultivated.  They are mentioned in the book of Genesis.  In India, lentil is a dietary staple served as the traditional spiced dish known as dal.  Lentils are in the legume family along with beans and peas. They grow on a small bushy annual plant in short pods each containing one or two lentil seeds.

The Perfect Food

Lentils are loaded with so many nutrients, particularly fiber (both soluble and insoluble), folic acid, magnesium, molybdenum, iron, protein, phosphorous, potassium, copper, zinc, thiamin, vitamin B6, and pantothenic acid.  If your diet was made up of only ten foods, lentil would have to be one.

Lentil’s nutritional profile is heart healthy in so many ways. Their fiber lowers cholesterol and stabilizes blood sugar, their folic acid, magnesium and vitamin B6 protect the artery walls, and the potassium and magnesium regulate blood pressure.  No one pill can do all that.

Preparing Lentils

Lentils do not have to be soaked but they must be washed and checked for small stones and debris.  To cook, add lentils to boiling water, turn to simmer, and cover the pot after the water reboils.  Brown lentils cook in about 40 minutes, green lentils take 30 minutes, and red and orange lentils cook in only 20 minutes at most.  Do not overcook lentils because they will turn mushy.

Serving Ideas

Lentils are served as full-meal soups and stews, main-course dishes, salads, croquettes, patties, and added to baked goods.  They are often eaten with rice because their amino acids are complementary and so, when eaten together (at least within the same day), their protein quality ranks as high as the complete protein in meat.

Read more: The Mighty Lentil


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