March 28, 2011

A word about Lentils

I have been looking for more healthy and wallet-friendly additions to our regular diet. Lentils seemed like the perfect solution, provided I could find some recipes that everyone here would eat!! Unlike the failed Brussel Sprout experiment of several years ago (there is no way I have found to cook Brussel Sprouts to make them taste good to us), I found several recipes for Lentils which looked promising! You could use them in soups, casseroles, salads, and many other ways. I cooked a pot of lentils (about 4 cups) and then stored the cooked lentils in the fridge - you can keep them in the fridge for at least 3-4 days. The first recipe I tried was a Mediteranean Lentil Salad, pictured in a tupperware container about to be packed up for lunch.

But first, for those unfamiliar with Lentils, here is what you need to know:

Lentils are legumes (along with other types of beans) that are rich in protein and hence are perfect ingredient for a healthy diet. While the most common types in the United States are either green or brown, lentils are also available in black, yellow, red and orange colors. For all the health-conscious people, lentil is the ideal ingredient that you should include in your diet. Unfortunately, many people overlook them, perhaps due to an awful-tasting meal in the past, or simply because of their appearance. But, if you’re after cheap, healthy and delicious meal options, you really should give lentils a taste.

Lentils are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Not only do lentils help lower cholesterol (and help prevent heart disease), they are of special benefit in managing blood-sugar disorders since their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising rapidly after a meal. Lentils also provide slow burning complex carbohydrates, giving you plenty of energy. Lentils also provide good to excellent amounts of six important minerals, two B-vitamins, folate, magnesium, contain many (although not all) of the essential amino acids, and are a good source of iron and protein - all with virtually no fat. There are only 230 calories for a whole cup of cooked lentils.

Some Cooking Tips: 
Compared to other types of dried beans, lentils are relatively quick and easy to prepare. They readily absorb a variety of wonderful flavors from other foods and seasonings, are high in nutritional value and are available throughout the year.

Lentils can be prepared the day of serving since they do not need to be pre-soaked.

Before washing lentils you should spread them out on a light colored plate or cooking surface to check for, and remove, small stones or debris. After this process, place the lentils in a strainer, and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water. Drain.

To boil lentils, use three cups of liquid (water or broth) for each cup of lentils. Lentils placed in already boiling water will be easier to digest than those that were brought to a boil with the water. When the water returns to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer and cover. Simmer until tender. Depending on the variety and age, cooking time may take anywhere from 15 - 45 minutes.

Salt added to the cooking water will toughen the beans. Add salt only once the lentils are completely cooked.

The high protein content in lentils makes them an excellent meat substitute, and a staple of many vegetarian diets.

Like beans, lentils can cause gas. The more you eat, the more your system gets accustomed to them. But, there are a few tips to try: Some say boiling lentils for 1-3 minutes after adding the liquid helps. Others insist that if you boil the liquid first and then add the lentils to the boiling stock/water that should solve the problem. I would avoid serving lentils on a first date!

Recipe: Mediterranean Lentil Salad


1 Cup              Lentils, cooked
1 TB                Lemon Juice, fresh
1 TB                Balsamic Vinegar
1 TB                Olive Oil
1                      Red Bell Pepper, diced
2 Cups             Tomatoes, diced
1 jar (6 oz.)      Green Olives (or black Olives), coarsely chopped
1/4 Cup           Capers (optional)
3/4 Cup           Green Onion, sliced

1 TB                Lemon Juice, fresh
1 TB                Balsamic Vinegar
3 TB                Olive Oil
1/2 tsp.            Each of Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Sweet Paprika
1 tsp.               Dill
Salt and Pepper to taste


Toss cooked Lentils with Olive Oil, Lemon Juice and Balsamic Vinegar.

Let Lentils marinate in the fridge for a few hours if you have the time.

Add Red Bell Pepper, Tomatoes, Olives, Capers and Green Onion.

For dressing:

Mix Lemon Juice, Balsamic Vinegar, Herb Seasonings (Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Sweet Paprika) and Dill. Whisk in Olive Oil.

Combine Lentil Salad with dressing and gently stir Salad.

Season to taste with Salt and Pepper.

** If you're planning to bring this Salad with you in a tupperware for lunch, like I did, I would suggest packing the dressing in a separate container and adding it to the salad just before serving **

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