Long considered a “poor man’s food,” lentils are actually a rich source of protein and nutrients and are easily digested. Best known as a main component of thick, filling soups, lentils are an important staple in Indian cuisine. Small and rather flat, lentils cook quickly and are highly flavored and aromatic.
Several types of lentils are commonly available: the more familiar brown or green lentils, generally found in supermarkets as well as natural-food stores, and tiny red lentils, which are occasionally found in natural-food stores and are a staple in Indian specialty shops. Then, there are de puy lentils and black beluga lentils, which add visual interest to many types of dishes.
Lentils are nearly 25 percent protein and are rice in minerals, particularly zinc, iron, phosphorus, and potassium. They contain an average amount of the B-vitamin complex relative to other legumes and a small amount of vitamin A.
Neither brown nor red lentils require pre-soaking. Brown lentils take 40 to 45 minutes to cook, and the red take about 30 minutes. Their flavor and texture, once cooked, are very similar, the difference being that the red lentils are slightly milder and cook to a pale, golden-brown color, whereas the brown retain their rather muddy hue.
Basic cooking tips
Lentils don't need to be presoaked like most dry beans, but you do want to rinse them and check for small stones and such.
Combine lentils with water in a roomy saucepan. Use 2 parts water to 1 part lentils (i.e., 2 cups water per 1 cup lentils) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover to let the lentils simmer, leaving the lid ajar.
Add more water if needed. Unlike grains, lentils don't need to absorb all the water they're cooked in, you can always drain excess liquid off. Add salt, if any, only toward the end of cooking time.
Brown or green lentils take about 30 to 40 minutes to cook through. It's nice to stop the cooking process when they're just tender but still hold their shape. Beluga and de puy lentils might take slightly less time. Red lentils take 20 minutes or less, and almost invariably cook to mush, so plan on that — they're best in soups and stews.
No matter what kind of lentils you're cooking, check them from time to time to monitor their progress and add more water if need be, but keep stirring to a minimum. If time allows, once the lentils are done, let the saucepan off the heat, covered, for about 10 minutes. then, drain any excess water.
Here are some of VegKitchen's lentil recipes:
- Hearty Lentil and Potato Soup with Leafy Greens
- Lentils with Spinach and Dried Tomatoes
- Curried Red Lentil Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Greens
- Stewed Lentils with Vegan Sausage
- Moroccan Lentil and Garbanzo Soup (Harira)