Lentils are a type of plant called a legume, which is a class of vegetables. Other legumes include beans, soybeans, chickpeas, fresh peas, sugar snap peas and snow peas. Most legumes have edible seeds in pods, which split evenly in half. Some of the pods themselves are also edible (like sugar snap peas and snow peas).
Lentils are higher in protein than most beans: ½ cup of most cooked beans contains 6-8 grams of protein while ½ cup of cooked lentils has about 9-12 grams of protein.) As a result, lentils are a good substitute for meat. Lentils are a very low fat legume. Some legumes such as soybeans contain a fair amount of fat. A ½ cup of cooked lentils has 0.5 grams of fat while 3 ounces of extra firm tofu has 4.5 grams of fat. Lentils also contain folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium and fiber (8 grams per ½ cup).All legumes including lentils are great for soil health since they grow without taking nitrogen from the soil and actually return extra nitrogen to the soil in the fields. It’s a win-win for both farmers and the environment. When a field is planted with legumes for 1-2 years, the field will need less fertilizer the next time a crop of corn is grown.
There are a number of different varieties of lentils available at the grocery store. After cooking the different varieties, they will have different textures and therefore different uses. The most common lentils found at most national supermarkets in the US are flat green lentils and brown lentils. These are the largest and flattest of the lentils and have a mild flavor. They absorb water when cooked and soften but don’t completely lose their shape. These types are usually used in soups and in lentil burgers.
French green lentils (also called Puy lentils) are smaller and rounder than the flat lentils. They maintain their shape when cooked and are good to use for salads, side dishes or as the base for a grain bowl. Black lentils are also good to use for salads or side dishes since they remain round after cooking. They are the most nutritious of the lentil varieties and have a strong, earthy flavor (similar to black beans). They are often called beluga lentils since they look similar to beluga caviar.
Red and yellow lentils are much smaller and have a milder flavor compared to the other lentil varieties. Red lentils (which are actually more orange in color) tend to be sweeter than yellow lentils. Both red and yellow lentils are often used in Indian and Middle Eastern cultures. They don’t have skins so when they are cooked they break down into a creamy consistency which is good for dishes like dahls and curries.
Uncooked lentils can last for years when stored in an airtight container away from sunlight. This makes them a good item to have in your pantry. Lentils cook quickly (about 15-35 minutes depending on the type) and you don’t need to soak them first. To cook lentils:
1. Rinse the lentils in cold water and look through them to remove any pebbles or clumps of dirt.
2. Place rinsed lentil in a pot and add cold water or broth to cover them by about three inches. Add a pinch of kosher salt.
3. Bring pot to a boil and then simmer on low heat until thoroughly cooked. Green and brown lentils take about 20-30 minutes to cook. Red and yellow lentils cook in 15-20 minutes, and French green lentils and black beluga lentils take about 30-35 minutes to cook. About five minutes before they should be done, taste them with a spoon, to determine if they need additional cooking time. If you will be using the lentils in a salad, remove them from the heat when they are just fully cooked so that they keep their shape when tossed with other ingredients. If using in a soup or to make veggie burgers cooking them a little longer will make it easier to smash them.
4. Drain the lentils with a fine colander or strainer.
5. Use the lentils in your favorite recipe or after the lentils are cooled off, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Many of you probably associate lentils with soup. But there are many types of food that can be prepared using lentils! For example: stews; lentil herb salad (with or without greens); vegan lentil burgers (which often contain bread crumbs and sautéed vegetables); lentil chili; lentil sloppy joes; grain bowls (lentils seasoned with garlic, cumin, thyme etc. over brown rice, quinoa, farro, barley or another whole grain with veggies; oven roasted vegetables with lentils; lentil tacos; lentils with sweet potatoes; and butternut squash lentil soup. Take a look at the recipe section of the Health Plus Website for some great lentil recipes!
Information compiled from: