For being so tiny, lentils pack quite a punch. An essential component of any vegetarian’s diet, lentils are a rich source of protein. Unlike meat protein, lentils are fat free. Lentils are chock full of other nutrients such as potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin, vitamin B, and vitamin K as well as being particularly rich in dietary fiber, folate, and iron. Adding lentils to your diet offers a number of health benefits, from helping to control your weight to promoting heart and digestive health. They have also been dubbed as an “anti-aging” food by many doctors and experts.
Lentils are popular in many parts of the world, but mostly in the Indian subcontinent where the vegetarian diet is common. They are super easy to prepare, and most varieties of lentils are finished cooking within 20 minutes. Lentils are also economical and an ancient food that’s been around for the past 13,000 years according to archaeologists! In the U.S., lentils are mostly used in soups and they are now starting to catch on as being a healthy food to incorporate in one’s diet. They can be mixed in rice like in the Egyptian dish known as kushary, made into daal, fried into vadas (Indian doughnuts), thrown into a salad, or made into a hearty lentil soup.
We hope you are inspired to try this versatile legume, look out for recipes using lentils in the next few weeks. For now, enjoy our lemony chana daal recipe.
Types of Lentils
Lentils come in all shades of yellow, green, and orange, brown, and red. For the sake of convenience, here are the most common types of lentils we see in the market:
Red Lentils – These lentils range from golden yellow to orange to red. They are the sweeter and nuttier variety of lentils. They typically cook within twenty minutes, turning mushy, making them perfect for soups, curries, and daal. In the Indian stores, masoor (red lentils) and chana daal (yellow lentils) are popular types of red lentils.
Brown Lentils – These lentils are available readily at any grocery store. They have a mild earthy flavor, cook in 20-30 minutes and hold their shape quite well. Common varieties are Spanish Brown, German Brown, or Indian Brown.
Green Lentils – Green lentils take the longest to cook, sometimes requiring up to 45 minutes. They have a robust, peppery flavor. Since they keep a firm texture after cooking, they are great to use in salads and other side dishes. Examples of green lentils include Lentilles du Puy, Puy lentils, or French Green lentils.
How to Cook Lentils
- Pre-soaking lentils help to reduce the cooking time in half (only masoor daal need not be pre-soaked as it cooks in less than 15 minutes).
- Boil lentils in three times more water and avoid cooking with anything acidic – such as vinegar.
- Add lentils and water to a saucepan (with a lid) and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and cover to let the lentils simmer, but leave the lid ajar a bit so that they don’t boil over.
- When the lentils are tender and can easily be mashed with a fork, they are done. It usually takes about 30-45 minutes for them to cook (older lentils take longer to cook, so it’s best to just test them to decide when they are ready), or 20 minutes if using the split red lentils.
- Add salt in about the last 15 minutes of cooking time, so when you think the lentils are starting to get soft. Cooking often neutralizes the taste of the salt, so if you add it at the start you end up having to add more salt to get the same flavor. -Tips taken from The Healthy Eating Site
What do you like to make with lentils?
I make mash ki daal(urad daal) sometimes but it takes forever to soften. What are your thoughts about putting it in a slow cooker? Perhaps overnight so it makes a yummy breakfast….
I never tried cooking them in a slow cooker, but I have put mash ki daal in my pressure cooker and it cooks really fast! It also helps to pre-soak the lentils.