How to Cook Lentils

Understanding Spices

We are willing to bet that you have a bag of lentils hiding in the back of your cupboard right now! They are just that kind of thing – you buy some intending to cook up a delicious dish but realise you have no idea how to use them. Not to worry! This guide will help you understand more about this fantastic ingredient and how to use it.

What are lentils?

Lentils are legumes, a plant family which includes beans and peas. One of the earliest domesticated crops, lentils have been used in cooking for thousands of years and are thought to originate from the Near East or Mediterranean area. Today, most lentils are produced in Canada, Turkey and India. The name comes from the Latin word ‘lens’, which also describes the lens-like shape of the legume. Lentils are commonly used in Indian cuisine, where they are known as dal or dahl.

Lentils grow in pods that contain one or two seeds. After harvesting, the seeds are dried and then sold either whole or split into halves, depending on the variety. But whichever variety you buy, these small legumes pack a punch when it comes to flavour and health benefits. Plus, they are very affordable!

Different types of lentils

Lentils come in an assortment of colours, shapes and sizes. These differences make them versatile when it comes to different dishes and recipes.

Brown lentils

These are the types of lentil you will most commonly see in supermarkets. They have a mild, earthy flavour and the colour can range from khaki brown to dark black. Brown lentils hold their shape well, although not as much as other varieties. Nevertheless, they are great in soups, curries or as a replacement for meat in burgers and loafs.

Green lentils

These are like brown lentils, with a more robust and peppery flavour. They range in size, and their colour can vary from pale or spotted green to a green/grey colour with hints of blue and black. They are slightly flatter in shape compared to other varieties but hold their shape well after cooking. Use them in salads, pilafs or on their own as a side dish.

Red and yellow lentils

This variety of lentil ranges in colour from yellow to orange and red. They are the only type of lentil that is sold as ‘split’, which makes them soft when cooked. They are great as a thickener for soups and stews, and you can also use them in hummus. Red and yellow lentils have a mildly sweet and nutty flavour and are commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Black/Beluga lentils

This variety is small, black and shiny, and looks quite similar to caviar. Black lentils hold their shape well and are great additions to protein and vegetable dishes. They have quite a soft texture and a rich, earthy flavour.

Puy lentils

Puy lentils take their name from the region in central France where they are grown: Le Puy. They have a dark blue/grey colour and a strong, peppery flavour. Puy lentils maintain their shape well, making them great for salads and soups.

Health benefits of lentils

  • Lentils are very high in protein and one cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein. This makes them a great meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians. However, they are not a whole protein, so you will need to pair them with whole grains like brown rice or bulgur wheat.
  • Lentils are high in polyphenols which have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects – helping to fight against harmful agents in the body
  • Lentils are also high in iron – one cup contains 6.6 milligrams of iron, which is about a third of your RDA. Iron is important to make sure oxygen is pumping round your body.
  • Lentils have high amounts of fibre, which is essential for many things including healthy gut bacteria, heart health, reducing risk of cancers, reducing risk of diabetes and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Lentils contain high levels of magnesium at 71 milligrams per cup. This is an important nutrient for many processes in the body, including maintaining normal nerve and muscle function, keeping the immune system healthy, maintaining strong teeth and bones and controlling blood sugar levels.

How to cook lentils

  • To soak or not? Many legumes are soaked before cooking. As well as making them softer and reducing cooking time, this also helps to remove any gas-producing compounds, making them easier to digest. But because lentils are so small, they can cook quickly without prior soaking. They also do not contain any sulphur, so you do not have to worry about needing to get rid of the gassy compounds!
  • You should, however, give them a quick rinse with fresh water to get rid of any dust, debris, damaged lentils or small stones.
  • For everyone cup of lentils, use three cups of liquid. Once boiling, cover the pan with a lid and reduce to a simmer. If you boil lentils too rapidly, they will split and fall apart, so a gentle flame is much better.
  • Lentils easily absorb whatever flavours you add to the pot, so our tip would be to use vegetable or meat stock instead of water. You can also add herbs, garlic and onions to give extra flavour and aroma.

Lentil Recipes

Why not try spicing up your lentils with these spice related recipes. Lentil recipes are a great way to help you eat and follow a healthy diet. keep your digestive system in a tip top condition.

Chicken Dhansak

Rasam – A South Indian Soup

Red Lentil Dhal

Sambhar Lentil Curry

Indian Lentils with Ginger and Coconut Milk

Time guide for cooking lentils

Here is a rough idea on how long you should cook each variety of lentil:

  • Brown and green lentils: 20 to 30 minutes
  • Red and yellow lentils: 15 to 20 minutes
  • Black/Beluga lentils: 20 to 25 minutes
  • Puy lentils: 25 to 35 minutes

In general, the longer you cook lentils the softer and mushier they’ll be. While this is perfectly fine for a stew or curry, if you’re planning to use lentils in a salad or side dish, keep an eye on them as you might want to take them out a little earlier.

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