The lentil was an important crop in ancient Greece, where it was purported to have medicinal as well as culinary applications, but its use dates back to prehistoric times. Lentils are inexpensive, nutritious, and relatively quick cooking. For example, where beans may take several hours, lentils take only 20 to 40 minutes. They have a distinctive, somewhat peppery flavor.
Lentils are low in fat and high in protein and dietary fiber. These tiny, disk-shaped legumes also supply complex carbohydrates and good amounts of thiamin, vitamin B6, iron, zinc, and potassium. But they are particularly rich in the B vitamin folate—1/2 cup of cooked lentils provides almost half the daily requirement.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Lentils in the National Nutrient Database.
Types of Lentils
Discover the many varieties of lentils, from Persian to French to the common green lentils found in most supermarkets.
How to buy and store lentils
Look for undamaged boxes or bags of uniformly sized lentils that aren’t cracked or broken.
Don’t mix a new supply of lentils with older lentils. Older lentils, which are more dried out, take longer to cook, so if you mix the two together they will cook unevenly.
How to prepare lentils
Unlike dried beans, lentils do not need to be presoaked. All you need to do is to pick them over to remove any shriveled lentils or hulls. If you buy lentils in bulk, or from an ethnic grocery, you should also be on the lookout for twigs or pebbles. Rinse lentils in the hull. If you buy hulled lentils, they don’t really need to be rinsed.
6 recipe ideas for lentils
- Toss cooked lentils in vinaigrette while still warm (so they’ll absorb more flavor). Serve on a bed of spinach with crumbled feta or goat cheese on top.
- Add cooked lentils to tomato sauce and toss with cooked pasta.
- Cook red lentils in a highly spiced broth, then purée and serve as a dip for vegetables or pita chips.
- Season mashed lentils with some bottled salsa. Put the lentil purée, chopped tomatoes, and a little shredded cheese in flour tortillas and roll up.
- Serve a purée of lentils in place of mashed potatoes.
- Lentils and nuts have a natural affinity. Serve a lentil pilaf with toasted walnuts and apples.
Published April 14, 2016