Lentils are a great food for so many reasons. They should be a staple of any vegetarian diet, but are a great addition to any food repertoire. They are a low-fat, low-cholesterol, nutrient-rich substitute for meat.
Here is what makes them so special:
- They build your iron stores! A cooked cup of lentils contains 37% of your daily nutritional value. Apart from fortified cereals and soybeans, lentils have the most iron of any non-meat food source (see Table 1 to compare). Many women have low iron stores (12% of young women!), which can result in anemia. Vegetarians are particularly vulnerable to low iron, because they don’t eat meat, which is a great source for iron, but even meat-eaters suffer from low iron levels! (Other iron sources: all varieties of legumes, nuts, dark leafy vegetables, tofu.)
- Unlike other legumes, lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking.
- They are less gas-producing than beans.
- They cook very quickly, quicker than other legumes! Boiling them takes about 15-20 minutes.
- According to a Harvard study women who ate beans and lentils at least twice a week had a 25 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who ate them just once a month. (Source)
- They taste great when sprouted!
- They make a great toddler/kid food!
- Many varieties add different flavors and colors to your dishes: orange, green, brown, black, etc.
Below re two of my favorite recipe for making lentils is. The first is a great side or vegetarian main dish or lunch salad. It was featured in the August 2005 issue of Gourmet Magazine. It’s super easy and tasty. I have served it to company on many occasions and always get compliments.
Lentil Salad with Tomato and Herbs
- 1 cup dried lentils (preferably small French lentils)
- 1 large garlic clove, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 3/4 lb tomatoes, diced (2 cups)
- 4 large scallions, thinly sliced (3/4 cup)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
- 3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, or to taste (I usually start with 2 tbs. and then add more)
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan with lentils, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender, 15 to 25 minutes.
- Drain in a large sieve, then transfer to a large bowl.
- Toss hot lentils with tomatoes, scallions, dill, basil, vinegar, oil, pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste.
Easy…right??? By the way, you can adjust this recipe by including whatever herbs and veggies you have in your frig. If you don’t have any fresh herbs, it still tastes great with the dried versions or none at all!
Lentils with Rice (Mujadara)
Here is another favorite: a one-dish meal for a weeknight dinner, which can be prepared ahead. This recipe is adapted from one presented on Good Morning America. It’s so easy, that after making it once, you won’t need the directions anymore.
- 1-3 medium yellow onions, peeled
- 3 tbs. olive oil
- 1 cup lentils
- 3 1/2 cups cold water or broth
- 1 cup rice of your choice (sometimes I use quinoa)
- 2 tsp. salt
- OPTIONAL: Other seasonings of your choice: cumin, turmeric, curry, paprika, etc.
- Dice 1-2 onions.
- Heat a large frying pan and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the diced onions. Saute until quite brown and set aside.
- In a 4-quart covered pot place the lentils and water/broth. Bring to a boil, covered, and then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
- Add the cooked onion to the lentils, along with the rice and salt. (Add any optional seasonings.) Cover and simmer 20 minutes until rice and lentils are soft. If a bit of water remains unabsorbed, remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes and it will soak in.
- OPTIONAL: Slice the remaining onion into rings. Heat the frying pan again and saute the rings in the remaining olive oil.
- OPTIONAL: To serve, top the lentils with the sauteed onion rings.
- Accompany with plain yogurt, sour cream, or tzatziki sauce. Consider adding a lemony green salad, with tomato wedges on the side.
I sometimes make this recipe when I already have cooked rice or quinoa, in which case I cook the lentils alone according to step 3; when done, I put the lentils in the frying pan with the sauteed onion and additional olive oil, add the cooked rice, and saute it altogether for a few minutes.