|Cold or Hot, Lentils Deliver Serious Nutrition
I'VE SPENT the last couple of decades loving lentils and trying to convince my family that they should love them, too. Lentils are perfect for family meals because they need no pre-soaking and cook very quickly. Their taste is earthy and slightly peppery and they add a wholesome, homey quality to soups, stews, salads and side dishes.
But wait: This ancient legume can be admired for more than its short cooking time, versatility and taste. Lentils are among the most nutritious of foods. One cup of cooked lentils has protein numbers similar to a 3-ounce beef patty, and none of beef's double-digit fat calories. Plus, this unassuming high protein/low fat pulse provides an impressive amount of fiber, iron and other nutrients. All this, and they taste good, too.
A small, lens-shaped (the optical lens was actually named after the lentil, which is called lens in Latin) pulse, lentils come in a variety of colors and sizes. The most common is the khaki brown lentil available in every supermarket. Slightly more expensive and available mostly in specialty markets is the smaller green French lentil, and a tiny black lentil called the caviar lentil. There is also a tiny orange-colored lentil called the Egyptian red lentil, and a yellow lentil familiar to some of us as the ingredient used to make Indian dal.
The two lentils I use most often are the common khaki brown lentil and the green French lentil. If cooked even a few minutes too long, the brown lentil becomes hopelessly overcooked, which is why I prefer to play it safe and use them for pureed soups. The snappier-tasting green French lentil is sturdier and therefore is easier to cook to perfection. It's also why I like it most in salads. But in all fairness, when perfectly cooked, these two lentils can be used interchangeably in most recipes.
I tend to save my lentil soup recipes for the cold winter months when the house is chilly and I want to warm it up with the aroma of a simmering pot of soup.
So for now, while we still have some warm peaks in the day, I'm making lentil salad.
The good news is that whether I'm making soup or salad, my family has finally learned to love lentils, too.