Vegan Grandma

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Some Interesting Things About Lentils

Lentils are one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world.

Lentils are used throughout the Mediterranean regions and the Middle East, and are especially popular in India, where they are cooked to a puree and called dhal.

Lentils are not sold fresh, but are dried as soon as they are ripe.

Lentils, like other beans, are legumes. They grow in pods that contain either one or two lentil seeds They may be sold whole or split into halves.

Lentils are high in protein, cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, iron, most B vitamins, folate, molybdenum, manganese, phosphorous, copper, thiamin and potassium. The pigment in Beluga black lentils acts like an antioxidant and helps protect against heart disease, and cancer. Cooked lentils have only 230 calories per cup.

Lentils contain naturally-occurring substances called purines. In some susceptible individuals, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems, such as gout and kidney stones. People with kidney problems or gout should avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as lentils.

Lentils are available throughout the year.

Dozens of varieties of lentils exist in addition to the brown variety most common in the West, with colors that range from yellow to red-orange to green.

Brown lentils, also called Indian brown lentil, German lentil, green lentil , continental lentil, or Egyptian lentil, are the standard khaki-colored lentils you see on grocery shelves. They get mushy if overcooked. If you want them to be firm, add oil to the cooking water and cook the lentils just a short while, about 15 minutes.

The most delicate lentils are the peppery French green lentils, also called Puy lentils, lentilles du Puy , or lentilles vertes du Puy. They are choice lentils that were originally grown in the volcanic soils of Puy in France, but now are also grown in North America and Italy. They are good in salads because they stay firm after cooking and have a rich flavor. They take a bit longer to cook than other lentils.

Beluga lentil, also called black beluga lentil, beluga black lentil, or petite beluga lentil, glisten when they're cooked, which makes them look like beluga caviar. They're great in soups or salads.Red lentil are pink in the dried form, but they turn yellow when cooked. These lentils cook faster than others. They're best in purees or soups.

Indian markets also carry a wide variety of split lentils, called dal.

Lentils are available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. If purchasing in bulk, make sure that the bins containing the lentils are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure freshness. Whether purchasing lentils in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that the lentils are whole and not cracked.

Lentils stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry and dark place will keep for up to six months.

If you purchase lentils at different times, store them separately since they may be at varying stages of dryness and will need different cooking times.Cooked lentils will keep fresh in the refrigerator for about three days if placed in a covered container.

Unlike other legumes, you don't have to soak lentils before cooking. Spread them out on a light colored plate or cooking surface to remove, small stones or debris. Put the lentils in a strainer, and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water.

To boil lentils, use one and one-half cups of liquid for each cup of lentils. Lentils placed in already boiling water will be easier to digest than those that were brought to a boil with the water. When the water returns to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer and cover. Green lentils usually take forty-five minutes, while red ones require twenty-five minutes. Brown lentils take about 50 to 60 minutes. Avoid overcooking lentils, as they quickly turn mushy.

1 cup of dried lentils makes 3 to 4 cups of cooked beans.

Lentils have a mild, often earthy flavor, and they're best if cooked with strong flavorings.

Add onions garlic, herbs and spices to the cooking water, but add salt or acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, after the lentils are fully cooked because lentils cook more slowly when they are combined with salt or acidic ingredients.

For a firmer texture, for salads or soup, for example, remove the lentils them from the heat about 5-10 minutes earlier than their usual cooking time. If you are making dhal or some preparation that requires a mushier consistency, cook for 10-15 minutes longer than their usual cooking time.Bigger or older lentils take longer to cook.

If using lentils for salad, drain them. If using lentils for soup, do not drain.

Lentils readily absorb flavors from other foods and seasonings.

Lentils make great soups casseroles, salads, and stews; they also make excellent croquettes or patties.

The crisp Indian crackers called pappadams are made with lentil flour.

Combine cooked lentils, and chopped sweet peppers to make a delicious cold salad. Season with your favorite herbs and spices.

Toss buckwheat soba noodles with cooked lentils, small broccoli florets and leeks. Dress with olive oil mixed with garlic and ginger.

Moroccan lentil soup is easy to make. After cooking lentils, add diced vegetables of your choice and season with tamari, coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne.

Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tips, by David Joachim, published by Rodale


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