Lentils are a cheap, versatile and simple food which I believe should be included in all diets. Many people believe eating lentils gives you wind which is certainly not the case when they are cooked properly.
What is it?
Lentils are believed to have originated in central Asia, having been consumed since prehistoric times. They are one of the first foods to have ever been cultivated!
Lentils are legumes which are seeds of a plant. They grow in pods that contain either one or two lentil seeds.
There are many different types of lentil. Here’s a list:
- Red lentils
- Brown lentils
- Puy / French green lentils
- Masoor lentils
- Black lentils (Urid in Indian stores)
- Split black lentils (Urad in Indian stores)
- Yellow lentils
- Beluga lentils
Why are lentils good for me?
Lentils provide a great source of nutrition including protein as they contain all but one of the essential amino acids. However when sprouted this extra essential amino acid appears making it a complete protein. Lentils are also high in cholesterol-lowering fibre (soluble and insoluble), potassium, folate, iron, tryptophan, manganese, phosphorus, copper and B vitamins.
Studies suggest that the consumption of lentils on a regular basis significantly reduces the risk of heart disease due to the folate and manganese and also helps to stabalise blood sugars.
How to cook with lentils
Lentils are normally available in 2 forms; cooked and tinned, or dried. You can however sprout lentils from the dried form. Sprouted lentils provide an excellent source of protein containing all of the essential amino acids. They are delicious added to salads, sandwiches or added at the end of a stir fry.
The tinned lentils are cooked already so they just need a good rinse and can be eaten straight away (added to salads for example) or heated and added to stews, soups, curries for example.
Cooking dried lentils
The dried lentils MUST be rinsed in cold water and boiled for a certain amount of time depending on the variety you’re using. Cooking destroys harmful saponins and certain compounds called anti-nutritional factors or compounds, ANFs or ANCs. These compounds reduce the bodys’ ability to digest and use nutrients. Undercooked lentils may also cause upset to the digestive system and make you a bit windy!
Unlike beans and other legumes, lentils generally don’t need to be soaked in water but always follow the instructions on the packet before cooking.
- Add lentils to a saucepan and enough water to cover the lentils + 1″ above and bring to a boil.
- Turn heat down to low and cover to let the lentils simmer, but leave the lid slightly ajar so that they don’t boil over. Check on them occasionally to make sure the water has not boiled down below the level of the lentils and add more if required.
- When the lentils are tender and can easily be mashed with a fork, they are cooked. This process can take anywhere between 20-40 minutes.
- A large handful of lentils (puy lentils are a good option but any will do)
- A large glass wide-mouthed jar
- A muslin cloth to cover the jar
- 1 Rubber band
- Rinse the lentils and place them in the jar. Fill with water, place the cloth over the mouth of the jar and secure using the rubber band. Leave to soak for 8-12 hours or overnight.
- Rinse again and drain the water from the jar. There should not be any water left sitting in the bottom of the jar. If water sits and collects, mold will develop and the sprouts will go bad.
- Place the jar in a cool spot in the kitchen. I put mine on the windowsill but in the warmer months I’ll move it so they don’t get warm.
- Rinse the lentils once or twice a day. They should be ready after 3-5 days (puy lentils take about 5 for some reason) before they are ready to eat. Rinse, drain and transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge. They’ll last for about 5 days.
5 ways to cook with Lentils
Lentils are a highly nutritious food which is cheap and easy to incorporate into any diet.
- Spiced lentil soup
- Lentil curry (lentil dal)
- Feta and lentil salad (crumble feta, add 1 400g tin of green lentils, a generous squeeze of lemon, a glug of olive oil and a handful of fresh parsley).
- Add to casseroles
- Sprinkle sprouted lentils over salads or add to sandwiches for added crunch!