Lentils—How to Cook them in Delicious, Nutritious Recipes
Lentils—Warming Winter Food
With the onset of winter, here in Egypt lentils become a topic of conversation for many of us. This is a miniature article inspired by a friend who asked me for an Egyptian recipe using this tiny legume which is packed full of nutritious value.
What are Lentils?
Lens ensculenta. Lentils are legumes, seeds which grow in pods, each pod containing one or two seeds. Although they can be of many different colours, in Egypt the lentils we use are brown, when the brown coat is removed and the lentil split it is bright orange. Brown lentils are usually quite firm when cooked and are used in kojery, or eaten with bread, whereas the orange lentils are made into lentil soup.
The Origins of Lentils
Archeologists claim that lentils are among the first foods ever to have been cultivated; they have been consumed since prehistoric times and are thought to have originated in central Asia. According to the bible lentils were traded to Essau by Jacob and during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews they were also one of the ingredients of a kind of bread made at that time. Lentils spread further afield to Africa and Europe and were introduced into India where they are still highly regarded and used in the spiced lentil dish dal.
The health benefits of lentils are vast; they help in lowering cholesterol because of their fiber content and they prevent blood sugar levels from soaring after meals. That means lentils can be of great assistance to anyone who needs to manage blood-sugar disorders. Furthermore, lentils provide two of the B vitamins, protein, and six important minerals. All of these benefits but with very little fat content; a whole cup of this tiny legume when cooked only contains just over 200 calories. What a hero!
Eat Lentils and Reap Rewards in Health Benefits
There are several health benefits connected to eating lentils;
- Lentils contain soluble fiber that forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that traps cholesterol-containing bile and removes it from the body.
- Soluble fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels so that if you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, lentils can help you balance blood sugar levels while providing you with slow burning energy.
- Legumes are associated with an 82 percent reduction in risk of death from coronary heart disease.
- Lentils contain folate and vitamin B6, both of which are beneficial in preventing damage to artery walls and therefore decrease the risk factor for heart disease.
- Magnesium contained in lentils acts as a channel blocker for calcium thereby lessening resistance and improving blood flow and the movement of oxygen and nutrients.
- Lentils provide iron but are low in fat and calories so they can supply increased iron for pregnant or lactating women as well as for children and adolescents who need extra iron for growth.
- Lentils contain insoluble fiber that increases stool bulk, prevents constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.
How to Prepare and Cook Lentils
Lentils are not among the beans and peas that require presoaking and in fact can be quickly prepared and cooked which is so important when time is short or there are many mouths to feed. There are a few simple steps to be followed:
- Tip the lentils onto a plate to check for small stones that may be mixed in with them.
- Place in a sieve or strainer and rinse thoroughly with running water.
- Always boil the water before adding the lentils and never put salt in the water since this can toughen the lentils.
- Use plenty of water, just as you would for pasta; approximately three times the water as lentils because you can always drain off any excess.
- Cooking time varies with brown lentils taking between 20 to 30 minutes and orange/yellow split lentils approximately 10 minutes. Always check for the consistency required.
- When cooking lentils you can cook extra and keep them in the fridge or freezer.
Tasty Lentil Dishes for Cold Winter Days
Ingredients for Egyptian Koshary
- 2 cups brown lentils
- 2 cups rice
- 1 cup small pasta rings
- 1 cup pre-cooked or canned chickpeas
- For the sauce :
- 1 head of garlic
- 4 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1/2 liter tomato juice
- to taste chili powder/salt and black pepper
- cooking oil or butter as needed
- 3 finely chopped onions
- Crush and fry the garlic in a little butter. Add the tomato juice, chili powder, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste, cover and simmer.
- Meanwhile, in a second pan add 2 cups of lentils to 6 cups of boiling water and continue to boil until the lentils have softened. (About 12 to 15 minutes)
- While the lentils are cooking,in another pan add 1 cup of pasta rings to salted boiling water, cook until ready and drain. (About 10 minutes)
- While the pasta is cooking, gently fry the rice in butter; salt and pour boiling water over it. Cook until ready. (About 10 minutes)
- Meanwhile, in a heavy-based frying pan heat oil and fry the finely-chopped onion until dark brown. Strain (About 10 minutes)
- In a large serving dish toss together the strained lentils, rice, pasta and a third of the onions. Add the pre-cooked or canned chickpeas. Pour a ladleful of chili sauce over the mixture and fold in.
- Scatter the remainder of the onions over the top of the dish and serve the sauce separately.
Bob's Red Mill Cookbook