Everything you need to know about lentils
Welcome to the wonderful world of lentils
What are lentils?
Before we dive into the nutritional info and benefits of the miniature legumes, let’s talk about what they are. These little lens-shaped seeds (which gives them their name), grow in pods, sometimes called pulses. They’re part of the same family as peas, beans and peanuts, and they come in a variety of colours, including yellow, red, green and black. Lentils are a common substitute for meat in veggie dishes, and are a much loved ingredient in India when used in curries and dals as a protein replacement.
Different types of lentils
Lentils come in a rainbow of colours depending on where they’re grown. Their flavours vary across the board, from earthy and peppery; to lighter and sweeter finishes, so you can add your own seasoning to complement other ingredients.
Black lentils: These are sometimes called beluga lentils because they look a bit like beluga caviar when they’ve been cooked. They taste quite light, and some say they can detect a bit of a creaminess to them.
Green lentils: There are two kinds of green lentils, French and original. The standard ones are big and flat and work great as an accompaniment to a salad. While the French variety is much smaller with similar colouring to tiny watermelons.
Yellow lentils: The yellow lentil is nutty to taste and a little bit more complex than the red variety. They’re really popular in Middle Eastern dishes, used for the likes of purées, soups and stews
Red lentils: This lot are actually yellow lentils in disguise – they’re what’s left after having been hulled and split. And because they’ve had their outer layer removed, they cook quicker.
How to prepare and cook lentils
Despite the fact the lentil sits within the legume family, they don’t need to be soaked before cooking – just boil and simmer. So, once you’ve made your lentil decision, grab a few scoops, put them in a pan, bring them to a bubbling boil, and then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cover and let them absorb the liquid for around 30 minutes.
How to purée your lentils
It’s really easy to make a lentil purée. You can either use canned lentils, which will need a quick shower under the tap while sitting in a sieve, or you can use those you’ve cooked yourself on the hob. To whizz them into a thick paste, the general ratio is one cup of lentils to a quarter cup of hot water. Stick it all into a food processor, et voila.
Best lentil dishes to try
Lentils are such a versatile food, they’re used in all sorts of dishes, all over the world. They’re a great substitute for meat and can add some much-desired texture to vegan dishes, in the absence of meat or fish. To give you a few ideas, these are a few of our favourite lentil dishes from around the globe.
India: Red lentil dal
The red lentil dal (or daal, or dhal) is a delicious, hearty, meat-free dish, perfect as a small accompaniment or by itself. It’s made with spices, like cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, and a bit of chilli for those who like it hot.
France: Rustic soup
Get some French green lentils in, and whip up this colourful broth, made with plum tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, and pesto. Add some cheerful greens, like kale and spinach to brighten it up, and bon appétit.
United States: Veggie Sloppy Joes
Make your next round of Sloppy Joes veggie-friendly, by substituting the meat for lentils. Cook up some onions and peppers to support your lentils. And the sauce can be made with condiments you probably have in the cupboard, like ketchup, Worcestershire, and yellow mustard.
The Moroccan harira is a thick soup, made with chopped sweet potatoes, celery and carrots – bulked out with green lentils and passata. And for taste, the biggest names in the spice rack are involved too, including turmeric, garlic, cumin and cinnamon.
Mexico: Lentil and black bean tacos
No pollo, no problem. These lentil and black bean-stuffed tacos are super tasty. There are loads of pre-mixed spice recipes to look out for, to stir into your legume combo. Or if you want to make your own, they generally consist of paprika, cumin, onion powder, chilli, oregano and a pinch of salt.
How to store lentils
Lentils don’t demand a great deal of care, other than a cool and dry home. Put them in an air-tight container ( like a mason jar), and keep them out of direct sunlight. Probably right next to your rice.
If you’re looking for more tips and how-tos, check out the rest of our blogs right here.
More lentil recipes