Lens culinaris or that humble legume also known as the lentil is a nutritional powerhouse -
though most of us can’t see it (pun intended, lens… sight… get it)? And it has a major
advantage over most of its dried cousins. It doesn’t need to be soaked and it has a pretty short
cooking time. In fact, the only downfall of the lentil is that it often is packaged with the
occasional pebble or stone in the mix that you can guarantee your mother-in-law will bite into,
unless you presort your lentils before cooking.
The Lentil Family
Lentils come in a variety of colors though they are all bound by their culinary utility. They can
be used in salads, soups, stews, heck; Alton Brown of the Food Network even has a cookie recipe
with lentils. You may be familiar with the large brown variety found bagged in most
supermarkets but there are also red (actually more orange) lentils, yellow lentils, small black
beluga lentils (their shiny black color is reminiscent of caviar) and my favorite, the green
speckled lentil du puy from France. Some like the brown and green come complete with the
outer skin while the red and yellow varieties are split and skinned (though that means less
I usually use the brown variety in soups and stews and reserve the blacks and greens for lentil
salads since they retain their shape though whichever variety you choose, they’ll boil to
perfection in 15 to 30 minutes.
Lentils are grown throughout the world in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Middle
East. India produces the bulk of the planet’s lentil supply though most of it is for domestic use.
In the States, Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho produce most of our domestic supply. In
fact Pullman, Washington is the site of the annual National Lentil Festival. The annual Festival
includes a parade, street fair, crowning of the Little Lentil King & Queen and even a Tour de
Lentil 100k Bike Ride. This years Festival will be held on August 17 and 18, 2007 if you just can’
t get enough of the “edible lens”.
Lentils are an excellent source of molybdenum and folic acid and a very good source of dietary
fiber, manganese and the amino acids lysine and tryptophan. It also contains a fair amount of
iron, copper, thiamin and protein. Lentils also have a very low glycemic index and glycemic load
so they won’t spike your blood sugar after a meal which is a good thing if you have diabetes or
impaired fasting sugar.
A ¾ cup serving also has about 15gm of dietary fiber which is at least half of your daily
requirement. And like any legume, if they are consumed with some wheat and sesame protein,
they form a complete protein that can rival any animal protein – without any cholesterol and
very low in saturated fat.
A Lentil Buffet
What? You’ve never tried lentils and don’t know where to start. Well, let’s choose a lentil. How
about the packaged brown variety found at every supermarket. Next bring about 3 quarts of
water to a boil and add the whole 1 pound bag (after quickly picking through for stones) and
boil for 20 minutes. After draining, the cooked lentils can be added to chili, stews, curries and
soups as is. If you simmer these dishes for more than 30 minutes, the dried (and sorted) lentils
can be added directly to the pot – just add about 2 cups of extra liquid to the pot.
The next step would be to mixed cooked lentils to your favorite vinaigrette and toss with fresh
herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil, scallions, mint), chopped fresh veggies (peppers, celery, onions,
carrots, zucchini) and miscellaneous add-ins (crumbled feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, chopped
dried fruit, etc). Lentils salads like this is the perfect side dish to chicken (roasted, grilled,
poached), pork or fish. If you’re into one pot dishes, just add chopped cooked chicken or pork
directly into the lentil salad.
Finally, the next step would be to try the other colors of the lentil family. The skinned variety
of reds and yellows probably take only 15 minutes of boiling (and are better in soups and stews)
while the black and greens take about 25 minutes of boiling (and are best in salads). Hopefully
you too will see that Lens culinaris broadens your vision of this wonderful world of food. All
The Gochiso Gourmet’s Award Winning Chili Lentil Loaf
It’s been 10 years since I won the Hawaiian Electric Company’s Electric Kitchen healthy recipe
award with my take on a vegetarian “meat” loaf.
Chili Lentil Loaf
¾ cup dried lentils
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil
1 can (15 oz) reduced-sodium kidney beans, drained
1 can (4 oz) roasted chopped green chilies, drained
1 can (4 oz) chopped olives, drained
1 small tomato, chopped
2 tbsp salt-free chili powder
1 tsp cumin powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp dried cilantro leaves
1 tsp dried oregano leaves
3 egg whites
1 to 1 & ½ cup quick cook oatmeal
Rinse lentils and cook according to package directions, drain well. Preheat electric oven to 350
F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan. In a small skillet, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil, set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, mash kidney beans into a coarse paste. Add cooked lentils, onion and
garlic mixture, green chilies, olives, tomato, seasonings, and egg whites, mix well. Stir in oats
until mixture has the consistency of uncooked meatloaf. Press into prepared pan. Bake for 40
minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Cooking With Rose Colored Lens