To maintain good health, you must eat well. However, you should eat in a way that is good for both your physical and mental health. In these times of strain, difficulty, and seemingly perpetual crisis, you should have something to look forward to at the end of the day. Learning how to cook food that is tasty, filling, and nutritious will keep you fit and raise your spirits.
Enhancing your culinary skill is best done by mastering one dish at a time. You may have heard of lentils but have no exact knowledge of what they are and how they can be prepared. It is worth learning all that you can about this delicious and wonderfully versatile form of vegetable.
Lentils are most commonly used to make soup, but there is a range of lentil soups that you can cook. This article offers some basic facts about lentils, how to prepare and cook them, and the health benefits derived from eating them.
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What are Lentils?
When you first see lentils in a package at your local supermarket, you may think that they are a kind of bean. Technically, lentils are beans. They are members of the legume family, which means that they grow in seed pods.
Lentils come in a variety of colors, including red, green, brown, yellow, and black. There are bagged lentils and canned lentils. Whichever you buy, they are a rich source of protein, fiber, and other minerals.
A Bit of Lentil History
Lentils have been feeding and sustaining human societies for thousands of years. This legume is thought to have originated in the Near East and the Mediterranean. They have been used as sustenance since before recorded history.
Indeed, they are believed to be the oldest pulse crop and one of the oldest domesticated crops. Lentil seed artifacts have been found at archaeological sites on the Euphrates River. The civilizations found at these digs date back to 8,000 B.C.E.
There is significant evidence that the peoples of Asia and Europe, including the Ancient Egyptians and Romans, ate lentils.
How to Soak and Rinse Lentils
There are plenty of recipes for lentils. Once you have settled on one that you think will be tasty, you can prepare yourself to cook it. But before you undertake the latter step, you should soak and rinse the lentils.
The best reason to soak lentils is to avoid stomach problems. There is nothing unhealthy about lentil beans, but they do have a tendency to cause bloating and gas. This owes partly to their high fiber content. Experts also cite the anti-nutrient compounds in lentils, which can potentially block the absorption of nutrients.
Soaking the beans helps deactivate these compounds. Though soaking and rinsing lentils is no guarantee against gas, it will help reduce digestive troubles.
If you want to cook lentils for an evening meal, you will need to start early in the day. You must pour your lentils into a large bowl or pot, put it under the tap, and let the cold water flow until the pan is full. The lentils should sit for 12 hours.
After the time is up, drain the pot of all water. Then give the lentils another fresh rinse under the cold water. Once you have drained the water again, you will be ready to cook.
Types of Lentils
Lentils come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and consistencies. Here are some of the different types of lentils that you can choose to cook:
1. Brown and Green Lentils
These are the most common types of lentils. If you requested lentils in a restaurant, you would probably be served brown or green ones. They are larger than other kinds of lentils and have a lens-like shape. Brown and green lentils tend to soften and fall apart when cooked for a long time.
This is not necessarily a bad thing if you are cooking a lentil soup, as it will thicken it and enhance the flavor.
2. Red Lentils
These lentils are most commonly found in Indian curry dishes such as daal. They can be cooked in 20 minutes, and they tend to break down quickly when set on the stove. These lentils are, like brown and green lentils, all the better for their mushiness.
They are great for making soups and sauces.
3. French Lentils
These lentils look like orbs with a green-blue-greyish hue. They have a poppy-like texture and retain their shape when cooked. French lentils are best for non-soup dishes. However, you can use them in a vegetable broth soup in which you want distinct textures.
French lentils are most commonly found in salads. In this capacity, they are best served with oil, vinegar, shredded or crumbled cheese, and salt and pepper. A dash of lemon won’t hurt. They can also be served as a side dish with sliced raw vegetables. It is easy to adapt these lentils to your cooking recipe.
The thick skin of these lentils means a longer cooking time. It takes 45-50 minutes to cook them through. And you should check them regularly after the 40-minute mark if you want to serve them al dente.
4. Black Beluga Lentils
These lentils are known for being full of flavor. You can identify them not only by their color but their size and shape. They are small and spherical and are not so much black as a darker shade of brown. Black Beluga lentils have very thick skin. Like French lentils, they are good for salads and brothy soups.
You can also use them in hearty soups. To do so, you will need to cook them for 40 minutes or more. They will retain their shape and texture until this point. They will then begin to melt and fall apart like brown, green, and red lentils.
Health Benefits of Lentils
In addition to providing a tasty and flavor-filled meal, lentils are also good for your health. Here are some of the evidence-based health benefits that they provide:
1. Reduced Risk of Many Chronic Diseases
The long-term health benefits of lentils have been studied. Research results show that regularly eating lentils reduces your risk of contracting diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease. This has much to do with a compound called phenols in lentils.
Indeed, lentils are ranked as having the highest concentrations of phenol among all legumes. Lentils also help protect the heart and larger cardiovascular system. They contain minerals that are antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory.
2. Good for Your Digestive System
As we have already noted, lentils can cause bloating and gas owing to their high fiber content. However, the latter also promotes good digestion. It fuels the beneficial gut bacteria that are so important to human health.
Studies have shown that a diet that is rich in fiber reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.
3. Keeps Your Blood Pressure Down
Lentils are rich in folate and potassium, which make them great for managing blood pressure and cholesterol. They are also a great source of iron and vitamin B1 which helps maintain a steady heartbeat.
4. Helps Regulate Blood Sugar
Lentils have a low glycaemic index. This means they supply energy to the bloodstream at an acceptable rate, which in turn keeps blood sugar at a well-regulated and manageable level.
5. Good Plant Protein
Because lentils have a high concentration of protein, they are a great alternative to meat or fish. Nearly a third of the calories in lentils are protein. Although lentils are low in other essential amino acids such as methionine and cysteine, this shortcoming can be overcome by combining lentils with rice, wheat, or cereals.
Lentils are in general safe for everyone. They do, however, contain a naturally occurring compound known as phytic acid. This makes the minerals in them harder for people to absorb.
However, it is important to note that the phytic acid in lentils is lower than that found in corn, wheat, and soya beans; and phytic acid can be reduced by soaking and rinsing the lentils before cooking them.
If you have an allergy to other legumes such as chickpeas and peas, you should speak to your doctor before eating lentils.
What to Avoid When Cooking Lentils
Cooked lentils are an easy way to enjoy a wholesome and affordable meal. There are a number of lentil recipes available online. These include vegan flavor soup, dry lentils, lentils with olive oil, vegetable broth lentils, instant pot lentils, and recipes for beluga lentils and canned lentils.
The process of making them is pretty straightforward. After you have soaked and rinsed your lentils, you can follow any number of recipes that will make for a hearty meal. However, there are some things you should not do when it comes to lentils. The following is a list of what to avoid when cooking lentils:
1. Old Lentils
You may see lentils that are on offer at discounted prices at your local supermarket. You should not be lured in by this. They may be priced cheaply because of their age. Old lentils are hard and stodgy. They take forever to cook even if they are soaked.
It is much better to buy fresh lentils. You can buy canned lentils, dried lentils, or lentils in a bag. You should look at bulk bins when making your purchase. These tend to have fresher bags in them. You should cook lentils within two months of buying them.
2. Not Sifting Through Them Before Cooking
There may be small pebbles in the bag of lentils you purchase. This is rare but it does happen. That is why you must not only soak and rinse the lentils but also sift through them to ensure any such foreign objects are removed.
3. Not Adding Aromatics
Lentils all on their own have little to no flavor. This is one of the best things about them, as it allows you to add the flavor you want. Lentils soaked, rinsed, and cooked without proper aromatics will taste bland. It will make for one of the dullest and most depressing meals you have ever had.
It does not take that much to make lentils tasty. You can boil the lentils in chicken or vegetable stock instead of plain water. You should also add garlic, bay leaf, rosemary, and onion to the pot to give the lentils a rich and tasty flavor.
4. Cooking Them at an Excessively High Temperature
Lentils are best cooked at a gentle simmer. There is no way to cook lentils fast with high heat. All you will do is overcook them, which will knock all the taste out of them and leave them much too mushy to enjoy.
When cooking lentils, you should bring the pot to a rapid boil, and then reduce the heat so that the water simmers. This will get you the best results.
5. Adding Ingredients to Early
Certain ingredients such as salt, pepper, lemon, and vinegar should not be added to the lentils until they have been cooked. Adding these ingredients too early will prevent the lentils from reaching their peak tenderness. Doing so will also reduce the effect that you desire.
Your best move is to stir in the ingredients while the lentils are warm. It is at this point that the legume will absorb the added flavor perfectly. If you are using a slow cooker, you will want to apply the same method.