Okay, I’m half winging this and half stealing it from utilizing Wikipedia. Let’s see what happens.
Trying to find foods that are low-calorie, high-nutrition, and work with my various tummy and blood sugar issues has led me deeper into a pescatarian diet as time has rolled by. One of the great helps on this journey has been lentils. The humble lentil, too often resigned to mushy, flavorless soups, is a versatile, nutritious, tasty pulse, and after only a try or two of some classic recipes, you’ll find yourself ogling lentils as if they were bouncy boobs at the gym.
There are numerous types of lentils. The most common in the U.S. is the plain green lentil, and it’s the one that is usually used in those dastardly soups I mentioned. Next most common is the red lentil, which turns yellow when cooked and is found in numerous Indian dishes, most commonly dal. Behind that is the French green lentil, which is not exactly green, but mottled and a bit smaller than the other two. And the last one that I’ve had dealings with is the black or beluga lentil, a teeny little variety that’s harder to find in stores in my experience. There are other kinds too, but I’m not going to go overboard with the explanations here.
For all lentils, the way to prepare them is to dump them into a strainer, first. Pick through them for any small rocks that may not have been sorted out in processing. (I’ve only ever found one once.) Rinse them under cold water, stirring with your fingers, and then put them in a pot with the requisite amount of water and a couple of pinches of salt, bring to a boil, simmer, and serve. That’s obviously the quick-draw version, and you will find more detail in any given recipe. Their flavor is there but extremely mild, so like most grains, they are a nice canvas to paint flavor upon.
Green lentils, which can be found for slightly over a dollar a pound dry (canned lentils would just turn into mush) in the Goya aisle at your local supermarket, are generally denoted as “lentils” in recipes. If you want them to hold their shape when you’re done cooking them, don’t stir too much or they’ll turn into mush. The best recipe I know of for green lentils is mujaddara. Cook up a pot of lentils and a pot of rice of any variety you like. Slice an onion into rounds and fry in oil until deep brown. Mix the rice and lentils together, adding plenty of pepper, and top with the onions. Eat. This sounds so boring, but my favorite cookbook calls it “one of the best things there is”, and I swear this is true. This is a slightly more fancy version, with allspice, but with just salt and pepper and fried onions it’s terrific. I like mine with brown rice.
Red lentils fall completely apart when they cook, but this can be quite an advantage with certain recipes. The best recipe I know for them is a savory soupy thing with mustard seeds, lime, and wilted spinach (OMG so good), but sadly it is copyrighted so I can’t share it here. This recipe is darn close to it, though, and if you search for dal or daal on your favorite recipe site you will find plenty, I’m sure.
French green lentils are small, hard little boogers that cook up separate from one another, like rice, and I only just made my first recipe with them last night. Since they don’t moosh together like red and green lentils, these are great for salads, and can be substituted in any nice bean salad that you know. Here is a good salad recipe, although I would replace shallots for the red onion. Much easier to get two tablespoons without having a lot left over. I’d also roast the peppers and make a dressing out of the herbs, oil, and vinegar, but that’s neither here nor there.
Black lentils, or beluga lentils, or black beluga lentils, are the smallest ones of all. They are hard and shiny and the prom queen of the lentils, very attractive on a plate (as you see here). If you can’t get them in your area, order a pound or so from the Amazon gourmet foods section – that’s how I got them. For black lentils, I can recommend this amazing veggie-burger-sort-of recipe by Heidi Swanson, my second favorite recipe maven. I admit it can be a bit of a pain to make these burgers, but they’re so worth it and you can fill them with whatever you want.
Nutrition, you ask? Lentils are full of iron, and have enough amino acids that they are close to a complete protein. They are also filling and relatively low in calories, which makes them a friendly food all around in my book.
For more information, here is the Wikipedia page on lentils. Photographs picked up for the price of a drink in various seedy bars on the internet. Get it? Seedy? Lentils? Oh, never mind.