by Anastassia Skarlinski
Lentils have been a staple food for a really long time – there is evidence of lentils being grown on the banks of the Euphrates River from 8000 BC. That period in time is considered the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Era. We have been growing and eating lentils since before we had a pot to store them in! While in Ancient Greece lentils were considered the food of the poor, they were also found in Egyptian tombs, indicating worth. Rich or poor, lentils appear to be a food of worth if we are still eating them 10,000 years later!
From a nutrition stand point it is not hard to see why lentils are still popular. Lentils are an excellent source of Niacin, B vitamins, Folate, Magnesium, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Potassium, and Phosphorus. They are also high in fiber and are themselves 25% protein. The protein found in lentils is not complete; it is lacking a few amino acids. You can make up for this loss by having your lentils with some grains, like rice, or some nuts. This will provide your body with all of the essential amino acids it needs. Lentils are also a good source of iron, which is a mineral many people lack in their diets. Your body uses iron to produce red blood cells in order to carry oxygen around your body. Without it you may feel tired and light headed.
While there are over 50 types of lentils grown worldwide you are most likely to see these types in stores:
- Brown- The most common lentil you will find in stores. They usually do not get mushy and are great for soups and stews.
- Green and Puy-Puy- These are smaller green lentils that are grown in France. They hold their shape well and have a light peppery flavor.
- Yellow or red- These are the lentils used most in Indian cuisine. They are split and as such cook faster than other lentils.
- Beluga- These are tiny black lentils that look similar to the famous caviar. They are most often used in warm salads.
Where do you find lentils in the store… and what do you do with them? Typically, you will find lentils where you find the dried beans. They often come in a small plastic or paper bag. You can also sometimes find them in the bulk section of the store. Before you cook lentils, you will want to rinse them, and check and make sure that there are no little stones hiding in the pack. I usually spread them in a thin layer on a light-colored plate. After that, you simmer them in salted water in a 2:1 (two cups of water to one cup of lentils) ratio for around 20 minutes. If they are small or split, they will take less time. I usually start checking to see if they are soft around 15 minutes or so. If there is liquid left over you can drain it and then season to your preference. If I am using lentils for weekly meal prep, I usually keep the seasoning neutral and toss them with a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. That way I can play with the flavor profile with additions like vinaigrette, chopped veggies, or feta cheese. Sometimes I make up a batch of this Thai-inspired dish—one batch is typically enough for about 8 servings—you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days or freeze it for 3 months.
Thai Style Curried Lentils
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 2 carrots, chopped fine
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 Tbsp Oil (coconut, butter, canola, whatever you have)
- 1 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
- 1-13.5 oz can coconut milk
- 1 cup stock or water
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce or soy sauce
- 1 cup brown lentils
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and garlic and cook 3 minutes, just until beginning to soften.
- Add Thai curry paste, coconut milk, stock, and fish sauce and stir to combine. Stir in lentils.
- Bring pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally for 20-30 minutes.
- Serve with rice, lime juice, and cilantro if desired.
You can add more vegetables with the onions. Bell peppers and ginger are great additions.
Adding a cup of kale or spinach in the last 5 minutes is a great way to add some color.