Lentils are grouped with beans and peas as part of the legume family because, like all legumes, they grow in pods. Besides being packed with plant-based protein, folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium and fiber, making them nutrition powerhouses, lentils are flavourful and inexpensive, making them a staple in vegan and vegetarian recipes.
There are many types of lentils, but the three most common varieties are brown, green and red, and all usually come in dried form.
- Brown lentils. The least expensive, these hold texture if properly cooked. They can stand in for black beans as a side dish or in a vegan burger. They also work well in soups.
- Green lentils. Also called French lentils or Lentils de Puy, these have a nuttier flavour and stay firm when cooked correctly, and are best for salads. Newer to markets are Beluga lentils, which are similar in texture to French lentils but are black in color.
- Red lentils. The fastest cooking, these are most often sold split, lose their shape and turn golden when cooked. They are milder and sweeter than green lentils, and are perfect for purees and Indian dals.
Preparing lentils is simple:
- Rinse your lentils in a fine mesh sieve under fresh running water to remove any dust or debris.
- Cook on a stovetop, using 3 cups of liquid to 1 cup of dry lentils. Be sure to use a large enough saucepan as the lentils will double or triple in size. Adding a bay leaf or two for extra flavour works well.
- Bring the pot to a boil. Then reduce to a very low simmer, cover and set your timer. Check the lentils frequently, and add water if needed. Don’t overcook.
- Brown Lentils: 20-25 minutes
- Green Lentils: 18-20 minutes
- Black Lentils: 25-30 minutes
- Red Lentils (split): 5-7 minutes
- Drain the water from the lentils and discard the bay leaves.
- Season with salt after cooking – if salt is added before, the lentils will become tough. Garlic, cumin, thyme or other seasonings can also be added. Add cooked lentils to soups, stews and salads, or serve over rice.
- Canned lentils are also another great time-saving option – just be sure to rinse them under fresh water for about one minute in order to reduce the sodium content.
Photo by James Sutton