If you’ve been reading my blog for any time now, you’re probably aware that I’m in love with legumes of all kinds. White beans, black beans, beans of all sizes, shapes, and colors. And, of course, all kinds of lentils. East Indian cuisine refers to all of these as dal, or dhal, but I am used to the word legume.
The wonderful thing about legumes is that they are terribly inexpensive. I made sure both of my daughters knew how to cook beans when they set off on their own. If you’re on a budget, it’s really good to know how to create a lovely pot of any kind of beans. Cooked beans can be dinner, lunch, or breakfast. They can be a soup, salad, entrée, dip, side dish, and much more.
Lentils are also healthy because they have protein, as well as a lot of fiber. So between that and the fact that they’re cheap, it’s a definite win-win! I actually learned everything I know about beans when times were tough. I refer to those as our “lean” years. I managed a food co-op, which also helped with the grocery bill at the time, and spent a couple of years eating beans. But I still love them!
Today I’m focusing on lentils, because they’re even easier than beans to prepare. Mostly because beans are their larger counterpart, so more cooking time is involved.
My favorite are the lentils called Le Puy, from France, that I can order online for approximately $8. – 10. per pound. But there are both Spanish and Italian lentils that look and taste the same to the Le Puy varietal. Plus I just learned but haven’t sampled a French variety called du Perry. And I’m sure lentils grow elsewhere in the world as well.
The Le Puy are my favorite because they hold their shape, and they have a real meaty taste. But there is another, more popular and available lentil, at least to Americans. They are only called lentils. No other name. I used to turn my nose at this variety and think of them as inferior, because within minutes these lentils turn to mush. But they do taste good, they’re still healthy, and sometimes you want lentil soup. In that case, these are the ones to buy. They’re also less expensive than imported lentils, at approximately $1.20 per pound bag.
The Indian orange and yellow varieties also mush up easily, which makes them wonderful for soups as well, plus dips. If you want them to hold some semblance of shape, you just have to be vigilant when cooking.
Today I’m going to show how easy it is to prepare lentils. I’m doing a side by side cook of the regular “grocery store” lentils, and Le Puy lentils. By the photos, you’ll be able to see how differently these two varieties cook up, and I’ll give some suggestions on using them.
And speaking of photos, I need to apologize in advance. On this day, I’d taken a walk outside because it was warm and sunny, and when I came inside to cook the lentils, I completely forgot to change the white balance. What a difference that adjustment can make!
12 ounces lentils, dry
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Approximately 18 ounces of chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
When you’re ready to continue with the recipe, heat up the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
Add the onion and garlic to the saucepan and sauté them for 5 minutes.
Once one hour has passed, the lentils will have hydrated and almost reached the top of the water. Drain the lentils in a colander.
Then bring the lentils and broth to a boil, cover the saucepan and reduce the heat.
For the regular lentils, cook them 10 minutes. They will look like this when they’re done. When you give them a stir, you can see that they mush up, or disintegrate. Notice also that there’s no liquid at the bottom of the pot.
On the other hand, after 15 minutes, the Le Puy lentils have soaked up most of the liquid, and they hold their shape, even after vigorous stirring.
Because of the fact that the regular lentils disintegrate, I like to use them for soups. They can easily become a dip as well, but the dip won’t be pretty. Use your pink or yellow lentils for those dips.
Today I “souped” up the lentils by adding more chicken broth and giving them a good stir. I could have alternatively puréed the lentils in a blender for a smoother soup. Then I and added some grilled Kielbasa, or Polish sausage, and topped off the soup with a dollop of sour cream.
The lentils, of course, can be seasoned in any way you desire, and other ingredients like leeks, red bell peppers, celery, and carrots can be added to the aromatics. Thyme is really nice with lentils, as is some white pepper. Today I kept things plain, because lentils really have good flavor on their own.
In fact, curry powder ingredients go really well in lentils, as do any seasonings. You can even make them Southwestern as well, adding jalapenos, ancho chile powder, some chipotle peppers, and cilantro. Lentils are very versatile.
As you can see, the Le Puy lentils really hold their shape even though they’re fully cooked. That’s why they’re so perfect as a side dish like this, or on their own as an entrée.