Lentils

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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.
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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.

Le Puy lentils on the left, regular lentils on the right

Le Puy lentils on the left, regular lentils on the right

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!

Lentils

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

Weigh the lentils and place them in a large bowl.
lentils7
Fill the bowl with hot water to about 2″ above the top of the lentils. Set the bowl aside for one hour.

regular lentils

regular lentils

Le Puy lentils

Le Puy lentils

When you’re ready to continue with the recipe, heat up the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

lentils8

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.

these are the regular lentils

these are the regular lentils

Once the onion and garlic are ready, pour in the drained lentils. Then immediately add the chicken stock.
lentils11

Add the chicken stock till it hits right at the top of the lentils.
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Then bring the lentils and broth to a boil, cover the saucepan and reduce the heat.

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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.
lentils44

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.

goodlentils
Remove the lentils from stove and let them cool. The regular lentils will continue to absorb liquid, but the Le Puy will not.

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.
lentils2
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.

For the Le Puy lentils, I also kept them plain, but paired them for lunch with curry-seasoned chicken breast.
lentils

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.
lentils1

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.

50 thoughts on “Lentils

  1. Oh Mimi, I too love lentils, of all sorts, and I really like your sausage and lentil salad. There are many varieties other than Puy and Berry in France, there are small light brown lentils called “Lentillons de Champagne”, and lighter lentils but of the same size as Puy lentils called “lentilles blondes de Saint-Flour”, and I am sure there are many more that I’ve yet to discover.
    Can I ask you why you soak your lentils? I was always told not to (and therefore never did), but I never asked myself why.

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    • I figured there were many more varieties, and I wish I could get my hands on them!!! I never asked myself why I soak lentils first before cooking, so it’s a good question. I’ve always heard to soak beans in order to remove what supposedly causes flatulence in many people. Although I think if you eat enough beans this shouldn’t be a problem. Just a theory. In any case, I think that’s why I started doing it with lentils as well. But it works out just the same in the end. If you soak them, then cooking time is minimal. If you don’t, then you must cook them longer. I think it also stems from the days a million years ago that a lot of legumes I purchased still had dirt and rocks, and a good soak was the only way to get rid of everything. I don’t know if lentil water has any flavor, but if it does it must be very bland, so I’ve always had good luck with the soak, a good rinse and drain, and then starting with the recipe. As you know, the wonderful le puy lentils don’t lose their shape, so I’ve soaked them even up to a day, when I’ve forgotten I had, and they still cooked perfectly!!!

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  2. I, too, love legumes! Somewhere…. I have a recipe from a Libyan friend for a lentil soup – I’ve gotta find it! I am able to find red lentils at local stores. I love those ’cause they too seem to hold their shape well. Thanks for letting us know that we can order those lovely Le Puy lentils online !!

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  3. One of the best meals I ever had .. and I can still recall the small and taste when I think about it – was at a little restaurant in Brussels, “Le Clef des Champs”. I got bacon on lentils – and it was served in a little pot with lid and when I lifted that lid … heavenly – a big chunch of bacon on the most fantastic lentils. Your lentils reminds me. Thanks!

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  4. I’ve only ever used regular lentils in soup due to the mush factor, but those French lentils look great! p.s. when I forget to change my white balance I use photo editing software to adjust it. Just a click of the “auto white balance” feature does it!

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  5. Fascinating Mimi. And all along I thought lentils were just plain lentils, that is, the store bought brand which I always use for Uncle Fred’s Lentil Soup. I’ll have to try the De Puy as a side dish. Thanks.

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    • They’re a little more expensive, but still cost relatively nothing for the pot of lentils you get from a little pound bag!!! Do try the le Puy or something similar if you get a chance. It’s just a different animal!!!

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  6. I’ve never soaked lentils either, only the bigger beans. Whatever I do unfortunately, I still find them difficult to digest. I have tried many different tricks over the years, then I learned they all contain polyols, a substance some people simply can’t process. I enjoy the memory of beautifully prepared lentil du pay.

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    • Good to know. I’ve always wondered, and assumed that they only affected people who already didn’t eat a lot of fiber. I’ve seen some people add baking soda. Not sure if that would help.

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      • I think I’ve tried every trick in the book. Just last week I cooked with chick peas again, I find it hard to write them off completely. I loved eating them, but was in a sorry state as a result. I have fructose malabsorption which excludes a random range of fruit, veg, grains and additives. Any food with short chain carbohydrates are an issue. As a foodie it is the most frustrating thing I have ever had to confront. Google FODMAP if you are curious.

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  7. I love lentils, and I’ve never soaked them (as others are also sharing), but i’m going to give that a try. We eat them quite often, but I’d like to try Le Puy. They look beautiful!

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