Cooking with lentils adds so much versatility to your diet and menu. There are many benefits to using lentils in your repertoire, mainly being that they are a nutrient rich legume full of protein and low in calories. Since I started cutting back on the carbs I consume and trying to replace rice in most dishes and entrees, I have turned to lentils quite a bit. And you will not really feel the loss because lentils offer such hearty and satisfying meals. There are endless recipes, but this is one basic one I love to use as substitute for rice or pasta sides. It pairs well with chicken, meat, seafood, and even as a filling meal on its own. Lentils are a fiber all-star, providing both soluble and insoluble. This means they are a great source for cleaning out your intestinal tract, improving digestion, and relieving constipation and other irritable bowel syndromes. They are also heart healthy legumes, rich in magnesium and folate which helps keep your arteries clear and improve the flow of oxygen throughout your body. These high fiber seeds are also excellent sources of slow-burning carbohydrates to provide you with long lasting energy. Because of this they are also excellent blood sugar stabilizers, so diabetic or pre-diabetic people will benefit greatly from consuming lentils in lieu of pasta or rice. Lentils are also high in iron which will improve energy levels, and coming without the fat, cholesterol, and high calories of red meat lentils make for a perfect meat substitute as well.
Well, I hope you are now convinced to eat a bowl of lentils every once in a while.
So here is my basic lentil pilaf. You can use a variety of root vegetables to add depth and flavor but onions are definitely always in the mix here. A tablespoon of garlic always tops that off. I like to add chopped fennel or celery if I have some and a few diced carrots. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper and simmer in either broth or water. Throw in a cup of fresh spinach at the top of your pot at the very end of cooking to add some extra greens, iron, and plenty of beneficial phytonutrients. I love spinach and lentils. Yum!
French lentils are a hardier, green lentil that holds its texture and shape better when cooked. So, if you are new to lentils which can get smushy if you do not cook it right, start with green lentils. You can boil them just like pasta, strain them, then toss with your sautéed vegetables.
Brown lentils are more typically used in Middle Eastern cuisine to make kushary, mjadra, and other dishes. These can get a little too soft if you do not watch the pot. They cook similarly to rice. 1 cup of lentils cooks in about 3.5 cups of water. The key is to let it boil for about 10-15 minutes first to get the cooking going, then turn it down to low.
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You should sort (for dirt or bad pieces) and wash the lentils well.
Sautee chopped onion, minced garlic, and add cumin and salt. When softened, add the lentils, water and simmer until cooked. If using green lentils which cook faster and keep their shape well, simply boil in water with half an onion then strain. Add the strained, cooked lentils to sautéed onions, carrots, and other vegetables.
Lentils are the perfect side to salmon! One of our favorite meals!
- 1 c brown lentils
- 4 c water (or 2 c water and 2 cups broth)
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp salt (to taste)
- pinch of pepper
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 c chopped carrots
- 1/2 c chopped fennel or celery (optional)
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- Sautee the onions and garlic in the olive oil over high heat and add the spices.
- Add the lentils and water.
- Stir well and bring to a boil.
- Boil for about 10-15 minutes until the liquid is at level with the lentils.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.
- In a separate pan, sauté the remaining vegetables until tender. Toss with the cooked lentils and serve.
- The other vegetables are not cooked in the same pot as lentils because of the long cook time lentils require. The vegetables will get overcooked and too soft if you do this.
- Another option would be to boil green lentils for about 15 minutes in water with half an onion. Strain and toss the cooked green lentils in a pan with the sautéed vegetables.
- Add fresh spinach to the pot at the very end of cook time to steam for about 1 minute.