Lentils are so versatile and healthy I can't believe we don't have them often throughout the year. There is no connection to the Lenten season, but the first syllable reminds of the merits of cooking this tiny little legume. It is great for soups, salads, stews and even as a dip.
Lentils develop a lovely flavor in 45 minutes or less when boiled in water, broth or with a combination of vegetables and liquid. Like beans, they should be rinsed well before cooking. You will need 4 to 5 times the amount of liquid to lentils: (1 cup lentils with 4 to 5 cups liquid). Green, orange, black, yellow or brown and plenty of colors in between cook into a variety of dishes.
I tend to have an overload of stock and soup makings on hand in our freezer this time of year, so it is nice to give them a renewal of purpose in simple soups and side dishes. This little prespring practice helps clear the way for all those vegetables I admire in the growing stack of garden and seed catalogs.
Lentils are a wonderful way to get more fiber into your diet along with calcium, vitamins A, B, iron and phosphorus. As the vehicle for adding additional vegetables or meats to lentil dish
Simple grocery store varieties are a super value often less than $2 per pound. I found tiny green French lentils for twice that and at the other end of the spectrum Black Beluga Lentils were about $6 per pound — very different than Beluga caviar. A pound of lentils (3 to 4 cups) cooks into a large quantity. Depending on the size of the uncooked lentils, you will get at least double the amount when cooked.
Lentil salads dressed with a bit of olive oil and vinegar are keepers perfect to have on hand for lunch at the office or at home. They are an excellent side to accompany simple broiled fish or grilled chicken. I plan to include more of these little legumes in our meals as we move into spring and summer.
Speaking of spring, the parsley and thyme are really greening up in the garden now with pretty chives not far behind. They will all make fresh additions to create some soul-
Love My Lentils Salad
This spoonable salad is a perfect accompaniment to grilled or broiled meats and fish. Enlarge it by spooning the lentil mixture over fresh spring spinach. High in fiber and nutrients it is great for lunch time or even as a dip with corn chips. Make it with tiny French lentils or the regular ones in pink, green or brown. Makes 4 servings.
4 cups water
1 carrot, sliced
2 green onions, sliced with tops included
1 stalk celery sliced
1 red sweet pepper
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dry mustard or Dijon
½ teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Dash of hot pepper sauce
¼ white or red wine vinegar
1/3 to ½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
• While lentils simmer prepare carrots, onions, pepper, celery and onions. Make dressing combining all ingredients but salt and pepper.
• Rinse cooked lentils in cool water to stop cooking and combine with prepared vegetables and dressing. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. This salad just seems to get better by the day. Make it ahead to allow flavors to marry. It keeps nicely for 3 to 4 days and is great to have on hand for lunch on the run.
Thick or Thin Lentil Soup
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
2 leeks cleaned and sliced including tender parts of green tops
½ cup chopped onion
3 carrots, sliced
¾ cup chopped Poblano or green pepper
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups lentils, picked through and rinsed
(2 cups diced peeled potatoes can be added if thicker soup is desired)
8 cups chicken stock or broth
1 (14.5 ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
4 to 6 cups fresh spinach
Prepare vegetables. Heat oil over medium heat in a large soup kettle or Dutch oven. Saute' leeks,onions, carrots, Poblano or green pepper and celery. Cook and stir occasionally just until onion softens. Stir in garlic and cook for another minute stirring constantly. Add lentils, chicken stock and tomatoes.
Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer covered for about 40 minutes to 1 hour. Add additional stock if needed to achieve desired viscosity. Lentils begin to fall apart the longer they are cooked. When ready to serve, place a handful of cleaned spinach in soup bowl and ladle piping hot soup over the spinach to cook it instantly in the bowl.
Cook's notes: I love fresh kale when it is available in lieu of spinach. Stir in sliced kale during the last 3 or 4 minutes of cooking as it takes a little longer than the spinach which can cook almost instantly when it comes in contact with the steamy hot soup.