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Lentils makes sense for Lenten season

Sherrel Jones shares insights and recipes for lentils.
BY SHERREL JONES sjones@opubco.com Published: February 29, 2012
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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 dishes you gain even more nutritional value. These little legumes assure you will get plenty of nutrients for the money.

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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.

1 cup lentils

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

Dressing

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

Pick through lentils to remove any small stones or debris and rinse thoroughly. Place in 2 quart sauce pan with water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 25 to 30 minutes. (Tiny French or Beluga lentils may take slightly longer.) Lentils should be cooked until softened but still firm enough to hold their shape nicely. They should be slightly chewy.

• 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.

Cook's notes: Glam this salad up Italian style with sliced marinated artichokes, chopped fresh fennel bulb in lieu of the celery, chopped fresh zucchini instead of the carrots. Include some black olives and sun-dried tomatoes...Lentils can go Southwest with cumin in lieu of Italian seasoning, substitute sliced grape tomatoes instead of celery and cilantro in place of the parsley.

Thick or Thin Lentil Soup

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

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.

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