Well, my friends, I have had the week from Hades here, I kid you not. I will not bore you with the details, but let’s just say it was a winning combo with the husband out of town (as in Tasmania out of town) and myriad illnesses all around (we like to mix it up in this family!). We are slowly scraping our way back to health, and I credit just a tiny part of that to the mighty lentil!
Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean we have to be all hoity-toity and ignore the perfectly amazing little legumes whiling away the time in our cupboard. Yes, I’m talking about the lentils you bought recently but have considered too humble for your dinner party guests. I know that in betwixt these festivities you, like me, need some simple, healthy, and comforting food, and lentils are just waiting to be appreciated for their awesomeness. Lentils have been staples of Indian, African, and Middle Eastern cuisines for thousands of years, and it’s high time we all got on board! We visited India last December, and our favorite dishes by far were the incredible Bengal lentil curries.
There are many reasons to cozy up to this legume. First of all, they are one of the easiest ways to get your daily dose of fiber and protein (1/2 cup = 9 grams fiber, 12 grams protein!), and tons of other important vitamins and minerals, most notably magnesium, calcium, iron, folate, phosphorus, and potassium. Further, lentils — unlike most other beans (lentils are technically considered “pulses,” not really beans, but let’s not get technical) — do not need to be soaked and can be quickly cooked to perfection (whilst absorbing spices and flavors) in just 20 minutes. Oh, and certainly not least, lentils are inexpensive, usually under $3 for a 16 oz bag of organic lentils. As I say, what’s not to love?
You can certainly use lentils in salads, veggie burgers, and lentil roasts, but I like them best cooked simply and served warm. Here are a couple of easy recipes to add to your repertoire!
Curried Lentil Stew
- 2-3 t. olive oil
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped
- 3-4 carrots, chopped (or whole if you prefer)
- 1 cup cauliflower, chopped into florets
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cans diced organic tomatoes
- 1 cup lentils, green or brown (red are gorgeous but get too mushy!)
- 3 cups vegetable stock (or water)
- 2 t. curry powder
- 1 t thyme (dried)
- 1 t sea salt
- black pepper, to taste
- 1 T balsamic vinegar
- 1 T lemon juice
1. First, add onions and carrots to your heated olive oil. Cook for about 7-9 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add garlic and cook for about one more minute. You’ll want to just stop now because your kitchen will be smelling so very nice, but push forward! Your family is depending on you!
2. Rinse your darling lentils, looking out for stones, then put them in with the onion mixture, also adding the broth, tomatoes, curry powder, thyme, salt, and pepper.
3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 25-30 minutes. Add in your cauliflower and cook for another 10 minutes or so, until lentils and veggies are tender. Remove from heat, stir in vinegar and lemon juice, and you’re done. Yummilicious. I’ve also made this with sweet potatoes and added spinach . . . you really can’t go wrong! Serve over brown rice, baked potatoes, with cornbread or chips, topped with a dollop of soy sour cream and chives or other fresh herbs.
Easy Lentils and Rice (adapted from Veganomicon)
I love this recipe because it is so quick and takes relatively few ingredients or brain power, which is kind of where I’m at this week. You can also fancy it up by topping with chopped avocado, baked yams, broccoli, or caramelized onions. (To caramelize onions, just slice 2-3 sweet onions thinly, stir in 3-4 tablespoons olive oil and salt, then place in a baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.) I also love the pairing of lentils with cinnamon, so so good!
- 1 cup lentils (I like green or brown best)
- 1 cup rice, brown or white, rinsed (I have used jasmine and basmati)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 t. allspice
- 1 1/2 t. cumin
1. Bring four cups of water to boil in a large saucepan or pot. Add rice, cinnamon stick, and spices. Bring back to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
2. Add lentils (after rinsing!) and bring back to a boil, then simmer on low until liquid is absorbed, about 35-40 more minutes. Remove from heat, remove cinnamon stick (unless someone loves chomping into that!), and mission accomplished! If you went to the trouble to make the onions, throw those in there, of course. I often add a bit of sea salt and black pepper too, as needed. Try this alongside a fresh tomato – cucumber – red onion salad for a Mediterranean twist in winter. Happy lentil eating, my friends!