The fifth South African food based dietary guideline (SAFBDG) states “Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soy regularly”. This is such an easy guideline but I have gotten so many questions on the four items mentioned above. So to clear things up let’s look at the food items above individually. So let’s take a closer look at lentils in particular.
WHAT ARE LENTILS
The lentil comes from a bushy plant of the legume family, legumes are known for their lens-shaped seeds. The seeds grow in pods, usually with two seeds in each pod. There are over 20 varieties of lentils depending on the area they grow. They have different colours, textures and cooking times and therefore applications. They can be used for a variety of dishes from soups to salads. Some examples of lentils are:
Common varieties of lentils
Cooking time 20-30 minutes
Brown lentils are the most common type. Common varieties of brown lentils include Spanish Brown, German Brown, or Indian Brown. Brown lentils, like their colour, have an earthy taste, but mild flavour. You can find them in your local grocer or health shop. Brown lentils come in various shades of brown from light khaki brown to dark brown. When cooking the brown lentil it tends to soften and become mushy. This makes it great for adding to stews and vegetable soups to increase the protein. You can also use them to thicken your soups.
French green or Puy lentils
Cooking time 40-45min
These small dark green lentils get their name from where they were originally grown in the Le Puy region of France. Puy lentils are said to have the most flavour because they have a peppery taste. They stay firm when cooking and thus need a longer cooking time. They are best to add to dishes where you want a little crunch such as salads.
Cooking time 20-30min
These are often mistaken for their colour counterpart the French green lentil. Normal green lentils are slightly bigger in size and can be pale or mottled green-brown in colour. They have a mild peppery flavour. Green lentils cook relatively quickly so they are good to add to any simple dish such as a quick pasta or salad
Yellow and red lentils
Cooking time 20-25mins
These are the little colour shifters of the lentil world. They can range in colour from yellow gold to orange to red. Some types of red lentils when cooked turn yellow. They are the sweetest of the lentils and have an average cooking time. Being the sweeties also makes them softies as they tend to break down when cooked. Red lentils are often used in Indian cuisine to thicken soups. They are commonly also used to make the Indian dals which is a lentil puree.
Black or Beluga lentils
Cooking time 30-40mins
This is a lesser known lentil. This little shiny black lentil look like Beluga caviar when cooked. They are often more expensive than the other brown varieties but they too have a strong earthy flavour. They have a great texture and stay firm so are very good to add to cold or warm salads.
There are plenty of other more speciality lentils such as Macachiados which are a Mexican variety. Many of the less common lentils can be found at speciality food shops if you looking to add a little extra flavour.
Due to the variety of lentils their uses are endless. You can use lentils as a protein source in stews and soups, even as a thickening agent, or add them to salads. Just make sure to follow the guideline “Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soy regularly”
Recipe for lentil meatballs:
Lentil Mushroom Meatballs
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Yield: 12 meatballs
Serving Size: 3-4 meatballs
Baked meatless meatballs made with oats, mushrooms, and lentils. The perfect addition to a bowl full of spaghetti!
- 1/2 c. dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 c. water
- 8 oz. white mushrooms
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. red wine
- 1/2 c. vegetable or mushroom broth
- 1 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
- 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
- salt + pepper to taste
- oil mister or cooking spray
Combine lentils, bay leaf, and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. (Yes, the lentils will be undercooked–don’t cook them for the time indicated on the package!) Remove from heat, drain, and cool slightly. Discard bay leaf.
Add mushrooms and lentils to food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped.Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds), stirring constantly. Stir in mushroom-lentil mixture. Cook for about 4 minutes or until browned, stirring constantly.
Add red wine to skillet and cook until evaporated. Stir in broth, soy sauce, oats, and Italian seasoning. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste and allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Once mixture is cool enough to work with, shape it into 12 uniformly-sized meatballs. Place each in a mini-muffin tin that’s been coated in oil or cooking spray. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.
Lentils carry a variety of nutrients and also come in variety themselves. There is a lentil for every occasion and for any dish. So stock up on your favourite and make lentils a part of your everyday meal.