Monday, January 4, 2010

Lentils: A Dose of Health and Deliciousness

Lentils are one of my favorite foods. This versatile staple is featured in a plethora of delectable dishes in cuisines across the world: Indian, Persian, Mediterranean, French, and many, many more. Lentil consumption is finally picking up, again, here in the United States. They have been a “poor man’s staple” in the United States for a while, but now, despite their extremely low cost, they are popular among all classes. They also make a great ingredient in the many, savory “pocket pies” around the world. These pies include Sambusas (East Africa), Samosas (South Asia), Empanadas (Spain, Portugal, South America), and Pierogies (Eastern Europe).

In addition to this fascinating tale, they’re quite healthy. They’re low in calories, fat and are packed with fiber. They contain complex carbohydrates - carbohydrates which contain three or more glucose (simple sugar) molecules and are highly branched providing the cellulose structure in plants. Foods with complex carbohydrates are higher in fiber, and the body breaks down the carbohydrate more slowly. High fiber results in higher levels of satiety, staving off hunger!

Furthermore, they’re high in protein. They contain all of the essential amino acids (those which the body does not make) except for methionine and cystine. However, when they are eaten with rice, or another grain, this is not an issue. And sprouted lentils do contain all essential amino acids including methionine and cystine. Lentils provide one of the least expensive protein sources to many people around the world.

Their iron content is another great nutritional quality. One serving contains 60% of the daily iron recommendation. The iron is in the form of non-heme iron, which is also not an issue because the majority of lentil dishes are made with lemon, or some form of citric acid, which converts non-heme iron to heme making it completely available to the human body.

The plant, itself, is feisty and durable so it grows easily and abundantly throughout the world. My favorite legume ranges from red to yellow to green to brown and even black. The lens-shape (for which they’re named) makes lentils one of the most versatile legumes in our kitchen. They do not require pre-soaking and easily cook in twenty minutes.

I have about a hundred recipes that involve lentils, but my favorite is this lentil soup recipe:

Lentil Soup with Spicy Yogurt Topping


2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 Lg onions, finely chopped
4 Celery stalks, sliced
2 Small jalepeno peppers, minced
1 Medium potato, cubed
5 Mushrooms, sliced
1 Lemon, juiced
4 Cups veggie broth (about 3 3/4 is best)
2.5 Cups brown lentils
2 Tsp ground cumin
2-4 Tsp salt
1 Tsp oregano
1/4 Tsp pepper
2 Bay leaves

Using a large stock pot saute celery and onion adding kosher salt four about a minute. Then
add the jalepeno and mushrooms last. Add the lentils and saute for about a minute.

Add water to broth to make 8 cups total. Add to pot along with cubed potatoes, lemon
juice, cumin, salt, pepper, oregano, bay leaves.

Stir to blend ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low to simmer for 45 minutes

When potatoes and lentils are tender, blend with blend stick until consistency is met


Spicy Yogurt Topping

8 oz plain soy yogurt
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/8 tsp salt

Combine ingredients and refrigerate

Nutritional Info:
Kcals: 288
Fat: 6g
CHO: 43g
Protein: 17g

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