You gotta love the lentil.
The small, lens-shaped legume lets its showy cousins, the bean and the pea, take the spotlight. But cooks the world over know that lentils are an easy and quick preparation with a unique flavor. This is a food that plays well with others.
From a nutritional standpoint, lentils are hard to beat. High in fiber and protein, they also are loaded with folic acid, iron, phosphorus and potassium, according to the Mayo Clinic. Lentils also are low on the glycemic index.
The flavor and texture of lentils are distinct from other legumes', but hard to describe. Joel Mertens, an executive chef in Tacoma, Wash., said the flavor has an earthiness with an almost meaty texture. Like most chefs, he appreciates the lentil's ability to meld with other flavors and uses them in a wide variety of dishes.
"Lentils remind me of my childhood when my mother would make lentil-and-sausage soup ... the smell of the kitchen and the memories of being called into the house for dinner from playing outside in the tree house," Mertens said.
Food and features writer Stacee Sledge, of Olympia, Wash., makes lentil tacos for her husband and two kids. "I love that it's a healthier version of the greasy beef-and-taco-seasoning-packet recipe I grew up on in Iowa. Substituting lentils for beef means no guilt, it's cheaper to make, and tastes just as yummy. Call me a convert."
Though gaining in popularity in the U.S., more lentils are exported than consumed here. Klaiber said 70 percent of the Palouse crop is exported, mainly to India and Spain.
A large part of the lentil's appeal is its quick prep and cooking time. Unlike beans and other legumes, lentils do not require presoaking, only washing. After that they cook in 15 to 30 minutes.
Though lentils come in a wide range of types, the newbie lentil cook can start with three main varieties:
-- Brown lentils: These soften easily, making them ideal for soups.
-- Green (French) lentils: These stay firmer when cooked and have a more distinct flavor. Use in salads.
-- Red lentils: A pretty pink when dried, they turn yellow when cooked. With a mild and sweeter taste, they are used in purees and Indian daals.
1 finely chopped yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup dried brown lentils, rinsed
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Shredded cheddar cheese
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until softened. Add lentils, chili powder, cumin and oregano, then cook and stir for a minute or two.
Add broth and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Check lentils for doneness at 35 minutes; it can take as much as 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for a few minutes until any remaining moisture dissipates.
The lentil preparation can be used in tacos, burritos or tostadas.
Swirl a bit of sour cream onto a tortilla and then heap about 1/4 cup of the lentil mixture on top of that. Top with a bit of shredded cheddar and a dollop of salsa. Sliced red onion can make a flavorful and colorful garnish.
Source: Stacee Sledge
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MARINATED LENTILLES DU PUY
Yield: 4 servings
3 medium red beets with greens
2 cups dried French green lentils (lentilles du Puy)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
8 cups vegetable stock, chicken stock or water
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup store-bought citrus vinaigrette or homemade orange vinaigrette (see note), divided
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 large or 2 small heads romaine lettuce, leaves washed and dried
3 medium oranges, peeled, seeded and sectioned
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a shallow baking dish with vegetable oil.
Trim the leaves from the beets, discarding any bruised or rotten leaves. Set the greens aside. Scrub each beet and place in the prepared baking dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake until beets are fork-tender, about 1 hour. Let the beets cool to room temperature, then slip them out of their skins and slice into 1/4-inch-thick rounds.
Meanwhile, cook the lentils. Combine lentils, garlic, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and stock in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and let cook, covered, until lentils are almost tender, 30 to 40 minutes.
Trim away and discard the tough stems from beet greens. Stack the leaves, roll them into a tight cylinder and cut them crosswise into 1/4-inch ribbons. Add the sliced beet greens to the lentils, and continue cooking until the lentils are fully tender, but still hold their shape, about 10 minutes more.
Drain off excess liquid, and discard bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Transfer lentils to a large bowl; let cool to room temperature.
Toss the red onion into the lentils. Make sure the vinaigrette is fully combined and add 1/2 cup to the lentil mixture, tossing well to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then cover and refrigerate.
In another bowl, toss beets with the remaining 1/4 cup dressing. Cover and chill. Recipe can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance.
About an hour before serving, bring the beets and the lentil mixture to room temperature. When ready to serve, place romaine lettuce leaves on one large plate or divide among 4 small serving plates. Overlap beets on top of romaine, mound the lentil salad over that and scatter orange sections and toasted walnuts on top.
Note: To make your own orange vinaigrette, combine the juice and grated zest of 1 orange, 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar, 1 clove pressed garlic, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well to combine, then taste and add more sweetener if desired. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 10 days. Yield: 3/4 cup.
-- Adapted from "Bean by Bean" by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman, 2012)
PUNJABI SPECIAL DAAL
1/2 cup whole Urad daal (black beans)
1/2 cup whole Munghi daal (green mung beans)
2 tablespoons Red Rajma (red kidney beans)
1/4 cup Chana daal (yellow lentils)
1 tablespoon fresh garlic paste
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 onion chopped
1 tomato chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala
Red chili powder and salt, to taste
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons butter
Chopped cilantro leaves to garnish
Mix all daals (beans and lentils) together and wash well.
Put daals in a pot and add water, salt and turmeric powder.
Cook on high heat to boil and then cook daal until soft, about 45-50 minutes on medium heat.
In a pan, heat oil, add cumin seeds, garlic and ginger pastes and fry until light brown. Add onions and fry until golden brown. Then add tomatoes and fry till soft. Then add masala and chili powder and fry for just a moment.
Add cooked daal and stir on medium heat. Remove from heat when it boils. Add butter and garnish daal with cilantro leaves.
Serve hot with naan, roti, paratha (flat breads) and rice.
-- Amarjit Randhawa; India Mahal, indiamahal.com
Still hungry? Read on for a lentil salad recipe
LENTIL SALAD WITH WARM GOAT CHEESE
Serves 4 or 5
1 5-ounce log of quality fresh goat cheese, such as Laura Chenel
1/4 cup plus 3-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup French green lentils
1 teaspoon salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup finely minced celery
1/2 cup finely minced carrot
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup snipped chives, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
12 slices baguette, cut diagonally
Cut goat cheese into 4 or 5 equal pieces and place in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Cover with 1-1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
Put the lentils in a saucepan and add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Add the salt and the thyme sprigs, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Adjust the heat to a low simmer and cook until lentils are just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and remove thyme.
While lentils are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, carrot and garlic and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.
In a bowl, combine the drained lentils, sauteed vegetables, remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup chives, 2 tablespoons vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat broiler. Toast baguette slices on both sides.
Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake the goat-cheese rounds until they are warm and jiggle a little when touched, about 6 to 8 minutes. Divide lentils among 4 or 5 plates. With a spatula, place a warm goat-cheese round on each mound of lentils. Top with a bit of snipped chives and drizzle of oil from the baking dish. Put 2 or 3 toasts on each plate and serve immediately.
-- Leann Willard, Bayview (Wash.) School of Cooking
CARAMEL LENTIL BROWNIES WITH SEA SALT
1 cup cooked lentil puree
2 cups flour
2-1/3 cups sugar, divided
3/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
1/2 cup caramel ice-cream topping
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
Sea salt for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, stir flour, 2 cups of the sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Beat in water, oil, lentil puree and half of the vanilla. Pour into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
In a small bowl, beat remaining sugar with caramel topping, cream cheese, egg and remaining teaspoon of vanilla. Swirl through brownie batter with a knife.
Bake 25-30 minutes, or until a knife tests clean when inserted into center. Sprinkle with sea salt. Allow to cool, then cut into squares and serve.
-- Joni Hilton, The National Lentil Festival
(Contact Craig Sailor at craig.sailor(at)thenewstribune.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)
Must credit the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash.