To continue our “deep-dive” series on specific produce, we will be looking at lentils and the various ways to exploit their full potential. I realize that lentils may not sound very appealing to many of you, but I hope this post will help you see them in a different light! But before showing you how to use them, I thought we could look into their history.
Lentil cultivation was first introduced in the Fertile Crescent, before spreading to the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and Asia. And believe it or not, today the largest lentil producers are India and Canada, producing 58% of the world’s total production. Lentil cultivation is also important, as lentils have the ability to improve soil properties and increase cereal yields.
Lentils have many health benefits and are a great source of many essential nutrients. These include minerals such as folate, iron, manganese and phosphorus. They are also an important source of vitamins (B1, B6 and B9, to name but a few), as well as fibres and protein. In fact, lentils have the second-highest ratio of protein to food energy of any legume, after soybeans. This, along with their relatively low growing requirements, probably explains why they have become staple ingredients in many regions across the globe.
There are many ways to cook lentils, including soaking, frying, baking or boiling for example. Sprouting is also a great alternative to get the most nutrients out of the ingredient, but it requires more effort, so for the purpose of this post, we will only focus on the methods I have mentioned above. Lentils are used in many types of cuisine all over the world, and with each region comes a different way of cooking them. They can be eaten whole, used in stews or soups, puréed… you name it! In India for example, split lentils make for the most delicious dals. In Europe, they may be used in a salad. Whichever way you prefer, there is a recipe out there for you!
The versatility of lentils is amazing: you can use lentil broth to thicken your soups, curries, sauces or stews; lentil flour also has many purposes.
Now let’s dive into the part you have all been waiting for: recipes!
Mujaddara (or mejadra)
This is probably the recipe that made me fall back in love with lentils. I won’t get into too much detail but there’s something with combining rice and lentils that makes for the most comforting and flavourful meals.
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 medium onions, sliced
- 250g green lentils (or whichever you prefer)
- 200g basmati rice
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 ½ tsp coriander seeds
- ½ tsp turmeric (ground)
- ½ tsp cinnamon (ground)
- 1 tsp sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 350 mL water
- Heat the vegetable oil in a medium pan on high heat. When hot, add 1/3 of the sliced onion and fry for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- When the onion turns golden-brown and starts to become crispy, set it aside in a colander and add some salt
- Repeat with the rest of the onion
- Meanwhile, add the lentils in a small pot, cover with a lot of water and bring to a boil. Cook for 15 minutes, until the lentils are soft not too cooked
- Drain the lentils
- In the pan you had used to fry the onions, now toast the cumin and coriander seeds over medium heat for about 1-2 minutes.
- Add the rice, olive oil, and the rest of the spices, as well as sugar, salt and a good grind of pepper. Stir the rice for a few seconds to coat it with the spices.
- Then, add the lentils and water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes.
- Once cooked, set aside for a few minutes, before putting the mixture into a large bowl and adding half of the onion. Stir gently, and sprinkle the remainder of the onion as a topping.
Quick and simple tomato lentils
When I was quarantined with my roommates, we had an incredible five-day brunch streak. The great thing with brunch is that the possibilities are endless, so we challenged ourselves to try different combinations each day. I came up with this recipe on the spot, as I was trying to empty my pantry and it’s now become one of my favourite ways to eat lentils. Aside from its comforting taste, it is really easy and cheap to make, so you will definitely want to try this out when you’re feeling uninspired or starting to run low on food.
So without further ado, I present to you this humble yet surprisingly flavourful recipe.
- 1 cup green lentils (preferably Puy lentils)
- 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- Vegetable broth (about 500mL)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/3 can crushed tomatoes (or 1 fresh tomato when in season)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper (optional)
- Mince the onion and put it in a small pot on medium-high heat until the onions start to turn translucent
- Add the garlic and the lentils, and stir for 1 to 2 minutes
- Add the broth and bring to a boil
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and let the lentils cook for about 15 minutes
- You can add more water gradually if you see that the lentils have absorbed the liquid too quickly
- Add the tomato paste and crushed tomatoes and let it simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes until the lentils are soft, but retain a bite
- By the end, there won’t be any liquid left so no need to drain the lentils!
- Once they are cooked, serve them in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil
And voilà! You can serve them as a main dish or as a side. As you may have guessed, in my opinion, the best way to enjoy them is at the brunch table, with a side of roasted potatoes.
I really hope you enjoyed learning about lentils and the various ways to include them in your cooking. Feel free to send us a message if there’s an ingredient you want us to do next!