Lentils have been a staple in human diets for thousands of years. It is believed that they originated in western Asia. Lentils come in many different colors: green, brown, red, black, white, and orange. The color, shape, and size of lentils vary depending on the type. Lentils are grown in many different countries including the United States, India, Australia, Canada, Bangladesh, Turkey, Iran, and Ethiopia.
The most commonly used varieties of lentils are white, yellow, and red. Fresh lentils cannot be consumed, only dried lentils are eaten. Once the seeds’ coats are removed, lentils are sold in the grocery store. Most lentils are available all year long and are readily available, delicious and nutritious. They can be used to make curries, soups, salads and go well with rice dishes. When you buy lentils check them for insect damage, holes, and shriveling.
Lentils contain about six percent protein. They can provide protein in the place of meat. Lentils also contain many other vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and dietary fibers. Eating lentils is useful for those with high cholesterol; the dietary fiber helps to lower cholesterol. The folate, magnesium, and vitamin B6 found in lentils help to reduce the amount of amino acids that damage the artery walls and cause heart disease. Lentils provide iron, which makes them a great source of slow and steady energy.
Lentils generally hold their shape after being cooked, and do not require pre-soaking, unlike most other beans and peas. Bigger lentils will take a longer time to cook, and adding salt to the pot during cooking will slow the cooking process. However, cooking lentils with other spices is essential for a bold taste, as lentils have a mild flavor. Lentils easily absorb other flavors, and taste best when cooked with more assertive flavors such as garlic, onion and lemon. One cup dried lentils yields three cups cooked lentils.
Place water in a large sauce pan. You will need three cups of water for every one cup of dried lentils. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and then add the washed and dried lentils to the pot. Unlike other beans, when cooking lentils it is best to add them once the water is already boiling. Reduce the lentils to a simmer and allow them to cook. Depending on the size and color, cooking time will vary: green lentils take thirty minutes and red lentils take more like twenty. When the lentils have reached the desired firmness (firmer for salads, mushier for curries), remove the pan from the stove.
Let the beans stand in the hot water for a few minutes before discarding it, because lentils absorb water very easily which makes them juicier and tastier. Add salt to the lentils once they are fully cooked. It is important not to add salt while the lentils are cooking, or their skins will seal and the lentils will remain tough.
Dried lentils have a long shelf life as long as they are stored properly, and their durability is what makes them such a world-wide staple of cuisine. Like other beans, lentils should be stored in a sealed bag or airtight container in a cool, dry place. Note that the color may fade away with time, but the quality of the beans will not diminish.
Cooked lentils may be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. They may also be frozen in an airtight container for up to six months.