A Myth about vegetarian diet is that not eating meat means it’s difficult to get enough protein and iron in your diet. But with a pantry powerhouse, you get one protein-rich vegetables that will help you meet your macro and micronutrient goals. Yes, we’re talking about the itty-bitty humble lens. And if cooking with lentils seems intimidating, we caught up with food experts to break down everything you need to know about cooking with lentils so they can be a staple in the pantry.
What are lenses?
Lentils are explained as legumes, which are edible seeds of legumes Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDNPlant-forward culinary nutritionist and author of The Clean and Simple Diabetes Cookbook. They’re in the same family as beans, but are much smaller and have a different shape, he adds Julie Lopez, R.Da registered nutritionist and chef
You can store uncooked lentils in an airtight container for up to a year. Cooked lentils can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four days or in the freezer for up to two months, says Lopez.
How to cook lentils
You can use a rice cooker or pressure cooker (eg instant pot) to cook lentils, but even in a pot of liquid, they cook quickly, says Tessa Nguyen, RD, LDN, professional chef and registered nutritionist. She recommends rinsing and sorting dried lentils before cooking to avoid stones or other debris sometimes getting mixed up in them.
Cook dry brown, green, puy, and black lentils separately and add them later to soups or stews, suggests Charlie Laytonchef at Basic kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina. Dry red and yellow lentils can be cooked straight into your sauce or soup. “I find they break up well and have a nice, robust volume,” he says. “I mostly use these when cooking Indian and Asian dishes.”
Layton’s foolproof recipe for cooking lentils includes:
1) Place dry lentils and all ingredients in a heavy-duty Dutch oven or large saucepan with a lid. He likes flavors like onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, garlic and thyme.
2) Add water in a ratio of 2 cups liquid to 1 cup lentils, cover and bring to a boil.
3) Let the water simmer until the lentils are soft. This varies by variety.
3) Season with salt and pepper.
types of lenses
There are six main types of lentils, and each has its own unique characteristics. “I love cooking with lentils because they’re super versatile and the different types lend themselves to very different purposes,” says Layton. “Each lentil has a slightly different flavor profile, all rooted in an earthy base.”
- Green lentils. This type of lentil varies in size but tends to have a mild peppery flavor, Lopez says. She adds green lentils for salads and side dishes.
- Red/Yellow Lentils. Lopez says you can also find these varieties “split up,” meaning they’re made into smaller lentil pieces and tend to cook faster. As they tend to disintegrate when cooked and become particularly creamy, yellow or Red lenses are best used in soups or as a thickening agent, says Lopez. They have a sweet and nutty flavor, she adds.
- Brown lentils. “This is the most common type of lentil with an earthy flavor,” says Lopez. Because they hold their shape well, Lopez likes to use them brown lentils for warm salads, casseroles, soups and stews.
- Black beluga lentils. You can mix up these tiny ones black lentils like caviar, based on their appearance when cooked, but they have an earthy flavor and soft texture, Lopez says. They get their name from their small, glossy black appearance, which resembles that of caviar, Layton adds.
- Puy lenses. Grown in volcanic soils in certain regions of France, Lopez says this specialty lentil is dark in color and rich, peppery in flavor.
How to use lenses
You can buy bags of dried lentils, cans or Bag pre-cooked lenses or even lentil pasta to fill your pantry with protein-rich foods. Newgent says she likes to use lentils in homemade veggie burgers, dips (like herself). Lemon Red Lentil Hummus), tacos or burritos. You can also give them a simple drizzle of olive oil or toasted sesame oil and a sprinkling of salt, spices, or MSG for an umami-filled side dish, Nguyen says. She also loves them in soups as a thickener or in salads to add protein.
One of Layton’s favorite ways to use green lentils and Puy lentils in a plant-based meat-style sauce on Basic Kitchen’s menu. “The way the lentils break down when they’re slightly overwatered really gives it a textural feel of a fluffy meat sauce and also has the same protein content,” he says.
If you need a little extra inspiration, try these delicious lentil recipes:
Are Lentils Good for You?
Though the overall nutritional value varies by type of lentil, they’re incredibly nutrient dense and have a number of nutritional benefits, says Lopez. A serving of lentils puts a ton of vitamins and minerals like manganese, potassium and folic acid on your plate, she adds. They’re even one of the few foods that have more iron than beefalmost boasted 7 mg per cup. All of these are micronutrients that are important for day-to-day bodily functions, Nguyen notes.
Lentils are also included best high fiber foods (a whopping almost 16g per cup), which can help with digestion and overall gastrointestinal health, Lopez says. Regular eating of lentils can even naturally lowers cholesterol levels levels.
This also includes the small legumes The best plant-based protein sources, which can help build and maintain muscle mass, says Lopez. “The biggest thing people don’t realize about lentils is how packed with protein they are,” adds Layton. “That, plus its versatility, makes the lens the unsung hero of a plant-based pantry.” And he’s right, considering they’re almost packing up 18g of protein per cup.
Also, Newgent says they’re rich in protective polyphenolswhich may play a role in reducing your risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
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