Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lentils for Lent...

Meme courtesy of Fear Not Little Flock
Lent is here. Some of you started on Wednesday and some of you started on Monday, but either way we are all here together, East and West. Together we are all eating up a lot of lentils. But not just us, even if you do not do Lent, you probably still have lentils in your pantry. No matter what your tradition, this post is for you.

Lentils are just one of those pantry staples that everybody should keep on  hand. They are cheap (I just bought a 25# sack for just $21), they are nutritious (they are high in fiber, natural folate, and a good source of non-heme iron, see HERE), and they are pretty malleable and can easily sub in for meat in lots of recipes. For all these great reasons they are often the staple pantry item for people fasting from meat and from vegans and vegetarians who choose not to eat meat. But they also have the dubious honor of being almost universally hated because very earthy and a little muddy tasting and too soft as they are almost universally overcooked.

Lentils are lower in phytic acids (see HERE) and being small, do not need to soak before cooking. Phytic acid is a critical thing to keep in  mind if you are trying at all to preserve your mineral levels. Phytic acid bonds with the critical minerals iron, calcium, magnesium,  zinc, and phosphorus and if you want to be alert and active and have strong bones while eating a more plant based diet, then you need to especially keep this in mind. You can reduce the phytates further by giving them a soak in warm, acidulated water (lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or whey from raw cheese making) for six or so hours (more on that HERE). But soaked or no, most people are cooking them far, far too long. For instance, if you are following the method in Nourishing Traditions, you are actually making a recipe for whiney kids. No lentil needs to be cooked from more than 35 minutes, period. More than that and they turn into goo and let's be honest, goo is not delicious. Lent is hard enough, people.

Cooking Lentils

Basically, there are four common categories of lentils, the French slate colored ones (really dark), the standard run of the mill olive drab color, pink ones, and the yellow ones. You can find all sorts of exotic ones but they will cost more and can require a trip to an ethnic market. If you are curious about what else is out there, check this out HERE.

de Puy Lentils: these French lentils are very dark, have a clean flavor and stay the firmest and are the best choice for dishes where they will be served whole and even chilled, such as salads. Bring four cups of water for every cup of lentil to a boil , turn down the heat to a gently simmer and cook for 25 minutes, drain immediately.

Green or Brown Lentils: these are the olive drab ones and are the easiest to find and also stay fairly firm in cooked dishes though not as well as the French variety. They are also more muddy and lentil-y in flavor. Bring three or four cups of water for every cup of lentil to a boil , turn down the heat to a gently simmer and cook for 30-35 minutes. If they will be drained, use the higher amount of water to be sure that they are not starchy after draining and drain immediately. If using in a soup, use the lower amount and consider using broth (veggie or otherwise) and do not drain. These are really the best lentils to use a substitute for ground beef because of their middle ground in the firmness battle.

Red Lentils: these pink lentils are little liars. Your girls may choose them with happy squeals and then turn up their noses once they are cooked because they will look...just...like...oatmeal. Ask me how I know. They have a mild flavor and a very soft and mushy texture making them better for soups. They break down so easily that they tend to break down to nothing. Bring three cups of water for every cup of lentils to a boil , turn down the heat to a gently simmer and cook for 15 minutes and for an additional five minutes if you want them to break down and thicken your soup.

Yellow Lentils: these gold colored lentils behave almost exactly like red lentils but are more honest because they do not change color. They are also very mild and good for soups. Cook just as reds, by adding three cups of water for every cup of lentils to a boil , turn down the heat to a gently simmer and cook for 15 minutes and for an additional five minutes if you want them to break down and thicken your soup.

See my handy protein crib sheet?
Get one HERE.
Adding Flavor

You can improve the flavor of your lentils by browning garlic, onions, mushrooms and either sweet or spicy peppers in the pot before you add the cooking liquid. If you are using the lentils for soup and will be keeping the cooking liquid, before adding it is the best time to add the spices. Toasting the spices will amp up the flavor and improve the over all flavor of the dish. If using tomato paste, add it with the spices and warm it and blend it with the spices. Using a flavorful cooking liquid and not just plain water will make the lentils more appetizing. You can use vegetable, mushroom, or bone broth or even vegetable juice.

Adding Protein

Protein is difficult to come by in plant based diets and that is because plants aren't complete proteins by themselves. If you are careful to combine plant foods, you can achieve all the amino acids necessary for protein synthesis and give your body what you need (see more HERE). There are some combinations that are better than others, and I made a handy little crib sheet to remind me and I have it on my fridge. If you want one, you can download the PDF HERE.


Great LENTil Recipes

Have any other great links you think I should add? Maybe you have a fave recipe you would like to share. Let me know! You can never have too many great lentil recipes.

1 comment:

  1. I did not know that lentils don't need to be soaked...I learned something new today!
    Here's a recipe I recently tried: http://foodfunlife.blogspot.com/2012/08/lentil-tacos.html I thought they were good but none of our taste buds were tricked into thinking it was meat ;)

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