Lentils are one of the oldest legumes and integral to the cuisines of the Middle East, India and Eastern Europe. They are well and truly worth including in your everyday eating for lots and lots of reasons.
If you’re vegetarian, it’s definitely worth getting to know how to cook lentils as they are a wonderful protein source. If you eat meat, they extend the protein of meat or chicken and save you money while still allowing you to eat a nutritious, high-protein meal.
Lentils have almost no fat and are packed with fibre, protein, B vitamins and minerals like potassium, magnesium and zinc. Like all legumes or pulses, they are gluten-free. However, to my mind, their greatest benefit is that lentils boast one of the lowest Glycemic Index (GI) of any starchy food, meaning they fill you up and keep hunger away. This is primarily because their starch breaks down relatively slowly or incompletely during cooking and they contain enzyme inhibitors that also slow digestion.
Lentils come in lots of colours. I like the split red lentils as they soak up liquid and ‘disappear’ whilst thickening soups and slow-cooked recipes. They’re good for making a side of mash or dhal. Actually even though they’re called red, they can come in shades of orange and yellow.
Brown lentils (also sold as green lentils) hold their shape and stay intact during cooking. French slate-green or Puy lentils are tiny and stay firm too.
All colours and types of dried lentils are similar in nutritional value.
Lentils are the easiest of all the legumes to cook as they do not need to be soaked first. Just measure out and throw into your curry, casserole or soup. Being small, they cook quickly so there’s no excuse not to add them to soups, salads and slow-cooked dinners.
They also don’t seem to produce as much flatulence as other beans, another bonus when you first start eating them. They are also easy to digest so make a nice entry point if you’re new to beans.
Thanks to dietitian Caroline Trickey for information from her great book ‘Veggie-Licious’
Here are 8 ways I use lentils in the kitchen:
Lentils are definitely a smart carb, and my pick from amongst the legumes, especially for beginner cooks. Learn to love them, especially if you have diabetes or need to shed weight. No matter how much you eat, they have only a small effect on your blood glucose levels.