Lentils, The Protein-Rich Powerhouse Legume

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

We have them in our pantry, we use them for quick, easy meals and they’re a great source of protein. But do you know much about this legume? Lentils have been around for quite some time and are present in many cuisines from all over the world. Today, there are more than 50 different lentil varieties grown.

Background of Lentils

This seemingly inconspicuous legume is actually one of the first agricultural crops grown more than 8,500 years ago. Originating in the Mediterranean area, specifically on the banks of the Euphrates River, which is now known as Syria. There is evidence that the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and the Hebrews were eating this legume around 7000 BC. Lentils even pop up in the Bible. In the Genesis story of brothers Jacob and Esau. –Esau, the firstborn, sells his birthright to Jacob for some lentil stew.

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Lentils made their way from the Mediterranean to France. In fact, France now has its own variety called lentilles du Puy (Puy lentils), they have round green/gray seeds and have mottled dark-green hulls. They are a very popular ingredient in French bistro cuisine and are known to hold their shape during cooking more than the other varieties. They were then introduced to the Americas by Portuguese and Spanish explorers in the 16th century.

Unlike other legumes or crops that have garnered a lot of attention from food scientists, lentils have received little research attention to improve its quality or yield. This is because it can be easily grown almost anywhere in the world and most importantly, can still grow in areas around the world where there is limited rainfall.

They remain a staple in Middle Eastern and Indian diets, and are popular in cuisines throughout the world. This is due to the fact that they are inexpensive, versatile and packed with nutritional value. Even though lentils are part of the legume family, they are different to their other bean counterparts. There is no need to soak them overnight, making them the easiest bean to cook.

Production and Varieties of Lentils

Surprisingly enough, Canada is the world-leading producer of lentils, accounting for 32.8 % of lentils production in the world. They are then followed by India and the US. Even though Canada is the highest producing country out there, half of the world’s lentils are still consumed in India.

As stated above, there are about 50 different varieties out there but the most common ones are sorted into five different categories. Brown, green, red, yellow and speciality lentils. The speciality lentils include French lentils and black/Beluga lentils.

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Brown Lentils

These are the most common variety. You can pop into any supermarket and find dry or tinned brown lentils readily available. In fact, if you see a generic brand that just says ‘lentils’ you can almost guarantee that they are brown lentils. There is a reason why this variety is the most common, it holds its shape well during cooking and cooks in under 30 minutes. It has a mild, earthy flavour making it perfect for stews, soups, warm salads, and are perfect when pureed for spreads and dips.

Green Lentils

Also quite a common lentil, it has the longest cooking time of about 40 minutes. They do get a bit mushy after they’ve been cooking for a while making them ideal for stews and as an added ingredient to meat dishes. They have a slight peppery flavour in comparison to the brown variety, making them perfect for French cuisine. Green lentils are a great (and less expensive) substitute for the French Puy lentils.

Red Lentils

This variety ranges from orange to a reddish hue and is commonly used in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines and has a very soft texture when cooked. The great thing about this variety is that it breaks down when cooking making it ideal for dhal or sauces that need thickening. It takes about 15-20 minutes to cook, making them one of the easiest varieties to deal with.

Yellow Lentils

Very similar to its red counterpart, these cook in about 15 minutes. It has a bit more of a nutty and sweet flavour making it a staple in Ethiopian and Indian cuisines. When cooked they become creamy, which is perfect for soups, dhal and if you want them pureed.

Black Beluga Lentils

This variety gets its name because they are small, black, and shiny resembling beluga caviar. Not as common as the varieties listed above, they have thicker skin and have a deep, earthy flavour to them. They take about 35-40 minutes to cook and eventually start to fall apart like the green and red varieties. Perfect on salads, couscous or as a side dish to fish.

French Puy Lentils

Last but not least, is France’s legume golden child. Because of their thicker skin, these take the longest to cook, about 45-55 minutes to be exact.They’ve got a bit of a peppery flavour, which means you don’t have to season them as much.They retain their shape when cooked and because they don’t get mushy when cooked, they’re perfect as a main dish. They’re also a great addition to salads.

Lentils Are Packed With Nutritional Value

They are an important source of nutrients for millions of vegetarians around the world. In fact, nearly every traditional Indian meal includes at least one lentil dish because they are protein-rich and inexpensive.

They are a superfood, rich in protein, and in fact, have the second-highest protein content of all legumes after soybeans. They are packed with soluble and insoluble fibre, which supports the growth of healthy gut bacteria, minimises the risk of heart disease and can help reduce blood cholesterol.

They are also an excellent source of iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Also one cup of cooked lentils provides 85% of the daily recommended intake of folate (vitamin B). Folate helps with building new cells, and helps tissues work. It can help prevent anemia and certain types of cancer.

Recipes With This Protein-Rich Legume

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lentils

TOMATO AND CORIANDER CURRIED DAHL WITH BASMATI RICE AND GREEK YOGHURT

This dish is a perfect example as to why vegetarians love this legume. Its quick, its easy, its flavourful, it’s filled with nutrients, what more could you want! This Indian dish will have you coming back for more, guaranteed.

Recipe for Tomato and Coriander Curried Dahl 

SALMON MI-CUIT WITH BLACK BELGUA LENTILS

Fish and lentils go together like cheese and broccoli. These black beluga lentils give the already succulent, tender salmon a needed extra flavour profile.

Recipe for Salmon Mi-Cuit with Black Beluga Lentils

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VEGAN MEAT-FREE MINCE AND LENTIL SLOPPY JOES

These vegan Sloppy Joes are arguably better than the real thing. It’s not only quick to make but delicious to eat. Serve with a warm winter salad or roasted potatoes.

Recipe for Sloppy Joes

GLUTEN-FREE VEGETARIAN PIES

All of the deliciousness of a pie with zero of the guilt. We promise you’ll be making these gluten-free pies again and again.

Recipe for Gluten-Free Pies

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WARM SALAD OF LENTILS & VEGETABLES

Sometimes a warm salad in winter hits the spot more than a soup can. This vegetarian salad is one of the most tantalizing dishes you’ll have.

Recipe for Warm Salad 

ROASTED BABY AUBERGINES WITH LENTILS, POMEGRANATE AND CHEVIN DRESSING

Aubergines are so wonderfully versatile and can fit in with any dish, mix it with some lentils and you’re golden. This meat-free dish is fresh and simple with punchy flavours.

Recipe for Roasted Baby Aubergines 

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