If you don’t already regularly use lentils in your family’s menu, it is well worth spending a bit of time looking up recipes, trying out different methods of cooking them, and experimenting with different types of lentils (red, green, brown, puy…) to discover your own favourites. Here are three good reasons to eat more lentils.
- Lentils are cheap – much more economical than meat. Check out your local supermarket, compare prices, and work out how much you’d save by replacing one meat-based meal with a lentil-based one. What’s that in a year?
- Lentils are little bundles of sheer nutritional gold. Like other pulses (beans, peas etc), they are stuffed full of protein, fibre, minerals and vitamins. And they’re low-fat, too, unlike many meats. They’re a good source of iron, especially when eaten at the same time as something rich in Vitamin C (peppers, dark green vegetables, orange juice), as this helps the body absorb the iron.
- Lentils are dead easy to store and cook.
Storing dry lentils
One of the best things about dried lentils is that they’re so easy to store. You can keep them for six months (or more) in an air-tight container. They do, eventually, become tougher, so try to use them up sooner rather than later.
Unlike most other pulses, lentils don’t need soaking. You can just grab a few cupfuls and away you go. Here’s the most basic lentil-cooking method. This makes six cups of cooked brown lentils. Take one pound of brown lentils. Pick them over to remove any debris.
Run under cool water to rinse off any dust. Put the lentils, with five cups of water and one teaspoon of salt, into a soup pan. Cover and bring to the boil. Then take the lid off, turn the heat down, and simmer for 30-40 minutes. The lentils should be very tender. The cooking time will vary depending on the type of lentil, but there should be instructions on the packet.
Storing cooked lentils in the fridge.
Cooked lentils will keep for about three days in the fridge. Sprinkle a few in to other dishes as you go along, for extra nutritional punch.
It’s easy to freeze lentils, too. Allow the cooked lentils to cool, then bag them up, by the cupful, in freezer bags. Put the bags flat in the freezer. That way, the lentils will thaw out quickly when you take them out of the freezer. If you’ve got herbs and spices in the pantry, you’ll never again be at a loss to cook up a meal at extremely short notice.
How to using lentils.
It’s helpful to think about lentils as having two different roles: as a primary ingredient, and as a secondary one. You can make lentil-based dishes such as lentil soups and lentil dahls. These will take a huge range of flavours, from strong curry spices such as cumin, coriander, garam masala and cayenne, to continental herbs such as oregano, bay and thyme.
But you can also think of lentils is as one of the minor, almost ‘invisible’ ingredients in other dishes, throwing a handful in to stews and casseroles. They will help thicken stocks, and add a bit of texture to a too-thin sauce, meat or other. Your family will hardly notice, so if you don’t already eat lentils regularly, it might be worth introducing them in this way.
If you’ve got lentils, go and cook up a batch and add a few to your next meal. And if you don’t have lentils in stock, make sure you add them to your next shopping list. Once lentils feature in your weekly family menu, you’ll wonder what you did without them.