By Barbara Beltrami
Lentils may not be the most attractive foods when cooked, but they do pack a powerful nutritional and delicious wallop. Low in fat and high in protein and fiber, they are a staple of many Asian cuisines.
When I looked them up in my old cookbooks, they often were absent. However, in my newer and more recent cookbooks, they occupy a whole column in the indexes, a gift of the many immigrants and ethnicities that have become a part of our American culture.
I would venture to say that lentils are one of the go-to elements for ethnic as well as vegetarian recipes and are an ideal addition to anyone’s pantry for a quick-cooking, tasty and nourishing dish that welcomes and complements other flavors. From the familiar greenish-tan ones to tiny green Puy lentils to red (actually salmon pink) lentils, with many other varieties along the spectrum, their mild earthy flavor has captured many a palate.
Lentil Salad with Tomatoes and Herbs
YIELD: Makes 4 servings
1 cup green Puy or black beluga lentils, rinsed
2 teaspoons salt
1 large garlic clove, minced
12 ounces fresh tomatoes, chopped
²/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 handful fresh dill, chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
DIRECTIONS: Fill a large saucepan with one quart cold water; add lentils, garlic and two teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Toss hot lentils with tomatoes, scallions, dill, oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or warm with lamb or chicken and tossed green salad.
YIELD: Makes 8 to 10 servings
2 cups lentils
9 cups cold water
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons wine vinegar
Juice of one lemon
DIRECTIONS: Place lentils in a large pot and cover with the 9 cups water; add salt and pepper, onion, celery, carrot, thyme, bay leaf and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer 45 minutes or until lentils are tender. Remove bay leaf and discard. Scoop out 2 to 3 cups of the lentil and vegetable mixture and puree in a food processor. Return puree to remaining soup, stir and bring back to a boil. Stir in vinegar, a tablespoon at a time, until just a hint of its flavor is evident. Serve hot with cucumber salad and hearty bread.
Red Lentil Curry
YIELD: Makes 4 servings
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and sliced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon curry powder
2 cups diced carrots
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 cup red lentils
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 handful fresh chives, chopped or sliced
DIRECTIONS: In a large saucepan heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add ginger, garlic and scallions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the curry powder, carrots, sweet potato, lentils, broth and salt and pepper. Stir, bring to a boil, then simmer until lentils and veggies are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with chives. Serve hot with naan bread and rice.