Showing Lentils Some Love

Here, in the land of presto-magico food out of a box, there's a good chance you know someone who has never tried a hearty bowl of lentils (and like my mother, refuses a spoonful). This is something I do not understand.

Meanwhile in cultures around the globe, the lentil is the culinary humanitarian. It provides. It nourishes. It keeps us regular. It keeps heart attacks at bay.

The lentil is lovely, not lowly. (Kim O'Donnel)

In fact, one cup of cooked lentils contains about 18 grams of protein, second in the protein-award line to the soybean. It's loaded with fiber -- 15 grams, more than half of your daily requirement -- and is a folate boon for pregnant women.

If you plan to hit me with a "But I don't have time to cook lentils during the week; they require planning," I'm afraid you will lose this argument. Of all the members of the legume family (which also include beans and peas), lentils are the easiest to prepare and require the least amount of cooking time. Seriously.

First, no presoaking is required, as is the case with nearly every other legume. Just wash and go. Further, because of their small, flat, disc shape, lentils cook in less than an hour (about a fraction of the time it takes to cook a pot of dried black beans, for example). Translation: Perfect weeknight supper fare and formidable, portable leftovers for lunch at the office.

Below is just one of a zillion ways to prepare lentils, done here Syrian style (adas bi'l-hamid), with a hint of lemon and the sweet tangy notes of pomegranate molasses, a deep burgundy syrup made from pomegranate seeds (sold at Middle Eastern groceries such as Lebanese Taverna Market in Arlington and Mediterranean Bakery in Alexandria).

Maybe you know the lentil as adas or dal, heramame, lentejas, lentilles, lenticchia, mercimek or messer. Whatever you call it, share your favorite way to prepare the edible lens, and let's get a lentil revolution going!

Lentils Syrian Style
From "Little Foods of the Mediterranean" by Clifford A. Wright

2 tablespoons garlic, peeled (from about 8 large cloves)
1 ½ cups dried lentils (ordinary brown or green variety; I used French green lentils with great success)
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 Swiss chard leaves, washed, dried, stems removed and sliced into thin strips
¾ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves (about 1 bunch)
At least 1 cup water (or remaining lentil liquid)
1 tablespoon juice of a lemon
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (available at Middle East groceries)

Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic until pulverized. Alternatively, smash garlic with a chef's knife, then continue mashing it. You don't want minced garlic, which tends to burn.

Rinse lentils in a sieve, holding back stones or grit. Place lentils in a pot and cover with water. Bring up to a boil, then lower heat and cook lentils at a simmer, until tender, between 30 and 45 minutes. Check doneness after first 20 minutes, then every 10 minutes, as cooking time varies according to age of lentils. Drain and set aside; reserve cooking liquid if using. Salt lentils to taste. (KOD note: I've used one teaspoon of salt here and needed no additional salt at the end.)

Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the emptied, rinsed-out pot, over medium heat, then add chard until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove chard; set aside.

Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil and add garlic and cilantro, stirring constantly. Cook about 1 minute, reduce heat and return chard, plus lentils and liquid of choice. Stir to combine and cook on medium heat, about 10 minutes. Add lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and stir again.

Makes enough for six as a side dish.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 5, 2007; 10:29 AM ET Hot Pot , Vegetarian/Vegan
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I would LOVE to learn a few more lentil recipes! I'm dating a vegetarian and we both love lentils, plus I'm looking for more recipes that we both can enjoy. Any of you folks out there have suggestions where I could find more yummy sounding recipes like this one?

Posted by: LV | January 5, 2007 11:40 AM

Got a substitute for pomegranate molasses?

Posted by: Joanne | January 5, 2007 12:04 PM

I still prefer a greasy cheeseburger with fries, and a tablespoon of the pink stuff for heartburn. Now... who moved the remote to the far armrest of my couch?

The problem is that lentils are "boring", and do not meet the immediate gratification gastronomical needs of 95% of Americans: fatty and salty flavors, no cooking, bite-into-animal-flesh experience. Think, think...

Posted by: halfton smartdude | January 5, 2007 12:05 PM

Joanne - I'm not Kim (obviously) so I'll defer to her but we've used pom juice, cooked stovetop until thickened.

Pom molasses is available online for relatively little money too. We live near Lebanese Taverna but before we moved, we used to order online.

We've made this lentil and eggplant recipe once this year:

My husband makes a fish and lentil stew. Basically, firm white fish cooked in lentils with cardamom, clove, coriander, red pepper flake and served with a green salad.

Posted by: Melissa | January 5, 2007 12:11 PM

I like to sprout lentils (it only takes a few days) and then saute them with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve with rice.

I noticed Trader Joe's sells lentils already cooked and ready to put in soup, salad, etc.

Some WFM's carry pom molasses. Not all.

Posted by: Vienna, VA | January 5, 2007 12:17 PM

Rodman's in Friendship Heights and Rockville carries pom molasses. Also Yekta in Rockville.

Posted by: Renee | January 5, 2007 12:21 PM

I make a lentil soup from the book Soups of Italy that we just love. It has proscuitto (I use a high quality bacon), wine, basil and CHESTNUTS. I make it in quantity and freeze it. Have a bowlful thawing now. Here's a link to it:

Posted by: Karen | January 5, 2007 12:41 PM

Oh, lentils are so good. Not boring at all. Once at a restaurant I ordered a dish that was basically duck on a bed of lentils, and the lentils were SO good, just so flavorful, like they'd been cooked in gravy or something... I mean they weren't but that's how rich and savory they were. I'm sure I didn't leave even one of those tiny lil sickers on my plate that day. (The kicker is, the restaurant was a place I'd wandered into in Northern Ireland: not the first place you'd think of for a meal I'd remember years later, but there you go!)

Posted by: Michelle | January 5, 2007 12:59 PM

I make a lentil bowl for lunch that includes melted low fat cheese and salsa on top, over brown rice. It it delicious.

Posted by: Stacey | January 5, 2007 1:06 PM

Where can I find those French green lentils? I've looked for them all over the place with no success...Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Yes! French green lentils anywhere.

Posted by: Hoosier | January 5, 2007 1:13 PM

To Karen:
I really wanted to make that recipe for soup - but your link does not work.

Posted by: Rich | January 5, 2007 1:14 PM

I have a great lentil and orzo stew recipe (vegetarian) that was in Cooking Pleasures magazine a few years ago but do not have it with me--I'll try to post it this evening or tomorrow.

Posted by: Rachel | January 5, 2007 1:40 PM

I LOVE lentils-- I actually had lentil soup for lunch.

One new lentil recipe I like is lentil salad-- cook lentils in salted water till tender, drain, then toss with roasted red peppers, toasted walnuts, and chopped red onions. For a dressing, I mix dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, olive oil, cumin and/or coriander, a pinch of cinnamon, salt, and pepper.

I add crumbled bacon sometimes if the mood hits.

Delicious and easy.

Posted by: Maria | January 5, 2007 1:40 PM

I love lentils! You can buy french green lentils in bulk at food coops like Takoma Park Silver Spring. Make a great soup with a ham bone, chopped onion/celery/carrot and lentils. We also make a lentil soup with coconut milk added at the end. Cook down chopped onions until translucent, add water/broth and lentils (I use the yellow ones). Cook just 20 minutes or so until soft. If you cook them in a frying pan it goes even quicker. Then add 1/2 cup coconut milk and salt/pepper to taste. Comfort food!

Posted by: Jen | January 5, 2007 1:53 PM

Hoosier, lentils are available at many different groceries in my area. French green lentils are also called Lentilles du Puy (I think that's spelled right).

I made lentils on NYE to accompany halibut dijonnaise. Worked out quite well.

Posted by: 28202 | January 5, 2007 1:59 PM

Would raspberry jam/jelly substitute for the pom molasses?

Posted by: roseG | January 5, 2007 2:28 PM

Who would have thought that such a humble little legume would be greeted with so many "I LOVE LENTILS!" exhortations...

But I, too, love lentils. Only I like to cook mine in chicken stock, olive oil, curry, garlic and onions until they've dissolved and thick.

Posted by: Jay | January 5, 2007 2:37 PM

Rich -- I'm sorry the link to the recipe didn't work. Here's the recipe:

6 c. cold water

1 tsp. coarse salt

2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried

1 c. (7 oz.) brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3 to 4 oz. (about 2/3 c.) diced pancetta

4 fresh basil leaves, finely shredded

8 oz. chestnuts, fresh roasted or vacuum-packed or canned, peeled and drained

Pinch of thyme and marjoram

2 tsp. tomato paste

2/3 c. dry white wine

Salt and freshly ground pepper

4 slices country bread

Combine the water, salt, bay leaves and lentils in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until tender, about 1 hour.

About 10 minutes before the lentils have finished cooking, in a separate heavy saucepan, combine the oil, pancetta and basil and saute over medium-low heat. Add the chestnuts and herbs and saute, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and wine and cook until evaporated, about 10 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir the entire mixture into the cooked lentils and cook for 10 minutes more. If needed, add a little water and salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, toast the bread on both sides, place the warm slices in each bowl, and ladle over with the hot soup. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains approximately 4 bread/ starch exch., 1 medium-fat meat exch., 2 fat exch.; 450 calories, 58 gm. carbohydrate, 18 gm. protein, 15 gm. fat (including 3 gm. sat. fat), 830 mg. sodium, 72 mg. calcium and 15 gm. dietary fiber.

At this time of year, I lie in wait for vacuum-packed chestnuts to go on sale at Williams Sonoma and stock up so I can make the soup often.

Posted by: Karen | January 5, 2007 3:43 PM

Hi Kim. You asked for more lentil recipes. Here's one for curried lentils that I like: Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes, 1 cup lentils, 2.5 cups water, 2 chicken bouillon cubes, a bay leaf and a tsp of salt. Meanwhile, saute together 1 tbsp margarine, 1 large onion, chopped, and a couple of cloves of minced garlic. Add to the skillet 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp curry powder and a tsp of cumin seeds. Fry briefly. Add to the cooked lentils along with 2 tbsp lemon juice and some chopped parsley. Serve over rice. Added bonus: Your house will smell like Indian food for a couple of days.

Posted by: Lewis | January 5, 2007 3:54 PM

Kim, thanks for reminding me about lentils! I adore them, and it's been too long. I love to make a sort of mild curry with red lentils and coconut milk. Easy, delicious, mostly healthy (I think), and vegetarian, which is tops for me. Also, it's pretty :)

Posted by: nicole | January 5, 2007 4:12 PM

I made a quick lentil soup the other day with the precooked lentils from trader joe's. It was good when I ate it the first time, and the leftovers were fantastic. Saute chopped onion, carrot, celery in olive oil. Add lentils, chicken stock, froz chopped spinach, turkey kielbasa and a good pinch of ground thyme. (Best spice I had on hand.) Measures for veggies were about the size of my fist and about half the package of lentils; stock to cover with a little extra to make it brothy. Toward the end of cooking I added some leftover rind of Grana Padano cheese (any parmesan type would do). I think that was what put the leftovers over the top.

Posted by: fredellen | January 5, 2007 4:14 PM

Just made this recipe. I was suspicious that it would be lacking something, but it was truly delicious:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
pinch salt
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon curry powder
2 cups French lentils, rinsed and picked over
4 cups stock or water, plus more on hand to add as needed
pepper to taste

sautee onion in oil and pinch of salt until onions are translucent. Add garlic and curry powder and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add lentils and stock or water and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Check the lentils for consistency and water content -- they should still be covered in water; if not, add more water a cup at a time. Stir, cover and cook another 10 minutes. Continue checking for water content and consistency (lentils should be soft but not falling apart) every 10 minutes until done. Total cooking time should be about 40 minutes. Taste and season with salt if needed and pepper to taste. You can add fresh, clean greens at this point and cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Good as a soup or side.

Posted by: lentillove | January 5, 2007 4:31 PM

Turkish red lentil soup is easy to make, cheap, hearty, and delicious! My mother used to make it every winter while we were growing up. I make it using this recipe:

Hint: if you use less water/stock, you can serve the thickened lentils over rice.

Posted by: Rockville | January 5, 2007 5:02 PM

Oooh - I love lentils too! I just made a great dish with them on Tuesday - it's called "Single Girl Salmon" (from Amanda Hesser's book Cooking for Mr. Latte), though the recipe easily doubles for a couple. You cook your lentils (1/3c. for one person) in a bit of water (1/2 in. over the top of the lentils) for about 15-20m or until their al dente then add some white wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste (am I forgetting something?). In the meantime, carmelize a sliced shallot and set aside. Then sear a salmon fillet in the shallot pan. Serve lentils with salmon on top and shallots topping that. Delish!!

Posted by: Caroline | January 5, 2007 5:08 PM

I did forget something - throw a peeled garlic clove and a bay leaf in with the lentils while you cook them!

Posted by: Caroline | January 5, 2007 5:11 PM

I make duck on a bed of lentils, too, but I cheat--I buy the pre-cooked, herbed duck halves (they sell them at the co-op here but I've seen similar items at traditional chains). I put some olive oil in my cast-iron skillet and warm up the duck while I cook the lentils in a broth/water combo. Once the lentils are done, I take the duck out of the pan and put the lentils in, scraping the bottom of the pan so the lentils get all the herbs and duck fat that has accumulated. Then I serve the duck on top of the lentils. And while it's not as good as it is when I get this at one of my favorite restaurants, it's pretty darn good and everyone in my house loves it--even my two small children.

And now I'm thinking about lentil soup. Mmm.

Posted by: seattle | January 5, 2007 5:19 PM

Ethiopian lentils made with berbere, (the HOT Ethipoian spice blend) are incredible. You can find recipes for it on line or buy the spice in specialty stores

Posted by: stevej | January 5, 2007 5:33 PM

My wife and I love lentils too and, contrary to popular assumptions, so do my kids. We make them different ways, generally with rice, and always top it with yogurt or a simple lettuce, tomato and red pepper salad (both tricks learned from Lebanese friends). Quickest and easiest is to sautee an onion and garlic in oil, add equal amounts lentils and rice, brown them slightly before adding water, then add water equal to the amount of lentils and rice and cook until the water's gone. You can also add potatoes and carrots as well as other veggies if you're so inclined. Takes about a half hour and it's delicious!

Posted by: Frank S | January 5, 2007 5:37 PM

Hi Kim, just found your blog just before Christmas and I'm hooked! :-)

I too love lentils. They're great in a cold salad, also. I used to work in the deli at Greenstar, the natural foods co-op in Ithaca, NY, and we would make a cold lentil salad with lemon juice, parsley, red onion, and feta cheese (I may be missing some of the wet ingredients, but it's been a while...but this is pretty darn close). A question for other readers--anyone know of a good lentil loaf recipe? I've heard of this but haven't found a good recipe yet.

Posted by: chrishpl | January 5, 2007 10:11 PM

Kim: We are living in Vienna, Austria. Many Viennese tell us that when they think of lentils they think of the United States. Seems that after World War II the US shipped large amounts to lentils to Austria as economic/humanitarian aid for a population that was pretty decimated and undernourished. They are still greatful for this, 50 years later, but I can't help thinking privately--knowing most American's dislike of lentils--that we sent so many tons to the Austrians because lentils are NOT a great American favorite.....but maybe I'm just too cynical.

Posted by: From Vienna, Austria | January 6, 2007 4:44 AM

For me, lentils equals daal (a spicy Indian soup/stew sort of thing.) Lately I've been making daal with red lentils. They cook quickly and are a really attractive yellow color when done (with a little help from some turmeric.)

Here's the recipe I use:

Posted by: Rebecca Hartong | January 8, 2007 9:45 PM

For the poster on Tuesday's 1/9 cooking chat mentioning Mujadarah:

It is primarily a Syrian and Palestinian dish. Kind of a soul-food comfort dish. Very easy to make. Check out any Syrian, Lebanon or Middle Eastern cookbooks. You will not find them in any Moroccan cookbooks. The dish is a Levant only dish. The recipie I follow is from a cookbook called "Sahtein" A Palestinian Cookbook benefiting refugees. thanks

Posted by: mamra | January 9, 2007 2:00 PM

How long does it really take for lentils to cook? They're always still pretty hard when I get to the end of cooking times in recipes.
Now I live at 7000 feet so I'm guessing it will take even longer?

Posted by: Kerry | January 9, 2007 2:09 PM

There's a REALLY good rice and lentil recipe in a 2001 Bon Appetit--Indian Spiced Rice with Lentils.
My husband and I love lentils--anyone near the West Shore Farmer's Market in Camp Hill PA should visit Peggy's Silver Spoon--she sells lots of different types for 3-4$ a pound--which is a lot of lentils!

Posted by: lisa | January 9, 2007 5:21 PM

Great discussion! Another lentil-lover here. I like making a sweet yellow lentil curry: just toss cooked/drained yellow lentils in oil with garlic, onions, okra, golden raisins, chopped medjool dates, and lots of curry powder -- with perhaps a drizzle of honey at the end. Sweetness and spice... ah!

Posted by: Chinnie | January 18, 2007 10:32 AM

Lentils are great, this recipe is easy and oh so comforting:

Warm Lentils

3 cups water
3/4 cup dried brown lentils
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped seeded tomato (canned diced tomatoes work well)
2-1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced

1. To prepare lentils, combine water, lentils, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes. Drain; set aside.
2. Heat 1/2 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Add lentils, 1/4 teaspoon salt, tomato, vinegar, basil, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and garlic; toss gently.

Posted by: Barbara | January 18, 2007 11:31 AM

Two funny comments on lentils. My Mom always cooked lentil soup in the pressure cooker - once the release valve gave way and lentils were all over the ceiling! Another time my aunt and uncle came to visit and Mom served lentil soup. My uncle didn't like it but politely told her it was great - so of course whenever they came that's what she would cook!

Posted by: Linda | January 18, 2007 11:46 AM

I have a recipe for Lentil Loaf (a really tasty substitute for meatloaf) in one of the cookbooks called "Lean and Luscious" by Bobbie Hinman and Millie Snyder (they did a series of three or four... one with "and Meatless" at the end of the title). I recommend those books for anybody wanting to try recipes for legumes and grains of many kinds. Very good info.

Posted by: Cindy | January 18, 2007 11:53 AM

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