Monday, December 28, 2009

Lentils These nutritious legumes are versatile, delicious and easy to prepare

These nutritious legumes are versatile, delicious and easy to prepare
By Cary Neff Link to full article below

Lentils, those tiny lens-shaped legumes you find in dried soup mixes
and curries, are delicious — and packed with nutrients. A prized
dietary staple of Southern Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean and the
Middle East, lentils are thought to be one of the world’s first
cultivated crops, dating back more than 8,000 years. Today, these
nutritious gems are slowly making their way into the American pantry.

Food Basics

Lentils are part of the legume family, which also includes beans and
peas. They are sold dried, whether whole, hulled or split, and come
in a wide range of colors and sizes. The most common varieties in
American markets are green and brown, which can be used
interchangeably in recipes. Red and yellow lentils are now available
in most better markets. No matter what color or size, lentils cook
quickly and are versatile enough to toss into a wide range of dishes.
They also serve up nicely on the side — ideal in place of starchier
choices like potatoes or pasta.

Nutritional Know-How

Lentils are rich in B vitamins, iron, zinc, manganese, phosphorus and
magnesium. They’re also full of isoflavones, some of the
best-understood phyto-nutrients. Phytonutrients protect the body and
fight disease, help your heart, boost immunity, and function as an

When paired with whole grains like rice or barley, lentils form a
complete protein. They are also rich in soluble and insoluble fiber,
which help moderate blood-sugar levels and assist with good
digestion. One caution: Because lentils contain purines, naturally
occurring compounds that can be broken down into uric acid, those
suffering from gout or kidney problems should avoid them.


* For a tasty main dish, mix cooked lentils with cooked rice, and
add your favorite spices. This entrée should be served alongside
cooked vegetables to make a balanced meal.

* Combine cooked lentils with chopped peppers and other
vegetables to make a delicious cold salad. Green lentils, which are
small, delicate and peppery, soften in about 30 minutes and are
especially good for salads, because they hold their shape well when

* Red lentils soften quickly, in about 15 minutes, so they are
ideal for purées or as a thickening agent for soups. Simply stir
vigorously or purée in a blender.

* Because lentils have a mild taste, it’s great to pair them with
strong flavorings, such as garlic, turmeric, chilies, cumin or

Chef Cary Neff is the president of the consulting firm Culinary
Innovations and the author of The New York Times bestseller Conscious
Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2002).


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