The Legacy of Lentils And How to Cook

The Legacy of Lentils And How to Cook

The Legacy of a Legume

Lentils are used throughout the culinary landscape in every culture. I wanted to explore how to cook lentils and the legacy of these inspired legumes in history. Early cultivation of lentils dates back to 11,00 BC in ancient Greece, where carbonized remnants have been found in early civilizations. Romans made it into a stew and depicting it in paintings dating back to the 2nd century. Lentil stew used as a method of payment in the Genisis story of the bible.  

The lentil is thought to have first grown in the Near East, spreading through Egypt, the Mediterranean, India and later to the new world. Found in tombs of ancient Egyptians along the Nile river nearly 500 miles south of the Mediterranean ocean.  Today, one of two national dishes of Egypt, Koshari contains cooked lentils, macaroni, and rice mixed together and topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. On a recent trip to Cairo, I got to try Kosari for the first time, It was delicious.  

In the subcontinent of India, lentils are prevalent at every meal most notably in dahl. Dahl is a heavily spiced, thick, stew of lentils eaten with rice and flatbreads. Lentils are also dried and ground into flour to make different forms of bread such as papadum. Papadum is a thin crispy cracker made from black gram or lentil flour. It’s cooked over an open flame or dry heat and is served throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.        

Pulse Crops

Lentil is a pulse crop and is the earliest known to man, although it is quite different than its once wild ancestors. Unlike its ancestors, modern-day lentil crops have pods that open at maturity spilling out seeds for germination. Pulse crops are dried edible seeds in the legume family. They are unique in the uses of crop rotation as they help heal the soil, adding nitrogens back to the farmlands. Lentils are a sustainable crop, utilizing less water and replenishing nutrients to the ground. 

This family of crop removes nitrogen from the air and transfers it to the soil. When barley or wheat is planted following a pulse crop rotation it sees significant growth and quality improvements. As with most pulse crops, lentils are drought-tolerant, they do well against frost and disease. 

Cooked Lentils

What Are The Different Types of Lentils?

There are over 25 different types of lentils grown throughout the world, with many sub-classifications. Lentils are categorized by shape, color, split or a hulled seed. Many cultures through history have utilized the legume in their cuisine. I want to explore a few of the most used varieties and what their flavor profiles are and different techniques that are applied.   

Black Lentils

Black lentils or Beluga lentils are my personal favorite, they have a robust flavor, with earthy tones and a rich finish. When cooked, they resemble caviar hence the name. Not all lentils are created equal, beluga lentils have to the most nutritional value compared to other varieties.     

Red Lentils and Yellow Lentils

Yellow and red lentils are the fastest to cook and the mildest flavor profile. I like to use them for thickeners and the base for Dhal. They are hulled, meaning the outer shell has been removed, this cuts the cooking time down significantly.  

Green Lentils

The most common type of lentil is green. They are slightly peppery in taste and have a deep earthy tone on the finish. Green lentils are slightly bigger in size and hold their shape when cooked.

Black Lentils

Are Lentils Good For You?

The nutritional value of lentils has been well documented by many studies over the years. High in fiber, folic acid, and potassium, the lentil supports heart health and lower levels of cholesterol. In addition to containing minerals, nutrients, and fiber they provide protein and have long been a substitute to meat for cultures throughout history. These mighty legumes give you energy with slow-burning complex carbohydrates and are packed full of iron. Unlike red meat, which also provides Iron to the body, lentils contain little to no fat and minimal calories. 

Boasting the second-highest levels of anti-oxidants behind black beans makes them one of the healthiest choices in the legume family. I absolutely love them on salads, in a curry, or lentil soup. I break down two different cooking methods below and which I prefer.

Lentils: How To Cook?

A general ratio is 3:1, liquid to legume depending on the varietal, size and cooking method. I always cut my liquid with a bit of white wine, chicken stock as well as fresh aromatic’s. A perfectly cooked lentil should be tender, but still have some bite in the center.

There are 2 main methods of cooking lentils, stove-top cooking or in your oven. Let’s take a look at both techniques and the advantages of each. Cooking times vary depending on the size and varietal but range from 20-30 mins on the stove and 30-50 min in the oven.

Lentils: How To Cook On the Stove

I like this method for many applications, as a quick side or in a curry. Cooking lentils via the stove-top comes with its challenges if you want to keep the shape intact. This technique is best applied with a sturdier lentil as it can take direct heat well (Beluga or French green lentils)

WHAT YOU NEED
  • 1 C of dried Beluga Lentils (washed)
  • 1 C  of Water
  • 1 C  of white wine
  • 1 C of stock (veg, chicken or fish)
  • 1 Ea shallot
  • 1 C  of mirepoix (raw carrot, celery, onion)
  • 5 Ea sprigs of thyme
  • 1 Tbls kosher salt
DIRECTIONS 
  1. Sort through your lentils and remove any broken hulls.
  2. Wash your lentils thoroughly to remove any dirt or impurities.
  3. Place in a 4-6 qt saucepan with all liquid. Make sure your water, stock, and wine are all cold or room temperature.
  4. Add in all aromatic’s and salt
  5. Apply medium-high heat and bring up to a simmer.
  6. Once the liquid comes up, turn it down immediately to a very gentle percolation. (This is essential to keeping the lentils intact)
  7. At around 15 minutes start to test by taste. They should start to be a little tender at this point. Continue to check every 5 minutes until tender but still toothsome.
  8. Remove from heat BEFORE the lentils cook all the way through. 
  9. Let stand in the liquid for 10-15 minutes to finish cooking.     

Depending on how you are going to use them you can cool down in the liquid overnight, then reheat or use on top of a salad. Cooling them down in the liquid prevents them from becoming a dried unappealing mess. 

Lentils: How to Cook In The Oven

This is my preferred method of cooking sturdier lentils as it’s much gentler of a process. The heat in the oven evenly distributes in the liquid and makes for a perfectly cooked legume. As with stove-top cooking, this method is all about timing.  

WHAT YOU NEED
  • 1 C of dried Beluga Lentils (washed)
  • 1 C  of Water
  • 1 C  of white wine
  • 1 C of stock (veg, chicken or fish)
  • 1 Ea shallot
  • 1 C  of mirepoix (raw carrot, celery, onion)
  • 5 Ea sprigs of thyme
  • 1 Tbls kosher salt

 

DIRECTIONS 
  1. Preheat your oven to 325°
  2. Sort through your lentils and remove any broken hulls.
  3. Wash your lentils thoroughly to remove any dirt or impurities.
  4. Place in a 6-8 quart baking dish with all liquid. Make sure your water, stock, and wine are all room temperature.
  5. Add in all aromatic’s and salt
  6. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.
  7. Put the dish in the preheated oven.
  8. At around 30 minutes start to test by taste. They should start to be a little tender at this point. Continue to check every 5-10 minutes until tender but still toothsome.
  9. Remove from oven BEFORE the lentils cook all the way through. Pull off the aluminum foil. 
  10. Let stand in the liquid for 10-15 minutes to finish cooking.     

Depending on how you are going to use them, cool down in the liquid overnight, then reheat or use cold on top of a salad. Cooling them down in the liquid prevents them from becoming a dried unappealing mess. 

 

Market With Lentils

Love Thy Lentils!

What’s your favorite method of cooking lentils and what do you put them on? Let us know in the comments down below. Also, check out our story on the Agricultural Revolution and how it’s shaped the foods we eat.