The lentil plant (Lens culinaris), part of the plant family
of peas, is native to South Western Asia and is one of the oldest cultivated
legumes. Lentils are used in countless cuisines worldwide and are a staple in
many Asian countries.
Ancient culinary history
Archaeological records show evidence of their cultivation as
early as 6 000 BC, along with other grains including wheat and barley.
Historical records show evidence of lentils found in Egyptian tombs dating back
more than 2 000 years, in ancient Greece ground lentils were used to bake
bread, and in the book of Genesis in the Bible, reference is made to a bowl of
lentils which Esau exchanged for his birthright.
Types of lentils
Although there are basically two types of lentils, the
larger macrosperma and the smaller Persian microsperma, there are many
varieties within these two groups, including the well known brown, red, green
and black lentils.
lentils are the most commonly found and are ideal for stews, as they hold their
shape well after cooking.
lentils take less time to cook and easily cook into a soft pulp, which makes
them ideal for soups and stews.
lentils have the most intense flavour and are ideal for salads since they
remain quite firm after cooking.
lentils, not as well known as the other varieties, are characteristically black
and shiny when cooked, almost resembling beluga caviar, and are therefore known
as beluga lentils.
Lentil plants are cultivated for their seeds, which are
dried to be cooked or ground into flour. From a nutritional and health
perspective, lentils are extremely nutritious as an unprocessed whole food.
Lentils are naturally rich in protein, dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and
trace elements. Apart from the fact that they are extremely nutritious, they
are also extremely versatile from a culinary perspective – just see our variety
of recipes. opposite!
Did you know?
Lentils are classified as a low-GI food, which means that it
is digested and absorbed into the body gradually. With this gradual absorption,
the effects of including lentils on your blood glucose levels is quite
remarkable in that it helps prevent rapid increases and rapid decreases in
blood sugar levels.
Why is this important?
Diabetics are advised to stick to low-GI foods, to help
support the control of their blood glucose levels.
Weight-conscious individuals benefit from including low-GI
foods, as they support appetite control. Including lentils or beans in only one
meal per day can help to reduce the craving for sweet and starchy foods, due to
the moderating effect of low-GI foods on blood glucose levels.
How to prepare lentils
Most dried pulses have to be soaked overnight in water
before they are boiled. The same can be done with lentils, as this would reduce
cooking time to 10 to 15 minutes. However, pre-soaking is not essential.
Lentils can be boiled by adding three parts cold water to one part lentils.
Bring to a boil and reduce heat – allow to simmer until the desired texture is
Cooking time differs slightly for the different types of
lentils: 35–45 minutes
lentils: 15–20 minutes
lentils: 5–10 minutes
Should salt be added?
Ideally, salt should not be added during the cooking
process, as this may prolong the cooking time, as well as affect the texture of
the lentils. Adding salt results in the lentil skins becoming tough and
sometimes the lentils stay quite firm.
Add two celery stalks, half an onion and one carrot when
boiling lentils. This adds a lovely flavour, without affecting the texture of
Soak half a cup of lentils in two cups of water overnight.
The next day, pack a thick layer of damp paper towels on a plate. Drain lentils
and spread out on wet paper towels. Cover the lentils with another layer of
damp paper towels and leave at room temperature. Sprinkle water on paper towels
every six to 12 hours to ensure that they stay wet. When lentils have sprouted
within two to three days, remove from paper towels and store in a closed
container in the fridge. Use within seven to 10 days.
Even though one of the general rules for good nutrition is
to stay away from processed and tinned foods, the exception can be made for
pulses, including lentils. Since the cooking process takes extremely long, the
vitamins that are sensitive to heat and processing will be reduced to the same
extent than through the processing to be tinned. The main nutrients found in
lentils are by nature resistant to heat anyway, which means that the cooking
process does not greatly compromise the nutritional quality. However, the best
recommendation is to cook your own lentils.
If you don’t always have time to boil your lentils,
especially if you need them chilled to use in a salad, you can boil the whole
pack and freeze portions for later use. Make sure you use them within three
months of freezing.
Lentils are ideal to form the base of a variety of stews and
soups, but can also be added to any salad or stir-fry vegetable recipe to add
flavour, texture and protein.
Sprouted lentil and avocado salad
1 bag lettuce (regular iceberg works best) or ½ washed, torn
1 whole avocado, peeled, cubed and sprinkled with lemon
½ cup lentil sprouts
1 tablespoon chives, chopped
the ingredients in a shallow dish.
with vinaigrette-type salad dressing.
Crunchy lentil salad
1 cup cooked, chilled brown lentils
1 cup cooked, chilled brown rice
½ red onion, chopped
½ cup raw broccoli, grated
½ cucumber, diced
2 green peppers, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 small peeled green apple, diced
6-8 peppadews, diced
all the ingredients.
with honey and mustard salad dressing
Lentil and caramelised onion dip
1 cup cooked, chilled brown lentils
½ cup caramelised onions
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Vital Molasses
OR 1 tablespoon
balsamic glaze (instead of vinegar and molasses)
all the ingredients in a blender and use as dip with celery sticks, cucumber
slices, Vital Rice Cakes/Vital Corn Cakes and other low-fat crackers. (This
mixture can be safely kept in the fridge for 7 to 10 days.)
Curried lentil butternut
1 large butternut (very ripe)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
250 g mushrooms, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon curry powder
or ½ teaspoon turmeric
teaspoon ground cumin
teaspoon ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cooked green or brown lentils
100 ml plain low-fat yoghurt (optional)
Fresh coriander leaves
butternut in half (lengthwise), remove pips and brush with 1 teaspoon olive
2. Bake in
preheated oven at 180 °C for about 40 minutes until still firm, but almost
from oven and remove most of flesh without damaging skin.
4. In a
shallow non-stick pan, fry onion in remaining olive oil.
mushrooms and chopped butternut when onions are golden brown.
garlic, spices, salt and pepper.
7. Add 100
ml water, turn down heat and let simmer until butternut pieces are soft.
cooked lentils and let simmer for another 10 minutes.
mixture back into butternut skins.
filled butternut in oven.
11. Serve with
a dollop of plain low-fat yoghurt and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
Spicy Tomato & Lentils Soup
½ pack of red lentils
Salt (to taste)
1 tin Mexican tomatoes
half a pack of red lentils in a pot. Add double the quantity water.
2. Bring to
a boil, and boil for approximately 20 minutes until the lentils are soft.
3. You will
note that you will have to add some more water throughout – don’t let it boil
4. Add the
tin of Mexican tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes.
5. If you
want it to thicken the soup, just add another half a tin of tomato, or if you
want a thinner soup, add more water.
lentils until very soft, add salt and serve.
Hint: You can add some garlic and a bay leaf to enhance the
100 g dried red lentils
1 tin tomatoes (? 400 g)
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 vegetable stock cube
150 ml boiling water
200 g aubergine, sliced
1 small chopped onion
150 g low-fat smooth cottage cheese
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper
lentils in a large bowl with tomatoes, garlic, oregano and a pinch of nutmeg.
Crumble in the stock cube and add boiling water.
well, cover the bowl and cook on high for 10 minutes in microwave oven with 10
minutes standing time, or 30 minutes at 180 °C in a preheated oven.
aubergine slices and chopped onion in a bowl, cover with cling film and pierce,
and cook on high for 5 minutes in the microwave oven or for 15 minutes in a
preheated oven at 180 °C.
any excess water.
half of the aubergine slices and onions on the base of a serving dish.
over half of the lentil mixture and repeat the layers.
dish and cook on high for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain any excess water.
8. Blend egg
and cheese until smooth and season with nutmeg and pepper.
9. Pour over
lentil mixture and cook for an additional 5 to 15 minutes, until the cheese
mixture is set.
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