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Lentils

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

These little disk-shaped legumes need no presoaking and are ready in 20 to 30 minutes--not too much longer than it takes to cook pasta. In fact, when you consider the nutritional superiority of lentils, you might want to serve them instead of pasta: Compared with spaghetti, lentils supply much more folate (folic acid), which fights heart disease and prevent birth defects; considerably more fiber (about 25% of which is the soluble kind, which lowers cholesterol); and more protein. Lentils make a fine side dish and an excellent basis for salads and hearty soups.

Varieties

Lentils come in many colors, but brown lentils are the most common in U.S. supermarkets. You can sometimes find green lentils and tiny red lentils in specialty stores. Brown and green lentils hold their shape well after cooking and are excellent for salads or other dishes where you want texture. Red lentils cook quicker and work best in purees and other dishes where softness is an advantage. The wide variety of lentils (known as dals) used in Indian cuisine have had their outer skins removed, which lowers their nutritional value, especially the fiber content.

Availability

Lentils are sold dried and can be found year round in the grocery store.

Shopping

Look for undamaged boxes or bags of uniformly sized, well-colored lentils.

If you buy lentils in bulk, examine them carefully for insect damage, which sometimes shows up as pinhole-sized marks. Check that the lentils are not cracked or broken.

Storage

Store lentils in a tightly closed container at cool room temperature; if left exposed to air, they will dry out, and will take longer to cook.

Lentils should keep for up to a year, but since you don't know how long they've been on the supermarket shelf, plan to use them within six months.

Do not mix a new supply of lentils with older ones; the older lentils will be somewhat dryer, so they will take longer to cook.

Store any leftover cooked lentils in covered containers in the refrigerator, where they will keep for three to four days.

Preparation

Examine lentils before cooking by spreading them on a white kitchen towel so that you can easily see and discard any dirt, debris, or damaged specimens. Then place the lentils in a strainer and rinse well under cold water.

There's no need to presoak lentils. After rinsing, simply cook them in water or broth--with herbs, onions, or garlic added, if you wish--until tender.

Use about 1 1/2 cups of liquid per cup of lentils, and cook 15 minutes for red lentils and 20 to 25 minutes for green or brown ones.

Adjust the cooking time according to the final use you have planned: For salads, remove the lentils from the heat while they are tender but still firm; for soups and purees, cook them until they are very soft.

Nutrition Chart

Lentils/1/2 cup cooked

115
Total fat (g)
0.4
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
7.8
9
Carbohydrate (g)
20
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
2
Folate (mcg)
179
Iron (mg)
3.3
Manganese (mg)
0.5
Phosphorus (mg)
178


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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