Do you feel like you want to delve into the world of lentils but don’t feel confident in preparing them? This is my guide on how to cook lentils, plus some of my top reasons why we should all be eating lentils, from both the health and environmental perspective.
Lentils are in my opinion the superfood of all superfoods. They are a great source of plant-based protein and important minerals including iron and zinc. They are also cost-effective in terms of money, but also greenhouse gas emissions, and have the ability to nourish our bodies on a budget, and not at the expense of the environment. Now let me tell you why lentils should be allowed centre stage at your next meal. I’ve included a simple prep guide on how to cook lentils and my top 5 reasons why we should be eating lentils.
Lentils As Food For The People
Last week I had the pleasure of dining at the notorious Lentils As Anything Restaurant in Melbourne, Australia. Since I got wind of this eatery’s concept some 10 years ago, I’d been looking forward to the day I finally got to try it out, and it was amazing. The philosophy behind Lentils As Anything is that you pay what you feel the food is worth, and with this, you are given the opportunity to contribute towards a world where respect, generosity, trust, equality, freedom and kindness rule.
Lentils As Anything is a not-for-profit organization and has been successfully working for over 13 years. When diners such as myself can afford to pay the proper price of the meal plus a few dollars more, it allows those that are less fortunate to be able to dine out and be social, regardless of their financial situation.
Top 5 Reasons Why We Should Eat Lentils
Here are some of my top reasons why we should all be eating more lentils.
- Lentils are able to “fix” nitrogen. This allows plant nutrients to be recycled and protects the soil from erosion. It also decreases our dependence on conventional synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizers which can pollute waterways and reduce the soils ability to retain nutrients,
- Lentils are a great source of protein, zinc and iron, and also contain soluble and insoluble fibre, micronutrients and phytonutrients. To better absorb the iron in lentils, add some vitamin C to the meal. For better access to the zinc try sprouting your lentils – see Getting Enough Zinc for The Vegan and Vegetarian for more details,
- Lentils are very cost-effective. Many populations in developing countries rely on lentils and other legumes as a cheap source of protein; think dhal in India, tempeh in Indonesia, hummus in the Middle East, tofu in Japan or refried beans in Latin America. One serving of lentils can cost you less than $1, whereas the same portion of meat can cost upwards of $4. See the below table for a good breakdown on the cost of protein from legumes compared with meat,
- Beef is one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gasses and produces 13 times more carbon dioxide equivalents than legumes. By replacing one meat dish with one lentil dish per week we could drastically reduce our carbon footprint,
- Lentils are very versatile and are a great substitution for meat and other protein. They are great in soups in the winter, and salads in the summer.
Cost Comparison of Lentils Versus Other Protein Sources
A Simple Prep Guide For How To Cook Lentils
If you are ready to take the plunge and start cooking lentils from scratch, use this simple guide for my top tips on how to cook lentils.
- Lentils need a good rinse to ensure there are no hidden tiny pebbles or dirt in the mix. Rinse them under running water in a fine-mesh sieve.
- For plain cooked lentils, add one cup of lentils to 3 cups of water, bring to a boil and let simmer for 20-30 minutes (split red lentils need only 7-10 minutes). Cooked lentils can be pureed and used in hummus, or if you have boiled some brown or puy lentils they can be added to a salad once cooled (see The Best Lentil Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette).
- When preparing a lentil soup, stew or spaghetti bolognese the lentils can be added straight into the recipe. Let the lentils cook for 20-30 minutes (for split red lentils they will need only 7-10 minutes) in whichever dish you have added them to, or until they are soft and ready to eat.
- Add the salt after the lentils have finished cooking as salt can make the skin of the lentils tough.
- If you want to have some healthy cooked protein on hand for quick, easy dinners cook a big batch of lentils and freeze in portion-controlled containers or bags. Cooked lentils can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, or the freezer for up to 6 months. Store dried lentils in an airtight container in a cool and dry place.
- Canned lentils can also be used as a quick protein option and as they are already cooked, they can be added directly into any recipe about 3 minutes before the completion of the dish. When using canned lentils be sure to drain them and rinse them well under running water.
Some More Tips on How To Cook Lentils
- All dry lentils and split peas do NOT need to be soaked*. Larger legumes including dried chickpeas, black beans and kidney beans do need to be soaked for at least 24 hours before cooking.
- Lentils can also be sprouted. Sprouting helps provide better access to the minerals including iron zinc by removing some of the phytates which would otherwise bind to the minerals, making it less absorbable by the body (see post Getting Enough Zinc for The Vegan and Vegetarian for more details). For more information on sprouting see The How To and Health Benefits of Sprouting Foods.
- Interesting fact, red lentils are in fact green lentils with the skin removed, and as they break down easily they are best used in soups, stews and sauces. Green Lentils, French Puy Lentils and Black Beluga lentils still have their seed coat on, and therefore retain their shape better when cooked. These are ideal in salads, lasagna or in a bolognese sauce.
*If lentils are your main source of protein it is good practice to always soak your lentils prior to use to reduce the phytate content. Phytate can bind to important minerals and make them less absorbable by the body. Soak lentils in water for up to 12 hours.
Ready To Try Some Lentils?
There is absolutely nothing to lose from trying to add lentils into your diet, but there is so much to gain. I would suggest a soup that incorporates red lentils for your first lentil excursion, the red lentils break apart and are almost unnoticeable. Lentils can also now be purchased locally – see Saanichton Farms for more details if you live in Victoria. Good luck all your future lentil endeavours!
Here are a few of my favourite lentil-based dishes;
- Vegetarian Greek Red Lentil Soup with Lemon
- Lentil Salad Recipe with a Mustard Vinaigrette
- Mixed Lentil and Bean Winter Warming Soup
- Weeknight Favourite – Ginger and Lentil Stew with Couscous
- Butternut Squash Curry Lentil Soup with Turmeric
Did you cook your own lentils from scratch? Please let me know how it turned out for you! Share it on Pinterest and leave a comment below. I would love it if you shared a picture of your recreation on Instagram so I can take a look, and be sure to tag me @theconsciousdietitian.
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Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.