Ingredient SpotLight

Lentils are a fantastic source of nutrition that are cheap, easy to make and versatile. They've been food staples for thousands of years and enjoyed throughout human history. Lentils have been found in Egyptian tombs that date from 2400 BC. It may have been used as an aphrodisiac. They also thought that the lentil enlightened the minds of children, making them more cheerful and studious. The Egyptians are thought to have introduced the lentil to the Greeks and Romans.

Lentils are so simple to make. Simply sort, rinse and boil for fifteen to twenty minutes. There is no need to soak lentils. Storing lentils is also simple. They keep indefinitely in a cool, dry place. After long storage, the color may fade slightly, but the taste will not be noticeably altered. Lentils are PACKED with nutrients, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and folic acid. Lentils are a low calorie, low fat, and cholesterol free food. They are also inexpensive. Lentils are also an important source of iron. Eating lentils with foods rich in Vitamin C, such as tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, and citrus fruits or juices, helps the body absorb iron more efficiently. Lentils are also protein rich. They lack only one protein, methionine. Adding grains, eggs, nuts, seeds, meat, dairy products, or egg will provide a complete protein.

In an effort to share some inspired ideas for using lentils, I'm including two of my favorite recipes featuring them here. The first is a pilaf featuring lentils and bulgur. It's quick and delicious. Consider serving it with roasted chicken. The second is a great meal featuring lentils and salmon. Enjoy!

Bulgur and Lentil Pilaf

  • 5 1/4 cups water
  • 3/4 cup red lentils
  • 2 Turkish bay leaves
  • 2 1/4 cups medium bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Bring the first 3 ingredients to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Partially cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the lentils are almost tender, about 15 minutes. Mix in the bulgur, salt, and spices. Cover; simmer until the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes longer. Season with pepper. Discard the bay leaves. Serve topped with the almonds.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Salmon with Lentils and Mustard-Herb Butter

For the mustard-herb butter:

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
  • 2 teaspoons grainy mustard
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For the lentils:

  • 1 cup French green lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

For the salmon:

  • 4 (6-ounce) pieces skinless salmon fillet
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

To make the mustard-herb butter, stir together all of the ingredients with 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. The mustard-herb butter can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Soften it at room temperature before using (1 hour).

Bring the lentils, water, and 3/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are just tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand 5 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the lentils.

While lentils cook, chop and wash the leeks. Cook the leeks in the butter in a heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the lentils with the reserved cooking liquid to the leeks along with 3 tablespoons of the mustard-herb butter and cook, stirring, until the lentils are heated through and the butter is melted. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and keep warm, covered. The lentils can be cooked (but not drained) 1 day ahead and chilled in the cooking liquid, covered (once cool).

While the leeks cook, sauté the salmon. Pat the salmon dry and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper (total). Heat the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the foam subsides, then sauté the salmon, turning once, until it's golden and just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes total. Serve the salmon, topped with the remaining mustard-herb butter, over the lentils.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 50 minutes