The Surprising Food That Became A Stay-At-Home Star
by Anna Smith, MS, RDN, LDN
Last Updated: May 26, 2020
COVID-19 has forced us all to take a longer-than-usual glance into our pantries to see if they are adequately stocked. If you’re lacking protein options, lentils are a perfect addition to throw in your cart the next time you shop. Lentils are a plant-based, shelf-stable powerhouse. You can find them next to the dried beans, peas, and grains at the grocery store.
When selecting lentils, you’ll find that they come in several different colors: brown, green, and red. The recipe may call for a certain type, but they are easily interchangeable. Brown is most often used due to its mild, earthy flavor. Green lentils take the longest to cook and have more of a peppery, robust flavor. Red is the sweetest variety, taking on a nutty flavor. Red lentils do take on a different texture when cooked, so they are often used in thickening soups and Indian dishes or sauces. Whichever color you select, dried lentils are all considered an economical protein option, ringing in at a coupon clipper’s dream- around $1.59/lb.
Dried lentils can be easily prepared in the kitchen using a stovetop, pot, and water. They do not require soaking, unlike other legumes and beans. It is recommended to examine, sort (remove any natural particles that may be present from harvesting) and rinse the lentils before cooking to ensure top quality. Using a large pot, add 2 cups of lentils to 6-8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently with the lid tilted until desired tenderness is reached (about 15-20 minutes). Remember, green lentils may take a little longer. Lentils can also be ‘pan-fried’ to give them a crispier texture. Using a fry pan, add olive oil or avocado oil, then add the cooked lentils and stir lightly for 10 minutes until desired crispiness is achieved.
Nutritionally, lentils get an A+! They are a plant-based protein, meaning they are a vegan friendly protein source without any saturated fat. Decreasing saturated fat intake is beneficial for everyone, but specifically for those looking to make heart-healthier choices. Lentils also have fiber, another nutrient important for cardiovascular health, as it helps to lower cholesterol. Fiber is also crucial in managing diabetes and weight, as it helps control hunger and keeps our digestive tracts functioning optimally. Lentils contain a healthful 9 grams of fiber (per ½ cup) which is 32% of the daily value. In addition, lentils are high in folate, potassium, iron, and manganese.
There are so many great recipes that use lentils, making them perfect for your meatless Monday recipe roundup! Some of our favorites are lentil taco bowl, mushroom lentil burger, zesty tomato lentil soup, and lentil Caesar salad. 2020 is all about embracing change and adjusting to our new normal, so it’s the perfect time to incorporate these protein powerhouses into your meals more consistently.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.