Lentils are as ancient as recorded history. In Genesis 25 is the story of when Esau sold Jacob his birthright and Jacob served Esau a bowl of lentils. “Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34).
And in Daniel, is the account of four Hebrew young men serving in the court of Nebuchadnezzar (the Babylonian king that conquered Judah and Jerusalem). It tells how they bargained for a diet of pulse. Pulse is comprised of seeds and grains including beans and lentils. “And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse. As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom” (Daniel 1:15-17). I’m not promising that lentils will make you smart and wise, but I’m game.
Some believe Lentils (like Sophia Loren) are older than you’d think; archeological evidence shows they were eaten as much as 13,000 to 9,500 years ago.
Lentils, a lens-shaped seed, are a type of legume. Legumes are vegetables that grow in pods: beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts. They range in color from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black. (I like the way they look in clear containers on my pantry shelf.) High in protein, lentils (and beans) are often used as meat substitutes. “With about 30% of their calories from protein, lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, after soybeans and hemp.”*
Consider occasionally using them instead of potatoes as they are much lower on the glycemic index and higher in fiber.
Lentils are high in folate, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, calcium, and selenium. They contain B vitamins and are rich in antioxidants that help prevent cell damage. Lentils help lower cholesterol and manage blood-sugar, preventing it from rising rapidly after a meal.
Because of a short cooking time, 10-30 minutes depending on the variety, they are ideal for last minute suppers. With a similar cooking time to rice, some West Asian and Indian dishes combine the two.
There are many terrific recipes (just do a search for a specific type of lentil on the internet). I’ve given a new favorite soup recipe below. I came across it during a search one day and realized I had all the ingredients on hand. Now we have it about once per month during the chilly months of winter.
Sweet Potato, Carrot, Apple and Red Lentil Soup
(378 reviews and still 5 stars)
• 1/4 cup butter (or olive oil for a vegan version)
• 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
• 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
• 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
• 1 onion, chopped
• 1/2 cup red lentils
• 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
• 1/2 teaspoon paprika
• 4 cups vegetable broth
• plain yogurt
1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Place the chopped sweet potatoes, carrots, apple, and onion in the pot. Stir and cook the apples and vegetables until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
2. Stir the lentils, ginger, ground black pepper, salt, cumin, chili powder, paprika, and vegetable broth into the pot with the apple and vegetable mixture. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the lentils and vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.
3. Working in batches, pour the soup into a blender, filling the pitcher no more than halfway full. Hold down the lid of the blender with a folded kitchen towel, and carefully start the blender, using a few quick pulses to get the soup moving before leaving it on to puree. Puree in batches until smooth—I pureed 2/3rds. Some reviewers like in chunky like stew.
4. Return the pureed soup to the cooking pot. Bring back to a simmer over medium-high heat, about 10 minutes. Add water as needed to thin the soup to your preferred consistency. Serve with yogurt for garnish.
* Callaway JC (2004). Hempseed as a nutritional resource: an overview. Euphytica 140:65-72.