Lentils feature in menus all over the world, often as a staple ingredient to replace meat because they are so nutritious. They are low in fat, high in fibre, protein and folate and quick and easy to cook. Because they are dried, you can keep them in your store cupboard and make a meal at short notice.
Lentils du Puy (often called Puy Lentils)
– Smaller than the more common brown and green varieties, Lentils du Puy are named after Puy in France. They are also grown in other parts of the world, including North America and Italy and are the foodies’ favourite. Dark leaf green in color, they have a rich, earthy flavour and when cooked, hold their shape.
Black Lentils (often called Beluga Lentils)
Black lentils are smaller than the standard brown lentils and are the colour of caviar, the reason they are sometimes called Beluga lentils. They have an earthy flavour and stand up to long cooking though they can look a bit muddy if you over-cook them. Whether they are worth the premium price is another thing – we are happy with puy lentils – but we have to agree that they look good on the plate especially if you pair them with smoked salmon or roast squash. Calling them Beluga lentils is more a marketing device to keep their price high and make them look good on restaurant menus.
These larger lentils are the common garden variety and are cheaper than puy or Beluga lentils. They take on a creamy texture when you cook them so they are good in soups and dhal.
These small orange-red lentils fall to pieces when they are cooked, making them ideal for lentil dips, lentil burgers, dhal and soups and have the advantage that they are plentiful and cheap. Add a handful to any soup to make it more filling.
How to cook Lentils
– You don’t need to soak lentils before you cook them but you should wash them well to remove any grit. They take between 35-45 minutes to cook, use lots of water and strain them when cooked. Add salt at the end of cooking as it can toughen them if you add it earlier. If you are using them as a salad, dress them when they are warm so they will soak up the flavours.
– Use half the amount you think you will need, as they double in volume when cooked.
– Lentils work well with balsamic vinegar – add a finely chopped shallot and drizzle the balsamic over cooked warm lentils.
– Cook a batch of lentils at the beginning of the week and warm them up for a side dish during the week or add them to salads and soups for texture.
Photograph copyright foodpixies.com