Ingredient Introduction #3 – Lentils

I’ve already shared with you my love of beans.

But, believe it or not, there’s one I haven’t tried. The lowly lentil.

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Whenever I think of that peculiar pebble, my mind goes directly to Sister Act and the scene (started at 3:23) where Sister Mary Clarence eats with the convent for the first time. A bowl of bland, brown, goop ends up in front of her. She tastes it, hates it, and asks if she’s in a Pritikin order. The Pritikin diet includes lentils.

The truth is that lentils can turn into mud if you over cook them or don’t season them right. I’d assume the cook at the convent in Sister Act commited one of those savory sins.

Lentils get called beans, but some will argue that they’re technically pulses, which are crops harvested only for their dry seeds.

Green, red, brown, black, yellow, orange… Did you know there are that many kinds of lentils? I didn’t.

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I’ve only seen the khaki (brown) colored variety lounging around with the dried beans at the super market.

At Trader Joe’s I found red ones. They’re split to make them cook faster.

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You can make soup. You can use them to thicken dishes. There’s dal (daal), a thick Indian stew. And there’s even cookies. Yes, cookies. Keep reading.

The perk to this pulse is their high fiber and protein contents. That’s on top of a slew of minerals and vitamins.

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My first dish was kind of like dal.

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1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. Garam masala (a blend of cardamom pods, cinnamom, cumin, cloves and pepper)
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, diced
2 1/2 non sodium chicken broth
1 cup of split red lentils

Cook up the onion in a bit of oil. Add the oil, and when you can smell it (10 seconds), add in the tomatoes and spices. Stir. Add the lentils and broth, stir. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low for 17 minutes. Stir occasionally.

It’s that easy!

Here’s the deal, though. Lentils take a little bit of prep work. They can be dusty, dirty, and include a few rocks. So you should dump them into a strainer (small holes), and rinse. Dig through them to make sure there aren’t any intruders. Then use them.

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There’s no need to soak them, either.

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Salting them off the top is said to make the skins tough, which can lengthen the cooking time. That’s said to be the case with acid (citrus juice, vinegar), too. I’ve seen arguments go either way on this, though. For what it’s worth, I didn’t add salt until they were done cooking.

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My dal design was more of a side dish than a main meal. It was creamy, and packed with a light, comforting flavor. Indian spices will warm you instantly. They’re homey.

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I used the red lentils as a base for my Meyer lemon and thyme (a good friend to lentils) scented chicken.

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Just put your chicken breasts in a dish, sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Add a little chicken broth to the perimiter. Put a few slices of lemon on the chicken, toss in some sprigs of thyme, then cover, and bake at 400 for about 30 minutes.

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Juicy and bright. The flavors slightly offset the aromatic hug from the cardamom, cinnamon and Garam masala.

Red lentils are used for dal because they don’t hold their form when cooked. Orange and yellow lentils fall apart, too.

Brown and green lentils will hold their shapes if you don’t over cook them.

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I’ll tell you a secret. I bought a bag of brown lentils months ago after hearing about their health benefits. They didn’t make it out of the pantry until now.

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Guess what I did with them. I made cookies.

Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit for this one. Alton Brown is the brain behind this crazy creation.

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Most of the reviewers called them “healthy” cookies. While that’s slightly true, technically, they still have a good bit of butter and sugar in them.

The secret ingredient here is lentil puree. You cook the lentils, then obliterate them into a mixture that looks like it belongs between bricks.

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In reality, I think the puree gives the cookie a light, soft texture. That combined, with the earthy flavor, make for what I’d describe as a bran muffin’s fraternal twin.

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The recipe calls for dried fruit and dried, unsweetened coconut. I used sweetened coconut (easier to find), then reduced the sugar by one ounce. For dried fruit, I turned to the cherry-flavored Craisin. You could add nuts

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This cookie is interesting, but good. It’s not too sweet. The all spice and cinnamon really stand out. You’d never know there’s lentils inside. It passed the kid test, too.

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The texture is really the pulse of this pulse. But that’s okay. It’s a great, blank canvas for any spice or herb. It’s a meal or a simple side.

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Show the lentil some love.

Tip: Get a spice grinder. I got one for Christmas from my partner in cuisine crime’s kids. It’s really a coffee grinder, but it’s perfect for cloves, all spice, and cumin seeds. I used it for the lentil cookies. It beats buying whole and ground versions of the same spice. You tend to need both. The whole version is good for steeping (ciders and poaching liquids), while the ground version is better for baking and cooking.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mike Jannise says:

    Very cool! I will definitely have to try the cookie recipe! Recently, I just watched an episode of Giada where she made lentil veggie burgers and they looked amazing!

    1. I could definitely see brown lentils in a taco. I’ll have to try that. I love Giada!

  2. McMom says:

    If I remember correctly your Grandmother made an awesome homemade lentil soup. We should try to get the recipe.

    1. I’d love to have her recipe!!

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