Created on: February 17, 2013
Lentils are, as WHFoods describes them, “a small but nutritionally mighty member of the legume family.” Their strength is that they provide very little in the way of calories, but bulk you up at the same time, so you are likely to feel fuller for longer. As well as being a great source of protein, they also provide plenty of fiber, magnesium and folate, the latter of which makes them particularly good for menstruating women. It is hard to cook lentils in an unhealthy way, but the following methods ensure that you reap all the benefits of lentils, whilst not adding too many extra calories in the form of other ingredients.
Choose your lentils
Before preparing or cooking your lentils, you need to decide what type of lentils to go for. You can buy them in tins, in which case they will need very little preparation. If you choose the tinned variety, check on the salt content to ensure it is as low as possible. However, many people opt for the dried whole or split lentils that need to be cooked before they can be used. The most common forms of lentils in the US are green and brown lentils, although red lentils can also be bought, along with yellow, black and orange. Blogger Darya Pino finds that green lentils retain their shape better than brown lentils and also need less water, making them perfect for inclusion in salads and stir fries. She also finds that brown lentils and those of other colors are better used in curries and other dishes.
Lentils generally don’t need to be pre-soaked because they are faster to cook than most dried legumes. However, you will need to cook them a little bit – most people do so by boiling them for 30 minutes, although you will want to test them before turning off the heat. Once the heat is off, leave the saucepan lid on to allow the lentils to absorb more of the water. For every cup of lentils, add two cups of water and about half a teaspoon of salt to taste. When they are ready, they should be tender and you should be able to mash them with a fork.
Try a microwave or slow cooker
You don’t necessarily have to cook lentils on the stove-top – you can cook them in a microwave or slow cooker. According to the New York Times, compared to cooking in a saucepan, lentils can be cooked more quickly in the microwave and there is no risk of them burning or sticking. When cooked in a slow cooker, the cooking time is increased, but you can throw in all the ingredients, including the lentils, at the same time and then forget about them for a few hours. The ingredients in this recipe needs to be left for around 3-4 hours on high and then another 6 hours or so on low.
Bulk up healthy curries, stews, soups and sauces
Perhaps the healthiest way to cook lentils is to combine them with plenty of vegetables in the form of curries, stews, soups and sauces. That way, you will add plenty of bulk and roughage, without too many calories. You can either cook them first, then add them in during the cooking stage, or you can combine the ingredients from the start, provided that you include plenty of water so that the lentils don’t dry out. If you aren’t too confident about what you’re doing, follow a recipe until you have a feel for when the lentils are ready.
If lentils aren’t already a key part of your diet, you should make an effort to try adding them to your cooking routine. You will be amazed at their versatility and ability to absorb flavors from the surrounding ingredients.
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Healthy ways to cook lentils