By Brandy McDevitt, R.D.
No place like grandma’s for a nourishing meal
When your family gathers, serve something filling, tasty and nutritious that even the grandkids will gobble up. Lentils are a versatile and wholesome pantry staple that can star (or be hidden) in all sorts of dishes that will please all ages.
For me, cold weather means comfort foods. Think of hearty and warm soups, stews and sauces that soothe the body and soul. I love incorporating lentils into these types of meals for many reasons: they pack a nutritional punch with their fibre, protein and iron; they are easy and fast to work with; and they are economical.
If you’re not familiar with cooking with lentils, here is a little lentil 101 for you:
Red lentils: Cook in about 20 minutes from their dried form. Once they are cooked, they turn from red to yellow. Red lentils do not hold their shape very well, so they are best used in sauces or soups with a more pureed texture. For kids (or adults!) who may be weary of trying lentils, red lentils are a nice place to start because sometimes you might not even realize they are in a recipe. Red lentils can also be easily pureed and incorporated into baked goods.
Brown or green lentils: Cook in 30 to 40 minutes and they generally hold their shape a lot better than red lentils. They are best used in salads or recipes where you want more texture or to be able to see the lentil itself.
Lentils do not require any soaking before they are cooked, like other pulses such as dried chickpeas, black beans or kidney beans. Simply give them a little rinse before cooking and you’re all set. Generally, it is a one-to-three ratio of lentils to water, so if you use one cup of lentils, use three cups of water. Place them both into a pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes depending on the type of lentil you are using. Do not add salt to the cooking water as this can make the lentils tough.
The Canadian Lentils website (lentils.org), offers a wealth of resources from video tutorials on how to cook lentils, to lots of recipes. It is a great website to explore if you are interested in using more lentils in your cooking. Here are a couple of recipes to check out. To make a complete balanced meal, serve them with a garden salad or extra steamed vegetables.
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Total time: 1 Hour
canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1-14 oz (398 mL) can diced or stewed tomatoes
1 cup (250 mL) lentils
2 tsp (10 mL) chili powder
½ tsp (2 mL) cumin
dash salt and pepper
6 or more taco shells or soft flour tortillas
1. In a large, shallow pan, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for four to five minutes, until soft and starting to turn golden around the edges. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
2. Add the tomatoes, lentils, chili powder and cumin, along with one cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add a little more water if it seems too dry. If it seems too wet, continue cooking until the excess moisture has been cooked off.
3. Serve the lentils in taco shells, with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, and sour cream for garnish.
Coconut Thai Curry Lentils with Quinoa
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Total time: 1 Hour
6 cups (375 mL) quinoa, cooked
1 Tbsp (15 mL) canola oil
1 whole medium onion, finely diced
3 Tbsp (45 mL) red Thai curry paste (add more for extra zing)
1 can (400 mL) coconut milk
2 whole medium tomatoes, diced
2 cups (500 mL) cooked or canned lentils, drained and rinsed
3 Tbsp (45 mL) chopped fresh cilantro (keep a few leaves for garnish) 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) black pepper
1. In a sauté pan, cook onion in canola oil on medium heat until golden in colour. Add tomatoes and sauté for two to three minutes. Stir in curry paste and cook for three minutes.
2. Add coconut milk and simmer until moisture has reduced by half. Add cooked lentils and simmer until mixture thickens, approximately five minutes.
3. Add fresh cilantro to coconut lentil mixture. Place a ladle of mixture over a portion of cooked quinoa, garnish cilantro and serve.