Lentils

For a long time, while I was living alone in Portland, lentils were a staple of my diet.  I would bring a bag of lentils with sausage for lunch and return home from work to cook lentils with quinoa for my dinner.  You might imagine that I saved money on food during this time. You would imagine wrong.  My lentil diet was composed entirely of fancy French or Spanish green lentils.  I think I paid something like three dollars per pound for those fancy lentils.



Aside from the price I really do prefer green lentils over brown.  Green lentils stay together more when cooked to the point of softness.  They also have a more pleasant texture and flavor.  The green lentils I was getting from a yuppie grocery store in Portland cooked much faster than the brown lentils that were available to me. Speed of cooking was really what kept me paying the high prices.  I would arrive home starving, bring some water to a boil, add the lentils, wait 20 minutes, add the quinoa cook 15 minutes more, add oil, salt, balsamic vinegar and consume.  Nominally, the cooking time of lentils should be something like 40 minutes.  I could never get my brown lentils cooked all the way in that amount of time.

I think my problems with cooking brown lentils have had to do with the quantity of water I used.  I was always very careful not to add too much water because I didn't want to have to poor off any of the wonderful nutrients.  Most recipes I've seen for lentils instruct you to cook off the water, essentially like cooking rice.  Then someone in my family bought this amazing book called "The Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles."

The index of "The complete book of Pasta and Noodles" has an entry for "Lentil(s)," sub-entry "how to cook."  I am referred to page 194 in my copy.  In a gray box on this page the authors make an aside to explain how they experimented with cooking techniques for lentils.  This experimentation was apparently motivated by the desire to perfect their recipe for "Spaghetti with Lentils and Prosciutto" found on the facing page.  Their experiments all involved cooking 3/4 cup of lentils in 7 cups of water.  They said they were cooking brown lentils all the way through in 20 minutes. The conclusion they drew from their experiments on salt and acids was to advise cooking this quantity of lentils with 1 tablespoon of salt in the water, but to keep acids like tomato sauce or vinegar off of the lentils until fully cooked.  The conclusion I drew from their experiments: "Holly crap, I can cook lentils in half the time if I cook them like pasta instead of like rice!"

In general, I am not a great fan of prepared foods.  However, I have always liked Progresso's lentil soup.  Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that the key to the flavor of Progresso's soup is the combination of lentils and spinach.  I have confirmed my theory by following something approximating this lentil soup recipe.

I think the Turkish style of lentil soup is probably the most famous.  It is one of Aida's favorite dishes.  I think I've had something similar at an Indian restaurant. I can get pretty excited about this kind of soup as long as I think of it as a variation on split pea soup.  Like anything made with yellow or red lentils, Turkish lentil soup is creamy.  The lentils disintegrate completely.  From a nutritional point of view red and yellow lentils aren't comparable with brown or green, brown and green lentils having much more protein and fiber per calorie than yellow or red lentils.
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