Wait! If you think lentils are a poor man’s meal and too complicated to cook, it’s time you reconsider. Vegans and vegetarians are stepping aside already as carnivores want in on some of the action.
Lentils are the ideal food to form a base for certain salads, but can also be added to any salad recipe to add flavour, texture and protein.
But first, did you know?
Lentils are classified as a low GI food, which means that it is digested and absorbed into the body gradually. With this gradual absorption, the effects of lentils on your blood glucose levels is quite remarkable in that it helps prevent rapid increases and rapid decreases in blood sugar levels.
Why should you care?
Diabetics are advised to stick to low GI foods to help support the control of their blood sugar levels. Weight-conscious people benefit from including low GI foods too, as they support appetite control. Studies have shown that including lentils or beans in only one meal per day, has a moderating effect on blood glucose levels, resulting in decreased cravings for sweet and starchy foods.
Which types of lentils are available?
There are different types of the wonderful food – more than 50 across the world today. You could experiment with some of the common types to find your favourite.
- Red split lentils are the fastest to cook in the lentil family as all the hulls have been removed.
- Brown lentils are considered the most “standard” type, have a mild earthy taste, hold their shape well enough but become mushy when you cook them too long.
- Black lentils have thicker skins than their cousins, a slightly more pronounced earthy taste and they hold their shape the best when cooked.
- Green lentils have a peppery taste and hold their shape well but also take the longest to cook.
How to prepare lentils
Most dried pulses have to be soaked overnight in water before they are boiled. The same can be done with lentils, as this would reduce cooking time to 10 minutes. However, the pre-soaking is not essential. Lentils can be boiled by adding them to cold water. Bring them to the boil and reduce the heat, then allow them to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the desired texture is achieved.
Should salt be added?
A chef and friend shared this tip: Add two celery stalks, half an onion and one carrot when boiling lentils. This adds a lovely flavour, without affecting the texture of the lentils.
If you don’t always have time to boil your lentils, especially if you need them chilled to use in a salad, you can boil the whole pack and freeze portions for later use. Make sure that you use them within three months of freezing.
Below are some recipes to incorporate the smart food into a healthy, balanced diet.
1 cup cooked lentils
1 cup cooked crushed wheat, buckwheat or brown rice
1 diced onion
½ cup grated raw broccoli
½ diced cucumber
2 diced green peppers
2 celery stalks, chopped
6-8 diced peppadews (small red peppers)
- Combine all the ingredients.
- Add 1 cup honey-mustard salad dressing (home-made or low-fat dressing).
- Keep refrigerated.
- The salad can be kept refrigerated for up to one week.
- Strain the excess water from the salad bowl and add fresh dressing if necessary after three days.
Lentil and broccoli salad
500g broccoli (raw, grated)
1 small onion
4-6 spring onions
1 boiled egg
1 tablespoon parsley
+ 1 cup cooked lentils (can be substituted with chickpeas or butter beans)
- Mix all the ingredients.
- Flavour with freshly ground black pepper.
- Chill and serve with honey-mustard dressing.
Curried lentil butternut
1 large butternut (very ripe)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
250g mushrooms, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp curry powder (or 1 tsp turmeric + ½ tsp ground cumin + 1 tsp ground coriander)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cooked lentils
100ml plain low-fat yoghurt (optional)
10ml lemon juice (optional)
- Slice the butternut in half (lengthwise), remove the pips and brush with olive oil.
- Cook in the oven or microwave in a closed dish until still firm, but almost cooked.
- Remove from the oven and remove most of the flesh without damaging the skin.
- In a shallow pan, fry the onion in the remaining olive oil.
- Add mushrooms and chopped butternut when the onions are golden brown.
- Add garlic, spices, salt and pepper.
- Add ± 100ml water, turn down the heat and let it simmer until the butternut pieces are soft.
- Add cooked rice, lentils or wheat and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Spoon the mixture back into the butternut skins.
- Heat the filled butternut in the oven or microwave to serve.
- Add yoghurt and/or lemon juice and serve with green salad.
100g dried red lentils
1 tin tomatoes (± 400g)
1 clove crushed garlic
½ tsp dried oregano
1 vegetable stock cube
150ml boiling water
200g sliced, raw aubergine
1 small chopped onion
150g low-fat smooth cottage cheese
freshly ground black pepper
- Put lentils in a large bowl (for microwave oven) with tomatoes, garlic, oregano and a pinch of nutmeg. Crumble in the stock cube and add boiling water.
- Stir well, cover with cling film, pierce and cook on high for 10 minutes.
- Let it stand for 10 minutes.
- Place aubergine slices and chopped onion in a bowl, cover with cling film and pierce, and cook on high for 5 minutes. Strain any excess water.
- Arrange ½ of the aubergine slices and onions on the base of a serving dish.
- Spoon over ½ of the lentil mixture and repeat the layers.
- Cover the dish and cook on high for 5-10 minutes. Strain any excess water.
- Blend egg and cheese until smooth and season with nutmeg and pepper.
- Pour over the lentil mixture and cook for 5 minutes on low, or until the cheese mixture is set.
400g lean beef mince
3 tins lentils, drained (or 3 cups cooked lentils)
1 large onion, finely chopped or grated
3 celery stalks, finely chopped (including leaves)
2 carrots, grated
3 slices whole-wheat bread, soaked in milk
1 heaped teaspoon coriander spice
1 level teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander or parsley
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1 pouch tomato paste (50g)
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.
- In a mixing bowl, combine all the frikkadel ingredients until an even consistency is achieved.
- Spread a thin layer of olive oil in a large baking dish. Form the frikkadel mixture into balls the size that fits into the palm of your hand.
- Place fairly close to each other. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the outside layer starts to brown or get crisp.
- Mix the tomato paste and tinned tomatoes. Remove the frikkadels from the oven, reduce the temperature to 180°C. Pour the tomato sauce over and bake for another 20 minutes until cooked through.
- Serve with rice and a crisp fresh salad.
Chunky lentil and soy bean soup
100g dried lentils
50g soy beans (soaked overnight in cold water)
2 small diced onions, 4 diced celery stalks
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
3 cloves crushed garlic
3 tbsp tomato puree
600 ml boiling vegetable stock
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
- Cook the beans and lentils in vegetable stock with onion, cumin, coriander, garlic and tomato puree until the lentils are cooked (10-15 minutes).
- Add pepper and vegetables and cook for another 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft.