Lentils, a legume or pulse, are high in protein, iron, vitamin B-1, and soluble fibre. They are also sulfur free, unlike other legumes…less gas producing. They have a wonderful earthy flavor that adds dimension to soups, stews, grains, salads, or paired with meats, fish, or poultry.
Cooking lentils is similar with all varieties, but cooking times vary by type and how you intend to use them. Varietes include the brown, black, the smaller le puy grey green, yellow, red, and orange. The general rule of thumb for cooking all lentils is 1 part lentils to 3 parts water, except for a salad in which case 1 part lentils to 2 1/2 parts water and a slightly reduced cooking time.
Cooking lentils for a salad
For salads the French grey green Le Puy lentil is my preference. They are smaller, retain their lens shape, and have a firmer texture than other cooked lentils. Substitute if not available. The following recipe will produce a firmer texture that makes them stand out in any salad.
- 1 cup le puy lentils (or other) picked over to remove any debris and rinsed
- 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups stock or water, depending on age of the lentils
- 1 small onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 4 rounds
- 1 bay leaf
- a pinch of ground clove (optional)
- salt and freshly ground pepper, added once the cooking is completed
- 1 teaspoon light olive oil, for glazing
Place the lentils in a large sauce pan or stock pot and add the stock, onion, garlic, carrot, bay leaf, and ground clove if using. Place over medium low heat and bring to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring from time to time to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pan. Most of the liquid will have been absorbed. Test by biting into a lentil which should be slightly firm on the outside and softer in the middle. If additional cooking time is required add 1 cup of stock and continue cooking until the lentils are still retaining their shape but softened.
Remove from the stove and pick out the onion, garlic cloves, carrots, and bay leaf and drain in a colander, reserving the cooking liquid for adding to the lentils for storage. Place in a bowl and add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil to just glaze the lentils. Toss well, cover and refrigerate until your other salad ingredients are assembled.
For longer storage, add some additional cooking liquid to keep the lentils moist, omit adding the finishing olive oil, and refrigerate. To serve, drain as described above and glaze with the finishing olive oil before adding to a salad.
Cooking lentils with a softer creamier texture
Unlike the firmer textured lentil for a salad, for other applications you want a softer creamier texture and infused flavor with a longer cooking time. The following recipe will produce just that, but feel free to add additional flavors by adding a cured ham such as parma or copa, tomatoes, and additional herbs and spices to compliment an accompanying pairing with a main course.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 small carrot, peeled and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup lentils
- 4-6 cups stock or water
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and salt & pepper to taste for finishing
Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan or stock pot over medium heat until nearly smoking. Add the onions and carrots (a cured ham if using) and cook while stirring for 8 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, salt & pepper, and bay leaf and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of stock and once boiling lower the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the stock is absorbed. Add another 2 cups of stock and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until most of the stock is absorbed.
Cooking time up to this point will have been abour 1 hour. Test the lentils and if still firm add 1 cup of stock and cook until there is about 1/4 of stock left on the surface of the lentils. If additional cooking time is still needed add 1/2 cup of stock and cook until the lentils are soft and creamy.
Once the cooking is completed taste and add additional salt & pepper if needed. If you are serving the lentils immediatly stir in the finishing olive oil to combine. Omit adding the finishing oil if you are going to store the lentils for later use, and add after the lentils have been reheated.