Over the past few weeks, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me what you do with lentils. I try to give a few tips out, but really wanted to let you all know about these amazing edible legumes and what you can do with them.
So first, what are they and why are there so many different types?
The biggest producer of lentils is Canada, closely followed by India. In 2017 Canada grew over 3.7 million tonnes of lentils. Lentils are a notoriously difficult crop and aren’t massively grown in the UK, although this is starting to change with organic productions coming out of Hertfordshire, Hampshire, Suffolk & Sussex. Low-growing and typically yielding no more than two lentils in each short pod, they need a warm, dry autumn to ripen for harvest.
Lentils add a great high-fibre and high-protein element to many meals. Because of their size, lentils cook much more quickly than dried beans and do not have to be soaked before cooking. They are extremely versatile and inexpensive, which makes them an accessible form of high-quality protein.
While it seems like an unnecessary step, don’t skip rinsing your lentils and sifting through them before cooking to remove any stones or debris. It is rare to find stones, but it does happen! When cooking, treat lentils more like pasta than rice – the lentils do not need to absorb every bit of cooking liquid the way rice does, but you also don’t need to completely flood the lentils like you would pasta. As a general rule, one part of dried lentils yields two to two-and-a-half parts of cooked lentils.
There are lots of different types of lentils, we sell four in The Replenishery…
Brown lentils are the most common variety, They can range in colour from khaki brown to dark black and have a mild, earthy flavour.
This variety holds its shape well during cooking, making it ideal for use in warm salads, casseroles, soups, and stews. Brown lentils also work well in veggie burgers or vegetarian meatloaf.
In a medium pot, combine 1 cup dry brown lentils with 2½ to 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 35–45 minutes until tender. If they will be used in a soup or stew, just add uncooked lentils to the pot with about 40 minutes cooking time left.
Green lentils are extremely similar to brown lentils, but they have a more robust and slightly peppery flavour and come in a range of sizes. Green lentils can vary in colour from a pale or spotted green to a green-slate colour with hints of blue and black - Green lentils are a great substitute for the famous French Puy lentils.
Like brown lentils, green lentils retain their shape well. This, combined with their strong flavour, makes green lentils ideal for salads or side dishes.
Combine 1 cup lentils with 2½ cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer 35–45 minutes until tender. (Don’t forget to flavour the cooking water with some aromatics or herbs for a tastier end product.)
This variety of lentil ranges in colour from golden yellow to orange and red. They are also the only variety sold “split,” meaning they processed into smaller lentil bits. These somewhat sweet and nutty lentils are very common in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine and are the key to classic dishes such as Indian dhal.
Because of their “split” nature, this variety of lentil tends to disintegrate when cooked, making them ideal to use in soups or stews (especially as a thickener), and in casseroles or any other dish where they are pureed.
Split lentils cook quickly, usually in about 15–30 minutes. When you’re using them in a soup or stew, just add them to the pot with 15–30 minutes left in the cooking time. When cooking them on their own, bring 1½ cups water and 1 cup dry lentils to a boil, then simmer until tender, 10–15 minutes.
Puy lentils are grown in the volcanic soil of a specific region in central France called Le Puy. Puy lentils are known for their dark, bluish-slate-green colour and rich, peppery flavour.
These high-quality lentils should star as the centre of a meal. They make a great base for meat or fish or can be easily featured in a side dish or main dish salad.
Combine 2½ cups water with 1 cup lentils. Bring to a boil and simmer 20–30 minutes until tender.
Easy Lentil Recipe
I love that lentils can make a really tasty meal very quickly, here is one of my favourite recipes that can give great results in very little time.
Lentil (Meat) Loaf – Serves 8
· 200g of green or browns lentils
· 600ml vegetable broth (we use the 9 meals from Anarchy stock that we sell in The Replenishery)
· 3 tablespoons ground flaxseeds (aka linseed)
· 80ml water
· 2 tablespoons rape seed oil
· 3 garlic cloves, minced
· 1 small onion, finely diced
· 1 small red pepper, finely diced
· 1 carrot, finely diced or grated
· 1 celery stalk, finely diced
· 175g oats (GF oats work just as well)
· 2 teaspoons dried thyme
· 1 teaspoon garlic powder
· 1 teaspoon onion powder
· 1 teaspoon cumin
· 1 teaspoon turmeric
· cracked pepper & sea salt, to taste
· 3 tablespoons ketchup
· 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
· 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (or honey if you are allowed it)
Prepare lentils: Rinse the lentils. In large pan add the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 35 – 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. It’s ok if they get mushy, we are going to roughly puree 3/4 of the mixture when cooled. Once done, remove lid and set aside to cool (there should only be a little bit of water so do not drain), lentils will thicken a bit upon standing, about 15 minutes is good.
Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C/Gas Mark 4
Make flax egg: In small bowl combine the ground flaxseed and 80ml water, set aside for at least 10 minutes, preferably in the fridge. This will act as a binder and will thicken nicely upon sitting.
Cook vegetables & spices: In wide pan heat the rapeseed oil over a medium heat. Saute garlic, onion, pepper, carrots and celery for about 5 minutes until softened, for the last minute add the spices mixing well to incorporate. Set aside to cool.
Mash the lentils: Using the back of a fork or potato masher, blend 3/4 of the lentil mixture.
Assemble lentil loaf: Combine the softened vegetables with the lentils, oats and flax-egg, mix well. Taste, adding salt and pepper as needed, maybe a bit of Worcestershire Sauce if your diet allows it. Place mixture into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper, leaving it overlapping for easy removal later. Press down firmly filling in along the edges too.
Glaze: Prepare your glaze by combining all ingredients in a small bowl, mix until incorporated. Spread evenly over top the loaf.
Bake: Place in centre of the oven and bake for about 45 – 50 minutes. Let cool a bit before slicing.
You can reheat it the next day either in the microwave or in the oven, just slice it first so that you get a nice even reheated temperature.
Serve with a nice mashed potato and some steamed veg. Or why not have it with some baked beans.
It's a very forgiving recipe, I've done it with and without the garlic and celery and other times I've added a spring onion or a small courgette.
The loose dry ingredients above would cost about £1.50 and are all available at The Replenishery, then you just need to get the veg and the ingredients for the glaze.
Comment below if you've tried this recipe and let us know how you get on.