Anyone familiar with French bistro fare has probably seen or had lentils as a side dish before. For a long time, I regarded these little legumes as a sort of hippie food relegated to mushy, overcooked soups and terribly dry veggie patties. Oh, how wrong I was. I could go on touting the many amazing qualities of lentils, but I will stick to a few major points, mainly that they are quick and easy to prepare with few ingredients, are packed with protein and fiber, and they taste absolutely amazing. There are several varieties available, the most popular of which are:
Brown – these lentils are the most common variety you will find in the store and are great for everyday use. They do tend to overcook quickly, so just pay attention throughout the cooking time. I use these mostly when making my lentil soup.
Green (French) – these are sometimes called lentilles du Puy, and are smaller than brown lentils. They seem to hold their shape a little better than the brown variety, and are perfect in salads, and as an accompaniment to sausages or rich fish, like salmon.
Black – these are about the same size as the French green lentils, but are completely black. Given their size and color, they are sometimes referred to as Beluga lentils, because they resemble caviar. Undoubtedly, these are my favorite lentils – they seem to have a rich flavor all their own, but are a welcome addition to any meal. Though they are not always locally available, you can always order them online at Barry Farm Foods; prices have gone up a bit since I last ordered, but I always have a good experience when buying from them.
Red – mostly popular in Indian cuisine, these lentils tend to fall apart very easily, lending to application in soups, curries, and stews. I also made a red lentil pate for a party once that was delicious – I’ll dig up that recipe, if people are interested. Generally, I don’t cook that often with red lentils, but I may have to revisit them in the cooler weather, when I tend to crave curries more often.
I think that the easiest way to get acquainted with lentils is to have them as a quick side dish, so I am providing you with my basic-est recipe for lentils. Once you are hooked on them, I encourage you to explore the many varieties and the various ways in which you can cook lentils.