Lentils: A Hidden Treasure?

After my blog post regarding Sweet Potato-Lentil stew, I’ve had lentils on the brain.  In my opinion, lentils are completely underappreciated in American culture.  While of course I’ve tasted these legumes prior to cooking Sweet Potato-Lentil stew, my exposure to them has been limited— mainly in the occasional restaurant dish or whenever my mother has chosen to throw them in a soup.  A rather discrete ingredient I must admit.

My first experience cooking with lentils on my own was just this year.   I found an unopened package of brown lentils on my kitchen shelf, an unloved remnant of my mother’s care package— my only option for food one frigid evening.

Before cooking, I gave my mom the usual distressed phone call inquiring how I might actually go about cooking something so foreign to me.

I’m embarrassed I had to ask.

Lentils require almost no work.  No need to pre-soak these guys. Just pop them in boiling water for 15 to 30 minutes, and voilà!

While lentils are relatively new to me, they are, without doubt, one of the oldest foods in the world.

According to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, lentils were believed to enrich the mind and heart.

Romans however were not as fond, believing lentils made men lazy.  Having studied abroad in Italy, I find this quite comical, for Romans are known for being lethargic and disorderly.  After having dealt with this sluggish behavior firsthand,  perhaps lentils really did affect the behavior of the Roman people.

I was cooking with brown lentils; however there are also green, red, and yellow lentils.  Brown lentils are the least expensive of the variety, however this is not to say that the other types are expensive by any means— lentils generally go for around 75 cents per pound at your local grocer.

Not only are lentils great on a college student budget, but they are also rich in protein, fiber, and iron as well as B vitamins and folate— a true superfood.

It is no wonder India has claimed this food for almost every meal.  In an interview with Health.com, Kavita Mehta, founder of Indian Foods Co. said lentils are consumed at least two times a day in “any self-respecting Indian household.”  Not surprising when India is the biggest producer of lentils in the world.

While the nutritional benefits of lentils are undeniable— important for any diet, vegetarians especially— their versatility leaves almost no excuse for their neglect.

If you are unsure of what to make with lentils, start with this painless lentil dish, Indian Lentils with Coconut.  However, if you think that may be out of your league, lentils paired with steamed vegetables are sure to get you started.

Get cooking!

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More “In the news” briefs

Trump believes US would benefit from better leadership

Donald Trump expressed interest in running for US president in 2012 on Friday’s visit to a Scottish university to accept award of Docotor of Business Administration.

Pennsylvania pipeline explosion kills five

A gas line blast took five lives from neighboring families in Allentown, PA, destoying forty-seven homes and ten businesses in its path Wednesday evening.

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In the news: 3 briefs

Apple’s “iPad 3” will likely hit shelves only months after iPad 2 release

While the iPad 2 has yet to reach the hands of consumers, rumors of Apple’s “iPad 3” release this fall are circulating amongst techies according to TechCrunch.

New York Rep. Christopher Lee caught on Craigslist

New York Rep. Christopher Lee resigned after an inappropriate e-mail exchange was revealed by Gawker. Lee, family man with wife and kids, claimed to be divorced.

“NCIS: Los Angeles” filming becomes real life crime scene

Filming of the popular CBS television crime drama “NCIS: Los Angeles” turned deadly Wednesday after innocent pedestrian was killed in a traffic accident.

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The “New” Pizza

Eating dinner with an immature palate is almost like eating dinner with my 11-year-old self.  Closed off to new flavor combinations, most satisfied while devouring a painfully plain cheese pizza— home to aisle seven.  An appropriately named Tombstone pizza will likely not do much to mature one’s tastes— or lifespan for that matter.

Homemade pizza on the other hand allows for a variety of food combination possibilities.  While most of us develop our palates during adolescence, there are still those few lollygaggers not yet ready to jump into eating “just anything”.  Pizza in this case is the perfect mediator for a dinner split between the exploratory and the comfortable.  Drawn with an imaginary boundary, one side allows for the plain cheese fanatics and the other defies the definition of pizza.

Artichokes are my topping of choice, not to be confused with anchovies— my tastes are definitely not that mature.  I admit artichokes look intimating, maybe even inedible.  Don’t be fooled though— their somewhat creamy, earthy taste makes up for their undesirable, weird appearance.

Pineapple is another must for any pizza in my opinion.  While many are repulsed by the thought of fruit entering the realm of pizza making, I think they are just afraid they might actually like it.  Go ahead, try it.

However, having an immature palate once myself, I understand the difficulty in appreciating anything more than chicken nuggets and corn dogs.  In this case, start simple.  Layer spinach leaves on top of the pizza sauce, followed by halved grape tomatoes and chopped red pepper.  Hey, if you top it off with a mountain of cheese you might not even taste those disgusting vegetables— a little trick complementary of my 11-year-old self.

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Sweet Potato-Lentil Stew

Protein is an essential nutrient in maintaining a healthy diet.  For vegetarians however, finding a steady source of foods high in protein is more difficult to come by— this is where the creativity comes in.  Lentils, beans, and legumes are excellent sources of protein as well as delicious supplements to any vegetable dish.

A sweet potato-lentil stew is both filling and hearty for both vegetarian and meat-based diets.  The sweetness in the sweet potatoes even creates the impression that the stew is actually a dessert.  The ingredients needed are listed as follows:

¼ cup safflower oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 can diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1½ teaspoons turmeric

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cayenne

Fine sea salt

2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾” cubes

7 cups vegetable broth

1 cup brown lentils

Use a large pot to first heat the safflower oil over medium heat.  Add the onion while stirring frequently for two minutes.  Once the onion has started to soften, add the diced tomatoes and ginger and let sit for three minutes.  Next stir in the spices— ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cayenne— adding a dash of salt.

Add the broth, cubed sweet potatoes, and lentils to the pot.  Bring the stew to a boil over high heat.  Once this is achieved, reduce the heat, cover, and cook for 40 minutes or until the sweet potatoes have softened.

Substitutions: Curry powder and chili powder are also great substitutions or additions to this dish.  However always taste for seasonings.

Sweet potato-lentil stew is quite versatile.  It works well alone or paired with brown rice or couscous.  Additionally, a bowl of tortilla chips transforms this stew into a fancy hors d’oeuvre.

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Tomato Soup Flop

Photo courtesy of Good Housekeeping.

To many, tomato soup is the ultimate winter cuisine.  There is really no way one can go wrong — a can opener and access to a heating device are the only requirements.  It’s a flawless choice whether you are incapable of cooking or just too busy to conjure up something a little more involved.

Lately I have found myself craving a bowl incessantly — in part because I firmly believe this winter must be the coldest winter on record.  That, or my apartment is just poorly heated.

I used to be a loyal customer of Campbell’s until a friend turned me on to Progresso’s Hearty Tomato Soup.  Progresso’s version is a new twist on an old favorite, rich in tomato chunks, creating a more textured and fulfilling meal.

On this particular day, however, an unsuspecting surprise was suspended in my soup amongst the tomatoes.  A lone, rebel mushroom.  Whether you are a fan of mushrooms or not, this mushroom was not welcome in my tomato-only soup.

Then again, on days when I am feeling a little creative I like to personalize my soup by adding a combination of cooked red pepper, squash, and carrots.  Any vegetable will work though, even mushrooms — a taste which I have yet to acquire.  Ultimately, I like to create the illusion that the making of a soup as simple as tomato was more complex than in reality.

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