The lentils (or dal as they are referred to in Indian cuisine) belong to the legume family. They are an important part of the Indian cuisine. With several varieties of lentils available they are a very versatile ingredient that can be used to prepare anything from a soup, side dish, appetizers to desserts. A rich source of protein, fiber, vitamins, amino acids and even iron. In Europe and America, the lentils are used to prepare nutritious soups. Lentils are served in the Indian cuisine with rice or the Indian bread as a side dish. A healthy choice for your daily diet.
Origin of Lentils
The lentil has been mentioned on many occasions in historical documents, and has even been mentioned in religious texts such as the Old Testament. In Italian cooking, lentil recipes are an important part of the New Year meal as they signifiea person’s wish to get more money in the coming year. This importance associated with lentil dishes, is mostly due to the fact that lentils have been a major part of human diets since the Neolithic age. There is even ample evidence to suggest that lentils were most probably one of the first domesticated crops ever harvested. Lentil in the form of soups, stews and pottages have satiated the hunger of populations in various countries ranging from India, to Greece and beyond. Records of the popularity of lentil recipes abound, for instance in ancient Greek histories, important personalities such as Aristophanes have praised the qualities of lentil dishes.
Types of Lentil
Masoor dal – Typically brown skinned with red interior
Petite Crimson – Akin to masoor dal but decorticated
Tan Lentil – Tan colored with red interior
Culinary Uses of Lentils
Lentil is currently used in many countries, to prepare traditional lentil recipes native to the country or as part of Indian themed lentil recipes. Additionally, there are many methods available to cook lentils, which make them a perennial favorite with both housewives and professional chefs. In India lentil recipes featuring the use of masoor dal are widespread in households, as they are easily cooked and do not need elaborate pre-cooking preparation such as overnight soaking.
Popular Lentil Recipes from different Cuisines
Lentil, in Middle Eastern countries and throughout the Indian subcontinent, is very often cooked along with rice as the cooking time for both are the same. Popular lentil dishes are known by various names such as “mujaddara” in the Middle East, and “khichdi” in India. In Egypt, one such popular lentil and rice dish is “kushari, which has pride of place as one of its national dishes. In India “khicidi” made with masoor dal and rice is considered as one of the easiest dishes to make and is often touted as a good dish to eat as it is easily digestible.
Owing to the high protein content in lentils such as masoor dal, they are increasingly being used in western lentil recipes and as part of high protein diets. Even though they are not seen as the ideal “low carb” food, lentil is even being used more often in Atkins’s diets as they are also a good of source of dietary protein.
In some countries in Europe and South America lentils are often combined with pork or other meat to make soups. When combined with cream, as in England lentil soup made with masoor dal, it creates a creamy thick soup and no additional meat needs to be added.
Preferred Methods for Preparing Lentil Recipes
A lentil dish can be made using several methods. Among which the most popular method is boiling. Stewing and baking can also be used as methods of cooking lentil provided enough water is used to boil the lentils well.
Nutritive value of Lentil Dishes
The lentil has long been known to provide superior nutrition at cheap prices. This is largely due to the high protein and dietary fiber content in lentils. In countries such as India where a vegetarian diet can be lacking in nutrients, lentil dishes can provide much needed nutrients, and important amino acids namely isoleucine and lysine. Sprouted lentil has amino acids such as methionine and cystine and this has resulted in such lentil recipes becoming popular. Lentil is also widely known as an important source of dietary iron and can be used effectively by pregnant women to combat iron deficiency.
Buying and Storing Lentil
Lentil can be stored easily in air tight bins and storage containers and if stored well and out of direct sunlight, can be used for up to a year. When kept for unusually long periods of time, the color of lentil can fade and sometimes cooking times can increase. Most types of lentil however can be kept for longer periods of time as these legumes are considered to have a long shelf life.
Consumption Criteria for Lentil Dishes
Lentil when cooked as part of lentil dishes, have to be cooked thoroughly and some in fact have to be cooked for a minimum pre-defined period of time to remove phytic acid and tannins. Often when cooking lentil using slow cookers and crock pots this fact is emphasized as improper cooking makes them difficult to digest.