Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lentils Are the Budget-Minded Girl's Best Friend

There's nothing glamorous about lentils. They are cheap, bland on their own, and have been around for thousands of years.

They aren't attached to the most pleasant story from the Bible, either. Lentils was the dish that Jacob gave to Esau in exchange for his birthright. Esau was so hungry from a day of hunting that he was willing to trade one bowl of these legumes for his birthright, the blessing that only the eldest son could receive from his father.

So, why have they been around for so long? There must be something to them that gives them this longevity. People today still eat them regularly.

I wasn't real familiar with lentils until I was married. We had a bone from a leftover ham and my husband asked me if I would make some lentil soup like his mom used to make. I went to the store and picked up a small bag of lentils for the first time, brought them home and with the help of my husband made a very good soup. That was about all I did with lentils for about 20 years.

Then I started seeing how using this little legume was good for our grocery budget. I read blogs and recipe sites on the Internet and found out that people were using them in place of meat sometimes. So, I started using them in different recipes. Some we loved, others we didn't care for. I've even learned how to make lentil soup without the ham bone. Here's a few that we make regularly.

Oh, and the best part of all is the fact that they are a quick-cooking legume. No soaking!

Lentil Soup
Make sure you have a nice loaf of crusty bread for dunking!

3 cups dry lentils
7 cups water (For more flavor, you could use chicken, beef, or vegetable broth instead)
2 teaspoons salt
6 to 8 medium cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups chopped onion
2 medium carrots, sliced or diced
1 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Lots of black pepper
2 to 3 medium-sized ripe tomatoes or 1 large can diced tomatoes
red wine vinegar to drizzle on top

Place lentils, water, and salt in a large pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to the slowest possible simmer, and cook quietly, partially covered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Add the vegetables, except the tomatoes, herbs and black pepper. Partially cover, and let simmer another 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

If you are using fresh tomatoes, you will need to peel them: Heat a medium saucepanful of water to boiling. Drop in the tomatoes for 10 seconds, then take them out, peel off the skins, and squeeze out the seeds. Chop the remaining pulp and add to the soup. Otherwise, add the can of tomatoes, but make sure the lentils are tender first. The acid from the tomatoes can hinder the lentils from getting soft.

Cook another 5 minutes to heat through and serve hot with a drizzle of vinegar on top.
Makes 6 to 8 servings and freezes very well.

Lentil-Rice Casserole
This is good as a side dish or a main dish and I've seen it on many websites. I can't believe how much my husband likes this one. It's good with a big green salad. This would probably work very well in the crockpot, too.

3 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup lentils, uncooked and rinsed
1/2 cup brown rice, uncooked
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme

Blend all together in a casserole dish. Bake, covered, for 1 1/2 hours at 300 degrees. During the last 20 minutes, top with 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese.

Lentil Cakes

1 1/2 cups cooked lentils
1/3 cup minced red or white onion
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Dash cayenne pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
Dry bread crumbs

Mash lentils and mix well with the onion, parsley, and seasonings. Chill well and form into 6 flat patties. Dip in the egg and coat well with bread crumbs. Let dry on a wire rack for a few minutes. Brown well on both sides in a little oil, turning only once.


Mary Ann said...

I never had or cooked lentils until I was married either. I first made the lentil casserole that you posted here and we liked it well enough that I continued buying lentils and cooking them. We like lentil soup and a simple lentil/rice dish that you make in the crockpot and eat with salad greens and vinaigrette dressing on top- delicious!

I will be honest though, for the most part, I think lentils taste like dirt. :-)So if I make them, they have to have plenty of seasoning or cheese or added meat to make them taste better. They are cheap and very nutritious so I continue to cook and eat them! My husband likes them every way I've made them so far.

I have made the casserole in the crockpot and it worked great!

Sheila said...

Thank you for sharing these recipes. I've never cooked lentils before--actually I had no idea of what to do with them. I'm putting lentils on my grocery list so we can give them a try. Thanks again.

DarcyLee said...

Mary Ann-I agree with you on the lentils-they need lots of seasonings and flavorings added to make them taste good but my husband loves them every time I make them. So if he's happy I'm pretty happy too :)

Sheila-I hope you let me know how your lentils turn out!