The lentil plant (Lens culinaris) originates from Asia and North Africa and is one of the oldest sources of food. A cousin to the pea and a rich provider of protein and carbohydrates, the lentil is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus, iron and B vitamins – making it an important diet staple the world over.
There are several different varieties – most commonly used in cooking are brown, red and green lentils, puy and yellow.
Green and brown: Ideal for warm salads, casseroles and stuffing as they tend to retain their shape after cooking.
Red split lentils When cooked, these lentils form a rich puree and therefore are superb for thickening dishes such as soups and casseroles. They are also often cooked with spices to make the Indian dish, dhal.
Puy lentils: These grey-green lentils, grown in the French region of Le Puy, are often more expensive than other common cooking varieties and are thought to be superior in texture and taste. This makes them the perfect accompaniment to more expensive ingredients such as fish and game, as well as sausages.
Yellow lentils: Being quite similar to red split lentils, the yellow variety are used in a similar way and are great for adding colour to winter dishes.
Lentils do not require it, but can be soaked in order to reduce cooking time by about half. Before cooking, rinse lentils in cold water to remove debris or shrivelled lentils (which will be floating on the surface of the water) and then drain.
Boil lentils in three times more water than pulse and avoid cooking with anything acidic – such as vinegar.
Lentils will vary in their cooking times depending on their variety. As a rough guide to cooking times:
Green and brown lentils: 35 – 45 minutes
Red split lentils and yellow lentils: 15 – 20 minutes
Puy lentils: 20 – 25 minutes
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