One of the first crops to be domesticated in Central Asia, there is archaeological evidence to prove that lentils were eaten as far back as 13,000 years ago. Not surprisingly, lentils find mention in the Hebrew bible and are part of the Jewish mourning tradition (they are eaten along with boiled eggs, the shapes signifying the birth-death cycle).
Lentils can be whole or split, and are soft in texture, which makes them a flexible ingredient. They are used in stews, soups, curries, casseroles, vegetable bakes and stuffed vegetables. They are eaten in South Asia, the Mediterranean, West Asia and Africa. The Ethiopians use it in a stew called kik wot, eaten with a bread called injera. For Italians, lentils are a new year’s eve tradition, the round shape signifying the cyclical passage of time.
Stewed lentils with rice—the popular khichdi in India—has been a tradition in other regions as well. The ancient Persians used to cook it, and the Egyptians make the kushari with lentils and rice, similar to the khichdi. In western Asia, they make a rice and lentil dish called mujaddara or mejadra.
Lentils contain cholesterol-lowering fibre which also helps prevent blood sugar disorders. The fibre ensures that blood sugar levels don’t rise sharply after eating.
High in protein
With about 30% protein content, lentils are the richest source of protein after soybean and hemp. They are also the most inexpensive source of protein.
Rich in protein, mineral and B-vitamins, a cup of cooked lentils is just 230 calories.
They are a rich source of dietary fibre, both soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre controls cholesterol, and insoluble fibre regulates metabolism and prevents disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.
Eat it this way
Mediterranean Lentil Salad
Wholesome: Mediterranean Lentil Salad. Photo courtesy: The Leela
• 2 cups green lentils
• 3 bay leaves
• 1 cup carrots, diced finely
• 1 cup celery, diced finely
• 1 cup tomatoes, diced finely
• 1 cup onions, diced finely
• 2 tbsp parsley, minced
• 1 cup sherry wine vinegar
• 1 tsp garlic, minced
• 6 cups water
• Salt to taste
• Black peppercorns, freshly ground, to taste
• 4 leaves, rocket lettuce
Rinse and sort the lentils, then cook for 15-20 minutes in water with bay leaves until done. Do not overcook, or the lentils may fall apart. When the lentils are done, drain and toss them with the vegetables, parsley or other fresh herbs. Season with sherry wine vinegar and garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with rocket.
—Aishwarya Nair, corporate head, food and beverages , Leela Hotels, Palaces and Resorts.