Canada grows some of the healthiest food in the world. If the top 10 health foods are Googled, the list is bound to include oatmeal, blueberries, flax, quinoa and other superfood grown or raised here. One of those superfoods is lentils.
Why are lentils a superfood?
Fibre: One-half cup (125 mL) of cooked lentils has almost eight grams of fibre, which is about 30 percent of what is required for the day. Eating a diet high in fibre helps lower cholesterol, reduces the risk of heart disease and makes the digestive system happy.
Potassium: Bananas are often touted as being high in potassium, but 1/2 cup (125 mL) of cooked lentils has more than 350 milligrams of potassium, which is 10 percent of the daily requirement and the same amount as a large banana.
Potassium is essential for maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance and helps regulate blood pressure.
Folate: Lentils are high in folate, (folic acid) and vitamin B-9 that is instrumental in cell development and repair and important for pregnant women. It helps prevent neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida. One-half cup of cooked lentils is 45 percent of the daily requirement for folate.
High protein, low fat: One-half cup (125 mL) of cooked lentils contains 115 calories and less than half a gram of fat. The serving also has nine grams of protein, which is almost 20 percent of the protein required daily.
Blood sugar control: Lentils have a low glycemic index value, which means they are digested slowly and don’t spike blood sugar levels. This is good for people with diabetes or at risk of developing diabetes and helpful if trying to lose weight.
When buying dried lentils, look for bright colour, uniform size and smooth skins without chips or shrivelled seed coats. It is a good idea to rinse and sort lentils before cooking.
They also don’t take long to cook. However, canned lentils offer quick convenience for recipes that call for cooked lentils. Simply drain, rinse and add to the recipe. Note: A 19 oz./540 mL can of lentils drained is approximately equivalent to two cups (500 mL) of cooked lentils.
Dry lentils will keep almost indefinitely stored in a tightly covered container in a cool, dry place. If exposed to light, pulses tend to lose their colour but flavour, nutrition and texture will not be affected.
The longer lentils are stored, the drier they become. This means they may take longer to cook and remain slightly chewy after cooking. It is best to use dry lentils within one year of purchase.
No pre-soaking is required. It’s important to use unsalted water, because salt hardens and toughens lentils when cooking. Seasoning can and should be added at the end of the cooking.
One cup (250 mL) of whole, dry lentils plus 2 1/2-3 cups (625–750 mL) unsalted water cooked for 20 to 30 minutes equals 2 1/2 cups (625 mL) cooked lentils.
One cup (250 mL) of split, dry lentils plus two cups (500 mL) unsalted water cooked for five to 15 minutes equals two cups (500 mL) cooked lentils.
Here are a sampling of lentil recipes from lentils.ca.
Baked Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Gouda
- 1 tbsp. canola oil 15 mL
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 10 oz. bag baby spinach, torn or chopped 300 g
- 1/4 tsp. cumin 1 mL
- 1/4 tsp. salt 1 mL
- 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened 250 g
- 1/4 c. sour cream 60 mL
- 1 c. canned lentils, drained well 250 mL
- 4 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped 110 mL
- 1/2 c. grated aged Gouda, divided 125 mL
- 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided 125 mL
- dash ground black pepper
- dash sea salt
In a large, heavy skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat and saute the onion for five minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and spinach and cook for three to four minutes until the spinach wilts and any excess moisture has cooked off.
Add the cumin and salt, stir to combine and remove from the heat. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
Place cream cheese, sour cream, lentils, artichoke hearts and spinach mixture in a food processor and pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until almost smooth. Add half the Gouda and Parmesan and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse until combined.
Transfer to a shallow baking dish, cover loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes, until warmed through.
Remove the foil, sprinkle with remaining Gouda and Parmesan and bake another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the edges are bubbly. Serve warm with pita or tortilla chips, sliced fresh baguette, or grainy crackers. Serves about 10.
Lentil Caprese Salad
- 2 c. chopped baby kale or spinach 500 mL
- 11/2 c. halved cherry tomatoes 375 mL
- 1 c. bocconcini cheese, drained, rinsed and sliced 250 mL
- 1 c. cooked lentils 250 mL
- 2 tbsp. finely sliced basil 30 mL
- 1 green onion, sliced thinly
- 3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar 45 mL
- 3 tbsp. olive oil 45 mL
- 1 tsp. whole grain mustard 5 mL
- 1/4 tsp. coarse black pepper 1 mL
- sea salt
Combine kale, tomatoes, cheese, lentils, basil, and onion together in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients and season with salt. Before serving, toss the salad with the dressing. Serves four to six.
Easy ways to add more lentils to the diet
- Puree and use lentils to make a dip like hummus. Check out the baked spinach and artichoke dip with Gouda recipe. The lentils are processed with the cream cheese and sour cream.
- Add them to soup, stew, salad or a stir fry. Try using split red lentils for some added colour.
- Enjoy a vegetarian entree or side dish made with lentils.
- Use lentils to stretch ground meat. Simply add split red lentils or pureed lentils to the ground meat.
Lemon Lentil Soup
- 2 tsp. canola oil 10 mL
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- pinch hot red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp. cumin 5 mL
- 1 1/2 c. dry split red lentils, cleaned and rinsed 375 mL
- 6 c. chicken stock .5 L
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice 30 mL
- 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped 30 mL
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add onion, garlic and hot pepper flakes and cook on low heat for five minutes.
Add cumin and lentils, combine well. Add stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender and soup is beginning to thicken, about 30 minutes.
Add extra stock or water to thin if necessary. Add lemon juice. Serve sprinkled with parsley. Serves five to six.
Red Lentil, White Bean and Beef Sloppy Joes
- 3 lb. ground beef 1.5 kg
- 2-19 oz. cans navy beans 540 mL
- 2 c. dry split red lentils 500 mL
- 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes 796 mL
- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes 796 mL
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 12 c. water 4 L
- 1/3 c. molasses 75 mL
- 1/3 c. brown sugar 75 mL
- 1 tbsp. garlic powder 30 mL
- 1 tbsp. onion powder 30 mL
- 1 tbsp. basil 30 mL
- 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar 125 mL
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C).
Place uncooked ground beef into large roaster, stir in the rest of ingredients, except for salt and pepper. Bake for about 2.5 hours. Stir two or three times during cooking.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves about 16.
Bacon Lentil Burrito
My kids love these burritos but they don’t know why. I do though. Lentils are flavour sponges and do a good job absorbing the flavours of the Southwest.
- 4 thick slices of bacon, chopped
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 tsp. chili powder 5 mL
- 1 tsp. cumin powder 5 mL
- 1 tsp. dried oregano 5 mL
- 1 c. dry green lentils 250 mL
- 4 c. water 1 L
- 1 c. corn 250 mL
- 1 tsp. salt 5 mL
- 1 tsp. favourite hot sauce 5 mL
To assemble the burritos:
- 4 large soft tortillas
- 1 carrot, shredded
- 4 oz. taco blend shredded cheese 113 g
- 1/4 c. salsa 60 mL
- cilantro leaves and tender stems
Begin by crisping the bacon. Toss it into a saucepot along with a little water. Bring the mixture to a simmer. As the bacon begins simmering, the water will encourage it to cook evenly. When the bits are crisp, strain them out and reserve.
Toss the onion and seasonings into the pan and stir until the flavours brighten and the textures soften for about five minutes.
Pour in lentils and water and bring the mixture to a slow, steady, simmer. Continue cooking as the lentils absorb the moisture and begin softening.
Stir occasionally and keep an eye on the works. Eventually they’ll become tender and absorb the water, about 45 minutes.
If the mixture still seems wet for a burrito filling, simmer a few minutes longer. In the last few minutes of cooking, stir the corn, salt and hot sauce into the works.
Lay four tortilla shells on the work surface and evenly divide the filling between them. Top with grated carrot, grated cheese and salsa. Sprinkle on the crisp bacon and top with lots of cilantro. Fold in the sides and roll the works up tightly. Serves four. Source: Michael Smith and lentils.ca.
Place cooked lentils in a food processor. For every cup (250 mL) of cooked lentils, add 1/4 cup (60 mL) water.
Blend until smooth. Lentil puree has a similar consistency to canned pumpkin.
Add additional water one tablespoon (15 mL) at a time if more moisture is needed.
Store in the refrigerator for up to four days, or freeze for up to three months.