Lentils 101

March 05, 2012

Want to mix up your cooking repertoire? Try lentils! Here is your quick reference 101 to shopping for lentils in the market

What are lentils? Lentils are small relatives of the legume family (pulse) and are plentiful year-round as they are not used fresh, but are dried as soon as they are ripe.

How to buy: Look for unbroken lentils and those that are uniform in color and size.

What to look for on the label: Lentils can be found both in packages (usually packaged 12 to 16oz.) and in the bulk section of your market. Make note of cooking methods and suggestions for the best result. Found near pasta and bean section.

Choices: Lentils are grouped by size- larger varieties are most commonly found in the grocery store and are brown in color and have a thin seed coat. The smaller lentils such as the French Green, Egyptian or red lentil have no seed coat and cook quicker. French Green Puy lentils are grown in France and are tiny, fast-cooking and very delicate with a slightly peppery taste; good in salads.

Lentils also come in yellow, rust (Indian Bengal gram) which has a nutty flavor, and red (aka Red Chief) which are actually a salmon pink lentils that turn golden when cooked; best for soups or purees. Split lentils, called dal in Indian cuisine, are plentiful; check Indian specialty stores.

How to Use: Always rinse before cooking and pick out any debris or stones. No need to soak. Do not add salt until finished or they will be tough. Cook with 1 part lentils to 2 parts water on the stovetop; do not overcook or they will turn mushy. Lentils can be used as a side dish, in soups, salads and stew.

How to Store: Lentils should be stored in a tight-fitting container in a cool, dark cupboard, for up to one year.