By Zannat Reza
You don’t need me to tell you that lentils are an integral part of South Asian cuisine. But did you know Canada is the largest exporter of lentils, with Saskatchewan producing 96 per cent of Canada’s lentils? Or that the largest importers of Canadian lentils are India, Turkey, Bangladesh, UAE, Egypt, and Algeria?
The four main types of lentils are:
- Green lentils
- Red lentils
- French Green or Du Puy lentils
- Black or beluga lentils
Lentils are the edible seeds of legumes. Red lentils are actually split lentils. That’s why they cook up so fast.
Five healthy reasons to love lentils
A ¾ cup serving of cooked lentils serves up:
- Protein: 13 grams of protein
- Fibre: 6 grams of fibre, making it a very high source.
- Potassium: 540 mg (roughly 15% of your daily needs), potassium can help lower blood pressure
- Folate: 265 mcg (more than 100% of your daily needs), folate helps make red blood cells and keep your heart healthy
- Iron: 4.9 grams of iron, making it an excellent source. However, because it’s a vegetarian source of iron, you need to have some vitamin C with it so the body can absorb it properly. Cooking with tomatoes or lemon juice will do the trick.
(source: Canadian Nutrient File)
The dynamic nutrient duo of protein and fibre helps keep your blood sugar levels even, and will curb your hunger.
How to store: Place dried lentils in a cool, dark place. Both dried and canned lentils will last up to one year.
- Unlike dried beans and peas, lentils do not need to be soaked.
- Cook lentils in unsalted water as salt will create a chewy texture.
- Adding acidic ingredients like tomato and lemon early in the cooking process will toughen up lentils. So if you like your lentils chewy, feel free to add these ingredients up front. For a softer texture, add the acid after the lentils cook.
|Whole lentils||Split lentils|
|Amount of water needed||2 ½ to 3 cups||2 cups|
|Cooking time||20-30 minutes||5 to 15 minutes|
|Yield (cooked lentils)||2 ½ cups||2 cups|
*Adapted from lentils.ca
Recipe: Gujarati Thali with Lentils and Basmati
(Courtesy of Canadian Lentils)
Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish with basmati rice
For the Thali, you’ll need:
Roti or pita bread
- A pot of freshly cooked basic basmati
- A pot of your favourite curried vegetables
- The lentil dal below
Here’s what you’ll need for the dal:
- 2 cups of Canadian split red lentils
- 6 cups of water
- 1 tablespoon of jaggery cane sugar, other raw cane sugar or brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon of turmeric
- 1 teaspoon of ginger powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper powder
- 2 or 3 small fresh green chilies, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 ripe tomatoes
Here’s the tadka, the finishing flavours for the dal:
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder (optional, see note below)
- a handful or so of tender cilantro leaves and stems, lightly chopped
- 2 limes cut into wedges
How to make:
- Begin by tossing the lentils, water, sugar, turmeric, ginger, chili powder and fresh chilies into a soup pot, everything but the salt. Over medium high heat, while stirring gently, bring the works to a full furious boil. Adjust the heat lowering the pace to a slow steady simmer. Cover and continue cooking until the lentils soften and dissolve, another 10 minutes or so. Stir occasionally. Switch to a vigorous whisk which will break the lentils down even further into a smooth puree.
- After the lentils have softened stir in the salt and tomato, both ingredients slow down tenderizing. Use the coarse holes of a standard box grater to grate in the tomato, you’ll end up with its skin in your hand which you can discard.
- Finish with the tadka. Splash the oil into your favourite sauté pan over medium-high heat. When it just begins to smoke take the pan off the heat and add the cumin, mustard and fennel seeds. Shake gently as they snap and crackle a bit. If they don’t, return the pan to the heat until they do. The intense heat will fully release their aromatic oils and flavours. Add the asafoetida powder stirring briefly. Pour and stir the hot oil directly into the dal.
- Ladle the dal into festive bowls. Sprinkle with cilantro and freshly squeezed lime juice. Serve and share with your choice of thali accompaniments!
Canadian Lentils has launched “Lentil Hunter with Chef Michael Smith” a new five-part web series available at www.lentilhunter.ca. In the series, Chef Michael Smith, Food Network host, cookbook author, nutrition activist, and food media producer, travels to France, Italy, Morocco, India, and Dubai to hunt for the best lentil recipes on the planet.
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