In the crowded world of legumes, we may ignore lentils in the rush to buy red kidney beans for chili, navy beans for ham-flavored soup, black beans, pinto beans, split peas and more.
That’s too bad. A smart cook learns to love lentils for their variety of textures and colors — black, pink, red, green and more — good nutrition, ease of cooking, and easy-to-swallow prices.
Indian, Italian, French and Moroccan cooks pride themselves on their recipes with lentils. And rare is the vegetarian cook who hasn’t learned to love this legume. Cookbook author James Peterson includes several lentil recipes in his latest edition of “Vegetables” (Ten Speed Press, $35).
Lentils, from the tiny beluga (yes, they look like the pricey caviar) to the green-black French du Puy and the broad brown, are comfortable sharing the plate with duck, lamb, goose and game, from quail to venison, whether the lentils are served whole or pureed.
The tiny seed’s versatility lies in its ability to play well with a variety of flavors, herbs and spices, giving cooks a blank canvas for exercising their creativity. Another plus: They don’t require soaking before cooking, like other legumes, and cook in less than an hour.
A cup of cooked lentils delivers almost 18 grams of protein, 15 grams of fiber and only 230 calories, according to the USDA Nutrient Database.
Don’t let nomenclature confuse you. Instead, go beyond the common brown lentil, so easily found in stores.
By the color
According to Foodsubs.com and Peterson, here are some lentil types to look for.
Beluga lentils: Tiny, black, look like caviar.
Brown lentils: Khaki color. Also called Indian brown lentil, German lentil, green lentil.
French green lentils: Also called du Puy lentils; named for French region. Peppery flavor. Holds shape.
Red lentils: Turn golden when cooked.
Yellow lentils: May have skin on or off.
White lentils: Skinned and split black lentils.
The simple legume is a canvas for creativity. Here, French green lentils (clockwise from top left), split red lentils, Brown lentils (whole), Beluga lentils, white split lentils and yellow split lentils.×