Agnes Nelson of Moncks Corner is ahead of the curve. As a lover of lentils, she called recently to offer her recipe for lentil soup and to suggest that we put out a call for lentil recipes. She feels these legumes are wonderful, yet unheralded.

That may be about to change.

Last week, I read about a new push on behalf of lentils, dry peas, garbanzo beans and other so-called "pulse" crops. Lentil and other legume farmers in North America would like to expand their culinary uses beyond the traditional soups and stews to breads, cookies, muffins, tortillas and more, so they've formed a new marketing venture, the American Pulse Association, to do that.

Restaurant chefs and magazines already perceive lentils differently than most mainstream cooks: Lentils are getting increasing play on the dining plate as well as the ink plate. In other words, lentils are hot.

There are a couple of reasons: More of us are appreciating Indian and other global cuisines, there's greater awareness of gluten intolerance and rising interest in healthier eating that includes high-fiber, high-protein, low-fat legumes.

Stay tuned. Meanwhile, a couple of readers shouted out their favorite lentil recipes and we have Agnes' lentil soup.

Agnes points out that lentils are a good substitute for meat. Cooked lentils also can be added to meatloaf, chili, tacos, quesadillas, hamburgers, meatballs and salads, or used in a stuffing for pork chops or chicken.

"The Joy of Cooking" illuminates further. Lentils are thin-skinned, require no soaking and cook relatively quickly. You will see different types of lentils.

The common olive-brown ones cook to a soft texture and taste. French green lentils are smaller, darker green, have a deeper flavor and cook firmer. Beluga lentils are tiny, black and have a more pronounced taste. Red lentils, which turn golden when cooked, and yellow lentils are both skinless and quickly fall apart when cooked (good for thickening soups).

Agnes' Lentil Soup

Serves 4

2 quarts chicken stock

1 package (1 pound) dry lentils

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup chopped celery

1 carrot, diced

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Salt to taste

1/2 cup cooked elbow macaroni (optional)

In pot, bring chicken stock to a boil; add other ingredients except macaroni, if using. Cover. Boil on medium heat for 1/2 hour. Check and taste lentils for seasoning. Add the macaroni if using. Serve hot.

"Both of these are favorites in our house, and so good for you!" writes Jane Orenstein of Summerville.

She adds, "The "spicy" salad isn't spicy at all."

Spicy Tomato Lentil Salad

Serves 6

1 cup dried lentils

3 cups water

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion chopped

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 beef bouillon cube

1 (16-ounce) can stewed tomatoes

Rinse and sort lentils. Put in large pot with water, bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer about 20 minutes (until tender). Drain if necessary, and put into a bowl.

In the same pot, heat oil, add onion, garlic and cumin, cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally about 5 minutes (until onion is tender.) Add lentils and remaining ingredients. Mix lightly, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer about 15 minutes. Chill.

Black Bean and Lentil Salad

Makes 4-6 servings

1 cup (about 1/2 pound) lentils

1 can black beans

1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup finely chopped red onion

1/2 cup finely chopped green onion (scallions), green part only

For dressing:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chicken stock

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (can use apple cider vinegar)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican)

1 teaspoon cumin seed (or ground cumin to taste)

1/2 teaspoon Ancho chile powder (or any mild chile powder)

1/2 teaspoon Spike seasoning or to taste

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Hot sauce to taste

Put lentils into a small saucepan with plenty of water to cover, bring to a slow simmer and cook until lentils are tender, about 40-60 minutes for green lentils or 30-40 minutes for brown ones. Drain lentils and let cool slightly.

While lentils cook, put beans in a colander and rinse with cold water until no more foam appears. Let drain well, then blot dry with paper towels.

Meanwhile, make dressing: Put olive oil, chicken stock, Dijon mustard, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce and garlic in a small bowl. With mortar and pestle, grind together oregano, cumin seed, chile powder, Spike seasoning and pepper. Whisk ground seasonings into liquid in bowl, then add hot sauce to taste and whisk again.

When lentils are slightly cooled, combine with half of dressing and let marinate while you prep the rest of the ingredients. Wash, spin dry and finely chop cilantro and set aside. Chop red bell pepper, red onion and green part of green onions finely and add to lentils. Add drained beans to lentil and vegetable mixture, and stir in rest of dressing, then gently mix in chopped cilantro.

This will taste best if refrigerated for an hour or so before serving.

Mary Larry of Charleston offers two recipes from her favorite cookbook, "Popular Greek Recipes."

"Lentil soup is among the heartiest of Greek soups," she writes. "The legume has been a popular food since ancient days. Serve with feta cheese and pita bread."

Lentils With Spinach (Faki me Spanaki)

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups lentils

1 onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

3 cups vegetable or chicken stock

4 ounces baby spinach leaves

1 tablespoon chopped flat parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Sort and wash lentils in cold water. Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan, saute onions in olive oil for 5 minutes, then add garlic, cumin and ginger; cook until soft. Stir in the lentils, and add enough stock to cover; simmer 20 or 30 minutes until tender. Rinse the spinach and add to the lentil mixture; stir until wilted and liquid has reduced to a sauce. Add parsley, mint, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

Lentil Soup (Faki)

Serves 4

1 cup lentils

1/2 cup tomato sauce (optional)

4 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped fine

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 rib celery, chopped fine (optional)

1 clove garlic

5 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

Sort and wash lentils. Place in a deep saucepan, and add all ingredients. Cover and bring to a boiling point, reduce heat and cook slowly for about 1 1/2 hours. Remove the garlic clove before serving. Add a dash of vinegar.

Who's got the recipe?

--A Charleston reader asked for rhubarb recipes: pies, desserts and anything else good.

--Carol Atwater of West Ashley says she would love to find the hot dog chili recipe made long ago at Roy Hart's, a sandwich and milkshake stand that served the Lowcountry many years ago. "I believe the sauce was made by Ms. Virginia who worked at the West Ashley location. I have an excellent recipe, but nothing has ever come close to that of Roy Hart's."

Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Reach Teresa Taylor at 937-4886, food@postandcourier.com.