Lentils are often seen as a dull addition to any diet, but for vegans, they're a great source of flavour and nutrients.
“Lentil munchers” is one of the oldest and laziest stereotypes of vegans and vegetarians, but it can put some off from using them in everyday cooking.
They have an unfair reputation of being rather dull and tasteless, but nothing is further from the truth.
If you decide to give lentils the cold shoulder, then not only are you missing out on a rather versatile ingredient, but also a wealth of nutrients. For something so small (after cooking with them, I find stray lentils everywhere – they like escaping and running off all over the kitchen) they sure do pack a punch energy-wise.
Lentils are a good source of cholesterol -lowering fibre (and so help fight off heart disease) and they also keep blood sugars in check after a meal. The little pulses are also full of iron which means they are a good energy source. So if you’re feeling rundown, they make a great battery charger for the human body. Magnesium and folate also feature heavily in the lentil’s nutritional CV.
With such a variety of good stuff hiding inside a lentil meal it’s easy to see why vegans like to have them included in their weekly menus. Considering their versatility, it’s hard to imagine why they have such a dull reputation too.
OK, so your average lentil isn’t going to win any beauty contest, but the dried and canned varieties differ in nutritional goodness hardly at all. Because, unlike vegetables, cooking lentils takes a while, canning them doesn’t really strip them of all of their goodness. However, there are a couple of varieties…
Brown, green and black lentils all maintain their shape after cooking and can be good in salads among other things, whereas the sweeter, nuttier red variety and break down into a mush while cooking, so they make a good dhal, or soup thickener. But, like jackfruit, lentils are also good at soaking up flavours, so are a fantastic sponge for whatever spices you wish to throw at them.
So, what’s not to love? The recipe I’ve included here is my own personal favourite. I adapt it and make it up as I go along having lost the written down version years ago. But, I find that’s the best way with food, experiment and adapt dishes to fit in with your own personal tastes.
Pasta with red lentils and vegetables.
You will need – dried red lentils (washed)
Any other veg you like – I use mushrooms, broccoli and carrots.
You can vary the amounts to suit your tastes.
I gently fry the onion and carrot in the garlic to soften them and sprinkle on some black pepper. I then add some vegetable stock – I do this a bit at a time as I like my dish to be quite thick.
Throw in the bay leaf and any other veg and more black pepper.
Bring to the boil.
Throw in a load of lentils. This will be what binds the veg together into a pasta sauce, so I’d put in a good three or four handfuls per person. The key is to use enough to get a nice thick and chunky pasta “sauce” – it really isn’t as nice if it’s too watery. Add more black pepper.
The pepper is the main spice in this dish, so keep tasting and adding more depending on how peppery you like it – I like loads.
Cook the pasta now as the lentils won’t take long to break down – again, do as much or as little as you need.
Keep checking on the lentil mixture and add a little more stock if it becomes too thick before it’s ready. Keep adding black pepper to taste. It should only take 10 minutes or so for the lentils to break down and, hopefully, you’ve timed it to coincide with the pasta being ready to use.
Drain the pasta and remove the bay leaf from the lentil and vegetable “sauce” and mix in the pasta. Add a little more pepper if needed.
And there you have it, a quick and easy lentil dish that you can adapt until your heart’s content.