February 29, 2012
During my last trip to the grocery store, I chucked a bag of dried green lentils into my shopping cart. Not that I had any specific ideas about what to do with them. Flipping through my cookbooks, there was a noticeable lack of lentil-centric dishes outside of the old-standby lentil soup recipe that I’m guessing every general cookbook is obligated to carry. And really, if the little green pulses in my pantry were capable of thoughts and feelings, they might have an existential crisis upon thinking that they were predestined for one thing and one thing only. I won’t suffer neurotic legumes, so to spare them distress and spare me culinary monotony, I found five ways to work with lentils.
1. Use them in a soup. It’s an old standby for a reason: It’s just flat-out good, especially on a cold day. The classic iteration usually combines lentils with root vegetables—but the fun thing about making soup is playing around with the ingredients. Try different varieties of lentils—such as red for a Moroccan version of the soup—or add in meat, seafood or some of your favorite small pasta.
2. Use them in fillings. This is how I’ve usually worked with lentils in a non-soup setting. Spiced and mixed with tomatoes and tofu, they help make for a great meatless burrito filling. Yellow lentils with other legumes make for delicious-looking stuffed capsicum. You can also use them for snack foods like paratha, an Indian flat bread that is stuffed and topped with yogurt and chutney, or samosas, deep-fried pastry shells with savory fillings.
3. Toss them. No, not out of your kitchen, but rather use lentils in your salads either as a sidekick to other veggies—such as wild rice, squash and bulgur—or enjoy them on their own merits with a bit of oil and vinegar.
5. Use them for sweets. Don’t think that lentils are strictly for savory dishes—they have a place (albeit a small one) at the dessert table. Combine with oats, spices and dried fruits to whip up a batch of cookies, or use the red variety to make a rosy pudding for a breakfast or after dinner treat. You can even use them in pies, combining lentils with nuts, apples or even just a little vanilla extract and sugar to create fiber-rich fillings.
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