Gluten-Free Ingredient Crush: Lentils

How do I love lentils, let me count the ways….

At the risk of shaming my mother, I grew up in a lentil-free household. Yes, it’s true, there was nary a lentil to be seen in our house. We were not adventurous eaters (in my mother’s defense, feeding four plus children on a daily basis while working full-time was challenging enough). I was a registered adult before I had my first, delicious, addictive lentil.

It came in the form of the best gateway drug ever: lentil soup. As I mention in the notes for the recipe, I had a serious addiction to this soup. There are definitely worse ways to be spend your lunch hours….

These days, lentils form the basis of many dishes, from curries to salads. They cook up in about 20 minutes, making them an easy go-to item for weeknight meals — for a super-simple side, just toss warm lentils with a lemony vinaigrette (the acid amps up the flavor) and a handful of chopped parsley or other herbs. Done.

I make extra to throw into my lunches — lentils are filled with nutrients: protein, iron, vitamins B1, B6, and folate, magnesium, potassium, heck, even, zinc. Thanks to their soluble fiber, they’re heart-healthy and a tool in lowering your cholesterol. And speaking of fiber, yes, lentils are fabulous for your overall digestive system, not to mention helping with stabilizing blood sugar.

As you can see, lentils aren’t just a wonderful and delicious food — they’re a wonderful and delicious food filled with all sorts of amazing nutrition and health benefit. They are a powerful complement to a healthy gluten-free diet.

Types of Lentils (A Probably-Incomplete List):

  • French Green: Small, slate green, and a tiny bit peppery. Can be used interchangeably with Puy lentils. These lentils hold their shape, making them perfect in soups, stews, curries, salads, or on their own.
  • Brown Lentils: These are lentil workhorses. Generally, when you buy a bag of lentils at the grocery store, this is what you’re buy. Khaki colored, in a boring way, these are the lentils to keep in your pantry because they are so very versatile. They keep their shape well, but can also be mashed for patties (or the dreaded lentil meatloaf…something I’ve never found a great recipe for). I use these lentils in mujaddara, one of my favorite ways to serve lentils (especially for parties).
  • Puy Lentils: Technically, these are the same lentils as French Green lentils, but there is one critical difference: Puy lentils are grown in France; the French lentils can come from Italy or the United States or other sources.
  • Red Lentils: These red to orangey-red lentils are somewhat sweet, with just a bit of the nutty flavor that characterizes all lentils. Unlike the other styles, red lentils tend to lose their shape and get mushy — this is great for dals (Indian legume/pulse dishes) or soups that need a bit of thickening. I like to use them in patties / vegetarian meatballs as well.
  • Black Beluga: Tiny black lentils. Great in salads, especially salads highlight the glossy black color. Mix with sauteed vegetables (green and red peppers with black lentils, anyone?) or pasta or rice dishes.

How do you love your lentils? Do you have a great recipe to share?

Tip of the Week

This is a repeated tip, but very much worthwhile: legumes and pulses benefit from a dash of acid before serving. When I make lentil soup, I finish it with a nice vinegar or lemon juice. When I make black bean soup, I do the same thing, but often turn to orange juice for a different flavor. It doesn’t take much, but it makes a huge difference!

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

I’m not sure how I found the recipe for Lentil Bolognese linked below, but the moment I saw it, I decided I had to make it. The author of the recipe made this Weight Watcher-friendly dish, and my gluten-free brain grew a little too excited by the possibilities a hearty, flavorful lentil sauce/stew could have.

And by sauce/stew, I mean it’s that versatile. We tend to think of Italian sauces as something served over pasta (not that there’s *anything* wrong with that!), but the ingredients of this dish — carrots, celery, tomatoes, lentils, herbs and seasoning — could easily become a rich soup. Or a stew served over rice or sweet potatoes or spaghetti squash, which is exactly what I’m doing.

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