Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lovely lentils

What's not to like about lentils? Lentils offer the same benefits that dried beans do (they are inexpensive, full of nutrients and fiber, and rich in phytochemicals), but lentils are easier to cook than dried beans since they require no soaking before cooking. In addition, many people find that lentils are less likely to cause gas during digestion.

What's in them? Just 1/2 cup of lentils provides nearly as much fiber as two cups of cooked oatmeal. The fiber in lentils is the soluble kind which can help lower blood cholesterol. Lentils are also rich in iron, protein, folate, magnesium and potassium. Lentils are considered a "nutrient-rich" food because they offer many nutrients yet lentils are low in calories.

Which ones should you choose? There are different types of lentils you can use depending on what type of recipe you are making. Brown and green lentils hold their shape after being cooked so they are ideal to use in salads, side dishes and entrees. Red lentils are often used in soups because they break down and become soft and act as a thickening agent. You can find lentils among the bags of beans at your local grocery store. You will usually find more varieties of lentils at health food stores where they are often found in the bulk section.

Here is my kids' favorite lentil soup recipe. As with all soups, this tastes best if you can make it the day before serving it and let the flavor develop in the refrigerator overnight.

Lentil Stew

2 medium carrots, sliced
2 celery ribs, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons canola oil
3 cups water
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 can (14.5 oz) vegetable broth
1 cup dry lentils, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 can (28oz) diced tomatoes with no added salt, undrained
1 (4oz) can chopped green chilies

In a Dutch oven, cook the carrots, celery, onion and garlic in the canola oil until the veggies are almost tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the water, potatoes, broth, lentils, salt, cumin,, and cayenne pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and chilies. Heat through.

Makes 28 servings. Each serving creditable for 1/4 cup of the fruit/vegetable component for 3-5 year old children at lunch or supper.

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