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Cooking with Lentils

Lentils is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world, high-protein lentils are small, thin-skinned, and fast-cooking, requiring no soaking. They are delicious, economical, and extremely versatile.

When choosing, please note that all lentils have an earthy, almost nutty flavor. Brown lentils, sometimes called green, are the most common type and are greenish-brown in color. Small French green lentils are smaller and darker green, and they cook up firmer than brown lentils. They hold their shape well and have excellent flavor. Red lentils are slightly smaller and more orange than red.

Lentils are popular for making Indian dals (lentil dishes) and turn bright yellow during cooking. Yellow lentils also fall into the red lentil category; they cook fast and fall apart during cooking, making them ideal for dal. A final color, black lentils, also called beluga lentils, are very tiny and harder to come by.

Lentils are sometimes dusty and may have tiny pebbles mixed among them. To sort the bad from the good, spread the lentils out in a single layer on a baking sheet and pick out the stones and any shriveled or discolored beans. Then, dump the beans into a large bowl of water and swish around. Discard any beans that float to the top. Transfer to a sieve and rinse the beans under running water, then transfer to a pan for cooking.

When cooking lentils, there is no need to soak it. Simply mix half pound lentils with 3 cups of water and heat to boiling. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until lentils are soft, about 15 to 25 minutes. Add garlic, onions, herbs, or spices to the water to season the lentils, but avoid adding salt or acidic ingredients such as tomatoes until the lentils are fully cooked. Adding these ingredients too early prevents the lentils from softening, thereby increasing cooking time. If using lentils for salad, drain them. If making a soup, keep the cooking liquid. One cup dried lentils makes about 3 cups cooked.

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