Lentils: Nutrition-Packed and Fiber-Rich
By Diane Giuliani Even though spring is fast approaching, we’ll surely see a few more cold damp days through March and April. When one of those days hits, I often fall back on one of my favorite super simple dinners that I can throw together in no time - Lentil Soup, or Stewoup as I like to call it because my soups are always so thick they become more like a stew. My recipe below is incredibly easy and requires minimal ingredients. I almost always have everything I need in my pantry and refrigerator.
Lentils have a long-time reputation as “the poor man’s meat” and a history of more 8,500 years of cultivation. They were even prescribed by Hippocrates for the treatment of liver ailments in Ancient Greece. Because they are high in protein and nutrients, they have gained popularity and have since entered into a diverse range of nutritious recipes for many Meatless Monday meals and beyond.
Lentils are in the legume category along with beans and peas and they grow in pods with one to two lentil seeds per pod. The seeds are round or oval disks and are usually quite small. There are over 50 varieties grown in India alone, but the brown, green and red lentils are the most common here in the U.S. One cup of cooked lentils is approximately 250 calories and provides 16 grams of fiber, 18 grams of protein, 37 grams of carbohydrate, and offers an impressive list of vitamins and minerals. Because they’re such a rich source of fiber, they’ve been shown to lower cholesterol, have a positive effect on managing blood-sugar disorders and are heart healthy.
When you purchase dried lentils, be sure there’s no moisture and look for lentils that are whole not broken. They can be stored for up to a year in a sealed container or bag on your pantry shelf. As with dried beans, always check your lentils for small stones or debris and rinse them before adding them to the cook pot. Lentils can be enjoyed in soups and stews or in a salad with chopped vegetables and a light vinaigrette. Each lentil variety requires different cooking times so be sure to check your recipe in order to avoid overcooking.
1 tbsp. olive oil 3 tbsp. water 1 medium yellow onion, chopped 2 large cloves garlic, minced 2 large stalks celery, chopped 2 large carrots, chopped or sliced 1 can (15 ounce) cooked diced tomatoes. I like Muir Glen Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes for a little kick. 6 cups vegetable stock or chicken broth. I frequently use broth in a “box” from my pantry. 2 cups brown lentil 1-2 tbsp. dried dill ½ tsp. cumin – add up to 1 tsp. if you like the flavor of cumin 2-3 cups chopped leafy greens - Kale, chard, spinach or collards all work well. 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Check the lentils for debris, rinse them in a fine mesh strainer and then set aside. Chop the onions and garlic and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
In an 8 quart stock pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil and water simultaneously. When the water begins to simmer, add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté the onions until they are slightly translucent. About 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots and garlic and sauté for an additional 5-8 minutes. Add an additional 1-2 tbsp. of water as the bottom of the pot dries out. Add the tomatoes, stock, lentils, dill and cumin. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for an 25-30 minutes or until the lentils and vegetables feel tender. Add the chopped leafy greens and simmer for an additional 5-8 minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add more broth if you prefer your soup thinner.
Note: This is a great soup that accepts additional leftover cooked vegetables that you might already have in your refrigerator - potatoes, turnips, squash etc. A single serving of this soup can be reheated and plopped on top of a bed of cooked leafy greens for a powerful cancer kicking, alkalizing, fiber packed meal!