Tiny and colourful, lentils are dynamos of goodness. Easy to cook and affordable to buy, they provide a gutsy earthy flavour and carry spicy or robust seasonings well. These gluten-free gems will feed you up on slow-burning carbohydrate, folate and vitamin B, fibre, protein and antioxidants. One cup of lentils provides the same amount of protein as three eggs.
Red lentils: Tiny split, mild red lentils disintegrate into a thick purée when cooked and so do not require soaking beforehand. Use them in soups and spicy Indian dhals.
Green and puy lentils: These can be pale or mottled green-brown and are glossy. They have a peppery flavour. Green lentils take the longest to cook, around 45 minutes, but retain their firm texture. Look for French green lentils or Puy lentils (which are the only lentils named after the region where they are grown - in Puy in the Auvergne region of France).
Readily available, brown lentils are large and flat with a more pronounced earthy flavour than the others. They retain their shape well when cooked and are good in casseroles, soups and baked dishes. They cook in about 20 minutes.
Make them quicker to cook and easier to digest
- Lentils get a bad rap as being too difficult to digest, causing a build-up of gas in the gut. To help combat this and help them cook quicker, soak dried lentils (but not the red ones) for a few hours, drain, rinse well, boil in plenty of fresh water and drain well again.
- Rinse canned lentils very, very well under running cold water to remove excess sodium and the oligosaccharides (the sugars which cause gas).
- Eat lentils with digestive-friendly spices — ginger, fennel, cumin — and begin your friendship slowly, about ¼ cup lentils three times a week to give your gut time to adjust.
Photographed clockwise from above: Puy lentils, red lentils, brown lentils and organic brown lentils.