The lentil or daal or pulse (Lens culinaris) is a bushy annual plant of the legume family, grown for its lens-shaped seeds. It is about 15 inches tall and the seeds grow in pods, usually with two seeds in each.
Species: L. culinaris
The plant originated in the Near East, and has been part of the human diet since the aceramic Neolithic, being one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. With 26% protein, lentil is the vegetable with the highest level of protein after soybeans and hemp, and because of this it is a very important part of the diet in many parts of the world, especially in India, which has a large vegetarian population.
A variety of lentils exists with colors that range from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black. Red, white and yellow lentils are decorticated, i.e., they have their skins removed. One variety of yellow “lentils,” Chana, is in fact made from the kernels of chickpeas. There are large and small varieties of many lentils (e.g., Masoor Lentils). Lentils are sold in many forms, with or without the skins, whole or split. The urad bean, a species of the genus Vigna, is also referred to as “black lentil”. Split Pigeon peas (either green or yellow) are sometimes erroneously sold as lentils. They are considered pulses, which includes peas and beans.
The seeds have a short cooking time (especially for small varieties with the husk removed, such as the common red lentil) and a distinctive earthy flavor. Lentils are used to prepare an inexpensive and nutritious soup all over Europe and North and South America, sometimes combined with some form of chicken or pork. They are frequently combined with rice, which has a similar cooking time. A lentil and rice dish is referred to in the Middle East as mujaddara or mejadra. Rice and lentils are also cooked together in khichdi, a popular Indian dish. Lentils are used throughout India, the Mediterranean regions and the Middle East. In rare cases the lentils are mixed with dairy cheese.
A large percentage of Indians are vegetarian and lentils have long been part of the indigenous diet as a common source of protein. Usually, lentils are boiled to a stew-like consistency with vegetables and then seasoned with a mixture of spices to make many side dishes such as sambar, rasam and dal, which are usually served over rice and roti.
When lentils are prepared, they are first inspected for damaged lentils, stones and other foreign matter. Then they are rinsed until the water runs through and comes out clear. Some prefer to soak the lentils for an extended time and discard the water. This removes substances that may cause indigestion. The lentils are then boiled in water or broth. They may be cooked on the stovetop, or in a slow cooker. Pressure cookers are not recommended, since the small lentils may clog the pressure relief valve, and their quick cooking time means there is little benefit from pressure cooking. Cooked lentils often require thinning: adding more hot water or broth to the cooked legumes until the desired final consistency is reached.
Apart from a high level of proteins, lentils also contain dietary fiber, vitamin B1, and minerals. Red (or pink) lentils contain a lower concentration of fiber than green lentils (11% rather than 31%).Health
magazine has selected lentils as one of the five healthiest foods.Lentils are often mixed with grains, such as rice, which results in a complete protein dish.