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Next week’s ingredient is… BEETROOT! Send your recipes to Edwina and Will at thoughtfulfoodsunsw[@]yahoo.com
Lentils are the seeds of a grain-bearing legume (or pulse). Lentils are bushy annual plants, Lens culinaris. Legume roots are capable of nitrogen fixation in association with funky little Rhizobium bacteria. Like most of the peas, lentils are easy to grow. The seeds are normally allowed to dry on the plant before harvesting and processing by grinding to separate the seeds.
Lentils have an earthy/nutty flavour. Lentils do have some significant health benefits, mostly related to their high protein content which is higher than beef. If the dark seed coat is left on lentils become a good source of dietary fibre.
The earliest recorded occurrence of lentils around people is from Greek caves (13000 to 9500 years ago). They are among the first plants to be domesticated by people (and you thought keeping a puppy was fun) along with other classics such as wheat and barley.
Since then lentils have had something of a chequered history, being regarded by most western civilisations as the poor-mans meat substitute. Historically, Catholics used lentils during lent, if they could not afford fish. The french green lentils (or Puy Lentils) are known to hold their shape best of all the lentils, and do make some wonderful provencale meals (especially cooked with rosemary).
In South Asia, the large vegetarian population makes it an essential protein source with a short cooking time. Perhaps the greatest evidence for the importance of the lentil is the number of varieties that can readily be found. For a great guide to the different lentils available today check out:
This site provides a good glossary with pictures of all the different types of lentils (and what everyone calls them all). As a quick note, dhal (or dal) are normally split lentils.
You can find the following lentil recipes in the Pigweed cookbook or at the Thoughtful foods website