I’m sure you’ve heard of lentils, but have you ever actually eaten them? They are small, round, flat, pea-like seeds that come in a variety of gorgeous colors — green, pink, brown and yellow to name a few. Don’t let their frivolous hues fool you, though. These little gems are as nutritious as they are pretty. As one of the first crops domesticated in the eastern hemisphere, lentils have nourished humankind throughout history. They are still revered in India, where much of the population is vegetarian, because 26 percent of lentils’ calories come from protein, and they are one of the best vegetable sources of iron. Lentils are also a great source of fiber, so they not only fill you up without a bunch of calories, they keep your digestive system happy, help lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar. In short, they’re something of a super food.
You’ll generally find lentils of one variety or another alongside dried beans and rice in the grocery store, and they’re often a component in dry soup mixes. I find the best way to buy them is in bulk. You can order a 25-pound bag of organic green lentils from Azure Standard (azurestandard.com) for less than a buck a pound — enough to keep you in lentils all winter long. (For quick stews, they also sell Eden organic lentils in a can.) As a longtime lentil lover, I’m convinced you can’t have too many lentils lying around. And because I reside in a region once known as the pea & lentil capital of the world, complete with an annual lentil festival, you can try some from my neck of the woods, palousebrand.com. Besides the fact that dried lentils will store for years, they make a terrific meatless base for veggie sloppy joes, lentil loaves, burgers, chili and casseroles. They’re even tasty sprinkled over salads. Both green and red lentils are super easy to prepare as they require no soaking and cook faster than other legumes.
While lentils are a perfect addition to vegetarian diets, I must tell you that one of my all-time favorite recipes is a savory lentil stew that beguiles the taste buds with the deep and hearty resonance of bacon. Mind you, I don’t recommend buying any old supermarket bacon, which is almost always packed with preservatives. The best bacon you can buy nationwide is Organic Prairie Uncured Hardwood Smoked Bacon, produced by an independent cooperative of organic family farms. If you can’t find it locally, you can order it online at http://store.organicprairie.com.
Ready to brew a luscious pot of stew?
Luscious Lentil Stew
So hearty and delicious, this easy belly-warming soup is definitely worthy of being called “stew”!
1 package Organic Prairie Uncured Hardwood Smoked Bacon
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
3 tablespoons minced garlic
6 carrots sliced in half lengthwise and chopped into half-moon slivers (about 4 cups)
1-1/2 cup dry green lentils (red lentils soften too quickly for this recipe)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, ground
5 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper
crumbled feta cheese or grated Parmesan
Cut the bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and fry in a cast-iron skillet until browned and crisp. At this point, you can pour off some of the grease and refrigerate for another occasion.
Add the onion, garlic and carrot slices. Cook until softened (about 5 minutes).
Add the lentils, herbs and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and then simmer for about 45 minutes.
Season stew with salt and pepper to taste, and add sprinkled feta or Parmesan cheese on top.
Copyright 2010, MaryJane Butters.
Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.