How to use lentils.

When I was growing up, we regularly had homemade soups of all kinds – bean, split pea, potato, chicken vegetable and beef barley, but never had we seen or heard of lentils. The first time I prepared them, I used them in soup and was pleasantly surprised – they cooked so quickly! Since my first experience using these little legumes, I’ve tried many great recipes with success.

Lentils come in various sizes and range in color from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black. If you browse the health food stores or your local grocery store (in the dry bean and pea area), you’re bound to find something to try. Lentils are very high in protein and have fiber, folate, vitamins and minerals, so they can be a good addition to a healthy diet and to your table. Michigan State University Extension encourages you to try lentils, as they are low in fat, so they are a good choice for healthy protein.

There are many recipes out there for lentil dishes. Don’t worry if you have never used lentils before as they are easy to prepare. Most lentils are sold in bins where you can select what you want to buy or bags already filled. When you get home, they should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. They will keep well for about a year.

Before you cook lentils, sort through them and remove any stocks or small pebbles that may have been included. Next, rinse them in a strainer under cold running water to rid them of any dust or dirt. Bring three cups of water to a boil for every cup of lentils and place them into the hot water. Depending on the color and size of your lentils, they will take between 20-30 minutes. If you want them to have more of a crunch, reduce your boiling time.

It’s up to you after cooking what you want to do with them. Soup – add more broth, vegetables and seasoning like you would with pea or bean soup. One cup of lentil soup equals a two ounce equivalent for protein in your diet. For stew – add your other cooked vegetables and seasonings and enjoy. A quarter-cup of cooked lentils equals a one ounce equivalent for protein.

Most of the time lentils are paired with rice or noodles, but the sky is the limit. If you are interested in recipes for lentils visit the SNAP Recipe Finder. There are recipes for everything from patties to stews using lentils. Lentils are colorful, packed with protein and taste good! If you want to learn more about using alternative forms of protein to save money, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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