In ancient Greece the wealthy would never think of serving lentils to their guests or themselves. One exception was Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who prescribed lentils for his patients with liver ailments.
Lentils gained more respect in Eighteenth Century France under the reign of Louis XV, whose wife Marie made them fashionable at the king's court. They were named "lentils of the queen."
Even into the Nineteenth Century they were called "the poor man's meat." The only time of year they found acceptance was during Lent as a substitute for those people who could not afford fish.
Unfortunately, lentils are not very popular in the United States. Lentils are most important to the diets of people in the Middle East and in India. Many Indian dishes emphasize the more than 50 varieties grown in that country. The three varieties seen most often here are green, brown, and red.
Nutritionists consider lentils a great substitute for meat because they are high in protein and loaded with minerals. One hundred grams of lentils has as much protein as 134 grams of beef. Of the dried vegetables the lentil is second only to the soybean in protein content. One cup of boiled brown lentils provides 38 mg. calcium, 356 mg. phosphorus, 72 mg. magnesium, 360 mcg folacin, 6.6 mg. iron, 731 mg. potassium, and 10 grams dietary fiber. Lentils sold as dhal have their outer skins removed and are lower in fiber than other varieties.
Following are some suggestions for incorporating lentils into your meals:
RAW: Lentils can be sprouted and added to salads for a great boost in nutrition. They can also be ground into a meal in the food processor, seasoned, and made into lentil patties in a dehydrator.
TO SPROUT LENTILS: Measure about 6 to 8 tablespoons and soak them in plenty of water to cover overnight. Next morning, drain and rinse, and put them into a wide mouth jar covered with cheesecloth and secured with a rubber band. Lay the jar on its side and cover with a towel. Set aside on the kitchen counter to sprout for the day, rinsing them once or twice and draining them thoroughly. If the weather is cold, they may take a little longer to sprout. Rinse them and leave them until next morning when you'll notice each lentil has sprouted a little tail. They will now be ready to enjoy.
COOKED: Lentils cook quickly. Cooking about 20 to 25 minutes will give you the perfect firm, but tender, legume to use in salads. Start by combining 1 or 2 cups of lentils and 3 or 4 cups of water for each cup of lentils. Bring water to a boil, and turn heat down to simmer until tender. Season with salt and pepper in the last few minutes of cooking. Drain off water and reserve. (Reserved water can be used to serve over baked potatoes or rice.) To finish your salad, simply add chopped vegetables of your choice, lemon juice, a little olive oil, garlic, and seasonings for nutritious entree salad.
Lentils can be added to vegetable soups or even potato soups to add body and thickening. For this purpose you'll need to cook the lentils about 45 minutes so they will be completely broken down.
Lentil soup with a pungent lemon tang is a favorite of Middle Eastern households, while those of India add aromatic spices. Bring whatever seasonings please your palate to your creativity to enjoy a hearty lentil soup this winter or spring. There's nothing quite so pleasing as a hot soup to bring comfort when the weather turns damp and chilly.