Several weeks ago one of my clients that I cook for, asked me to make lentil stew. I said I would and then realized that I didn't know much about Lentils. I grew up in the Appalachian mountains where beans were a staple and I loved them. Great northerns, navy beans, dried lima (butter) beans and especially pintos were on the menu every week. To me there was nothing better than "soup beans" meaning pinto beans cooked in pork "fatback". And yes, all our beans were soaked overnight before cooking. At the time, I didn't know why or that it was a healthy way to prepare beans. It was just the way you did it.
But I never saw or heard of a lentil growing up. Of course, I've eaten them in Indian restaurants, but up until now, I had not cooked them myself. I turned to Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions to learn more about them. Here's what she said.
Since the beginning of civilization, the lowly lentil has nourished healthy peoples across a wide portion of the globe. Dr. Weston Price considered the lentil the most nutritious of all legumes, due to its high phosphorus content. Lentils are also rich in calcium, potassium zinc and iron as well as vitamin B complex. Lentils have a high molybdenum content, a mineral that plays a role in protein assimilation, iron absorption, fat oxidation and normal cell function. They are low in phytates as well and thus need only be soaked a few hours rather than overnight.
American markets usually carry brown lentils. Some markets carry the pretty red lentil, which is best used only for soups as it disintegrates during cooking. The French prefer the tiny green lentil, available in gourmet markets and specialty shops. These make the most satisfactory cooked lentils as they hold their shape very well. SWF, p. 507.
A great place to find lentils in the Pasadena area is the Alta Dena Farmer's Market in Alta Loma Park on Wednesday afternoons from 3 to 7. There's a beans and rice booth there and his lentils are beautiful. So are his beans for that matter.
When I'm making something new, it's an adventure and a journey. I remembered that Mark Hyman's Ultra Metabolism Cookbook has some lentil recipes. Unfortunately, Hyman is locked into the many of the current myths about what's healthy like that Canola oil is good for you. So, there's always modification needed when I go to recipes from his book. On the other hand, whoever created these recipes had a wonderful pallate and their spicing of the dishes is almost always delicious.
I found all sorts of goodies in his lentil soup recipe like leeks, shallots, celery and celery leaves, tomatoes, thyme. In the process of making my own soup, I went to what I had available at the time, celery, onion, carrots, some (not too hot) chilles from my garden, fresh (but dried) bay leaves from the Pasadena Farmers Market and fresh homemade chicken stock. The recipe is below.
My client, who can be very particular, liked the stew a lot and so did her family. So, I took a quart by Elaina's at Culture Club 101. She's always such a fabulous source for me, that I wanted to give back a little. She shared the stew/soup with her employees and interns and one of them asked me for the recipe. I promised I would post it, so here it is.
2 cups red lentils (I used the red ones because I love their color, and they make the stew creamier when they break up.)
2 cups green lentils (you can use all green ones if you want.)
1/2 cup keifer whey (1/4 cup for each color - I soak separately.)
Soak red and green lentils separately in filtered/spring water w/ 1/4 cup keifer whey -- for 7 hrs or they can be soaked overnight
1 cup onion chopped
1 cup celery chopped
1 cup green bell pepper chopped
1 to 1/2 cup red bell pepper chopped (optional)
1 ripe poblano chili chopped (optional)
2 ripe anaheim chilis chopped (optional)
1 yellow squash chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 carrot thinly sliced or chopped (about 3/4 cu)
1 bay leaf
3 leaves french sorrel chopped
1 multi-branch twig of thyme
2 qts chicken stock
1 qt water
3 to 4 tbl butter or more
1. Soak lentils. (See above directions.)
2. After soaking, rinse the lentils with filtered water and put in pot with the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and skim.
3. Add the above ingredients and simmer. You can also put in other things you may have like leeks, shallots, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Or, you can just cook the lentils, stock and spices. Making soup is an adenture of combining ingredients and there's no right way as far as I'm concerned.
4. My experience is that they should be simmered for about 2 to 3 hours. You want the green lentils soft, but not mushy. Unless you like mushy, which I do.
Let me know what you think of this.