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Know your Lentil Power

Barb
Posted by Barb on Feb 17, 2022
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Lentils. They are probably one of oldest new foods we are trying to incorporate in our diets.

Lentils are one of the earliest cultivated crops, and by earliest I’m talking thousands of years. Their versatility of being able to incorporate flavors makes them one of the most adaptable legumes on the market worldwide.

Environmentally, lentils are regarded as a climate-friendly protein. As a carbon negative crop, lentils absorb more carbon than they create. In addition, they pull nitrogen from the air and convert it into their own self sustained nutrients and fertilizer for growth. In the long run, the land does not get overworked because the soil is naturally much healthier.

Lentils are inexpensive to cultivate and provide many nutritional benefits. (The Chopping Block covered all of this in another blog found here.)

Between the environmental and nutritional advantages, it is no wonder that the food world (both vegetarian and carnivore) is rediscovering the lentil and adapting recipes. But it is all for naught if you don’t know where to start.

Just because you scoop it out of a bin at your local health food store doesn’t mean it is a lentil. I had a mélange of bags that I thought were all lentils, but then I looked at them all together. They were all pulses but not all lentils. (Everything you wanted to know about pulses but were afraid to ask.)

lentils-1Look closer….

pulses with labelsLentils should be curved and shaped like a lens. (The Latin name is Lens culinaris for the etymologist cooks out there.) A split lentil (dal) has had its seed coat removed and split in half.  As you can see, they all look similar and yet they aren’t. 

Color Me Wrong 

One of the biggest misconceptions I had with lentils is with the color. I “knew” there were black, red, brown and green lentils. I thought if I wanted a colorful plate, I could just cook any color… or all of them together. 

It looks good to start.

colored lentilsBut after they cooked for a little bit, the color differentials were gone and there was not a consistent texture. It was a little discouraging.

lentils before after

Lentil Breakdown

Grasping the differences between the colors is the key to lentil success.

Brown/Flat Green Lentils are the lentils that are the largest lentils and most common in the U.S. They are the go-to for a basic lentil soup or lentil burgers. They absorb their cooking liquid and stay plump but don’t break down completely. Their adaptability to most recipes is attributed to their mild flavor.

French green (Puy) lentils are smaller and a bit curvier than the previous lentil. They keep their shape beautifully when cooked so they really shine in a salad or as base of a grain bowl. Some French green lentils are said to be a little peppery.

Black lentils keep their shape and most of their “shine” when cooked. Nicknamed the beluga because of the resemblance to caviar, they are another great option for a salad or as part of a side dish ensemble. Their strong Earthy flavor makes them taste most like a black bean.

black lentilsRed lentils are smaller than other lentils. They break down the easiest and almost having a creamy finish to them. Most of the red lentils I have found are split which shortens their cooking time. Once you start familiarizing yourself with them, they will become a pantry staple.

Cooking Hints

  • You don’t need to soak lentils but do give them a good rinse and a once over for pebbles/dried shell that may have snuck in there during the harvest.
  • Most of the recipes I found used a 1 cup lentil to 3 cup liquid ratio. The nice thing about lentils is that if you have too much water, you can drain them. If you have too little, you can add more. They are very forgiving.
  • Make sure your pot is big enough. They can double, even triple in size!
  • You can add flavor to your cooking liquid by incorporating some dried herbs or cooking in a nice flavorful broth. There is a debate that salt may toughen whole lentils. I usually season after they are done cooking.
  • Lentils and cooking liquid need to be covered with a lid slightly ajar. Liquid for red/brown lentils needs to come to a boil and then brought down to a simmer. If you want to keep the lentil shape more intact, bring the heat up only to a simmer and cook on low.
  • Personal tastes really will dictate your cooking times. My go-to timer is 15 minutes and then I taste. If it is still too crunchy or toothsome, I add another 5. Red seems to cook the fastest then brown and then black and green.
  • As I’ve been learning with lentils, I have found I sometimes like to cook them to “about done” and finish them off in my soup. They still are flavorful but there is less room for error.

The best part of lentils is the “playful” factor. Once you (me, okay, I’m talking about myself), figure out the nuances of the different lentils, those old weeknight recipes are all of a sudden new again.

The Chopping Block continues to add new classes that are in person and virtual so these are great opportunities to ask questions and get over any “lentil blocks” you may have!

scallops with black lentils

Scallops with Black Lentils and Fennel

Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe

Makes 8 appetizers or 3 entrees

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25-30 minutes

Total time with plating: 45-50 minutes

 

1 cup of black (beluga) lentils, rinsed and picked through

3 cups of water

12 sea scallops, dry, seasoned with salt and pepper

2 Tablespoons of butter

3 pieces of bacon, chopped (You don’t NEED bacon so feel free to omit.)

1 cup of chopped fennel (this was about half of the fennel I bought), reserve the fronds for garnish

½ of a red onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic (about 1 teaspoon)

juice and zest of one lemon

Garnish (optional but tasty)

2 Tablespoons of parsley

6 peppadew peppers

Salt/pepper

 

1. In a medium size pot, add lentils and water. Over medium high heat, bring to a simmer and cover, slightly ajar. Set timer for 15 minutes.

simmering lentils2. While the lentils cook, take a medium skillet and cook your bacon. Remove and set aside. I did chop mine up a little smaller after this photo was taken. Save the fat. You can use it to cook the scallops if you like.

bacon-33. In that same pan, sauté the fennel and red onion for about 5 minutes.

fennel red onion4. Add chopped garlic and cook another minute.

5. Taste for salt. (Given I cooked mine in a little of the bacon fat, it was very flavorful and didn’t need much.)

6. In a small bowl, mix parsley, lemon zest and the peppadew peppers. Set aside, this is the garnish to put on top of the scallops.

7. This is the point where you should check on those lentils. Grab a small spoonful and give them a taste. If they need to cook more, set a reminder timer. If they are done, season with a little salt and pepper.

8. Mix the fennel/onions with the lentils and keep warm.

9. While the lentils are finishing up, cook your scallops. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. (Type of skillet is your call, I used my nonstick).

10. I heated up a little bacon juice as my oil but you can use grapeseed if that is your preference.

11. Add the scallops in a single layer to the pan. You may have to cook in two batches in order not to over crowd your pan.

12. Cook about 2 minutes and flip.

13. Cook another 2 minutes. During the final minute, I add butter and the juice of a lemon to the pan and baste the scallops as they cook.

14. If you are making this as a starter, put a scoop of the lentil mix onto your plate. Place a scallop on top and garnish with the parsley peppadew mix.

15. Make a few extra because you never know when one won’t make it to the table.

lentils plated with dog16, If making as an entrée, I like a nice full bowl of lentils with about 4 scallops and a sprinkle of fennel fronds.

lentil entree

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Yield: 8 appetizers or 3 entrees
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Scallops with Black Lentils and Fennel

Scallops with Black Lentils and Fennel

Prep time: 10 MinCook time: 30 MinTotal time: 40 Min

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of black (beluga) lentils, rinsed and picked through
  • 3 cups of water
  • 12 sea scallops, dry, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons of butter
  • 3 pieces of bacon, chopped (You don’t NEED bacon so feel free to omit.)
  • 1 cup of chopped fennel (this was about half of the fennel I bought), reserve the fronds for garnish
  • ½ of a red onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic (about 1 teaspoon)
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • Garnish (optional but tasty)
  • 2 Tablespoons of parsley
  • 6 peppadew peppers
  • Salt/pepper

Instructions

  1. In a medium size pot, add lentils and water. Over medium high heat, bring to a simmer and cover, slightly ajar. Set timer for 15 minutes.
  2. While the lentils cook, take a medium skillet and cook your bacon. Remove and set aside. I did chop mine up a little smaller after this photo was taken. Save the fat. You can use it to cook the scallops if you like.
  3. In that same pan, sauté the fennel and red onion for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add chopped garlic and cook another minute.
  5. Taste for salt. (Given I cooked mine in a little of the bacon fat, it was very flavorful and didn’t need much.)
  6. In a small bowl, mix parsley, lemon zest and the peppadew peppers. Set aside, this is the garnish to put on top of the scallops.
  7. This is the point where you should check on those lentils. Grab a small spoonful and give them a taste. If they need to cook more, set a reminder timer. If they are done, season with a little salt and pepper.
  8. Mix the fennel/onions with the lentils and keep warm.
  9. While the lentils are finishing up, cook your scallops. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. (Type of skillet is your call, I used my nonstick).
  10. I heated up a little bacon juice as my oil but you can use grapeseed if that is your preference.
  11. Add the scallops in a single layer to the pan. You may have to cook in two batches in order not to over crowd your pan.
  12. Cook about 2 minutes and flip.
  13. Cook another 2 minutes. During the final minute, I add butter and the juice of a lemon to the pan and baste the scallops as they cook.
  14. If you are making this as a starter, put a scoop of the lentil mix onto your plate. Place a scallop on top and garnish with the parsley peppadew mix.
  15. Make a few extra because you never know when one won’t make it to the table.
  16. If making as an entrée, I like a nice full bowl of lentils with about 4 scallops and a sprinkle of fennel fronds.
Created using The Recipes Generator

Topics: legumes, lentils, scallops, Recipes, pulses

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