Legumes and beans are the seeds of fresh beans dried, and are also one of the oldest crops cultivated by the human mankind. Even after so many years, when we have endless food options, lentils are still considered one of the best sources of protein, dietary fiber, and complex carbohydrates we have available. The world of lentils is far from boring, and learning how to cook with them is an easy and inexpensive way to expand your cooking horizons.
Buying Lentils While buying lentils, make sure to look for whole, firm, and clean beans. Avoid discolored, broken, and dull beans, as they might be older and thus, will usually take a much longer time to cook and often taste stale. Beans which have shiny, bright and unbroken outer shell are ideal for cooking.
Soaking Lentils Soaking lentils before cooking is a hotly debated topic in the food world. Some believe soaking drains out certain nutrients, color and flavor out of the legumes, while others think soaking speeds up the cooking process, removes indigestible sugars which cause gas, and prevents the outer shell from disintegrating while cooking. Whether to soak or not is totally a personal choice and decision of the cook, but I recommend it.
- Large beans, such as kidney beans, can need 8 hours or more to soak.
- On average, dried beans will require at least 5 hours to soak.
- Lentils can be soaked for anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour prior to cooking.
Seasoning Lentils (during the soak) Feel free to add aromatics like garlic, herbs, and oil to the water to infuse more flavor into your lentils. if you have some stock in hand, that can also be used to cook lentils too! However, always keep in mind that while cooking lentils, they should only be simmered in liquid - not boiled, since boiling will break down the lentils and disintegrate the texture of beans.
Tips and Tricks
- Taste your beans while cooking to check on them, to see if they're al dente, but not mushy. This is the best way to test if they're done, since cooking times can vary from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending upon the size, age, & texture.
- Add salt and acids like tomato at the end or midway of cooking to avoid prolonged cooking times.
- Though using canned beans is more convenient, those options frequently contain large amounts of sodium and preservatives, which are not so healthy for daily diet.