Thursday, January 30, 2014

Canadian Grown Superfoods: Lentils

We grow some of the healthiest foods in the world in Canada. If you Google -  top ten health foods – the list is bound to include oatmeal, blueberries, flax, quinoa and many other superfoods grown or raised right here in Canada. This article explores one of those superfoods – lentils.  Why are they considered a superfood and how can you easily add more lentils to your diet? Read on…

Why are lentils a superfood?
1.    Fibre: One half cup (125 mL) of cooked lentils has almost 8 grams of fibre, which, is about 30 percent of what you require for the day! Eating a diet high in fibre helps lower cholesterol, reduces your risk of heart disease and makes your digestive system happy!
2.    Potassium: Bananas are often touted as being high in potassium, which they are.  But did you know that a 1/2 cup (125 mL) of cooked lentils has over 350 mg of potassium, which is 10 percent of your daily requirement and the same amount as a large banana. Potassium is essential for maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance and, therefore, helps to regulate blood pressure.
3.    Folate: Lentils are high in folate, (folic acid) a B-vitamin(9) that is instrumental in cell development and repair and is especially important for pregnant women as it helps prevent neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida. One half cup of cooked lentils is 45 percent of your daily requirement for folate! 
4.    High Protein, Low Fat: Half a cup (125 mL) of cooked lentils contains 115 calories and less than half a gram of fat. It also has 9 grams of protein, which is almost 20 percent of the protein you require for a day!
5.    Blood Sugar Control: Lentils have a low glycemic index value which means that when you eat them they are digested slowly and don’t spike your blood sugar levels. This is good for people with diabetes or at risk of developing diabetes.  It is also helpful if you are trying to loose weight!

Generally, when buying dried lentils, look for bright colour, uniform size and smooth skins without chips or shriveled seed coats. It is a good idea to rinse and sort lentils before cooking. Lentils do not require soaking. They also don’t take very long to cook. However, canned lentils offer quick convenience for recipes that call for cooked lentils. Simply drain, rinse and add to the recipe!  Note: A (540 mL/19 oz.) can lentils drained is approximately equivalent to 2 cups (500 mL) of cooked lentils.
Dry lentils will keep almost indefinitely stored in a tightly-covered container in a cool, dry place. If exposed to light, pulses tend to lose their colour but flavour, nutrition and texture will not be affected as long as they are tightly sealed. However, the longer lentils are stored, the dried they become. This means they may take longer to cook and may remain slightly chewy after cooking. It is best to use dry lentils within one year of purchase.
Cooking Tips:
1.    No pre-soaking required. It’s important to use unsalted water, as salt hardens and toughens lentils when cooking. Seasoning can and should be added at the end of the cooking.
2.    One cup (250 mL) of whole, dry lentils plus 2 ½ - 3 cups (625 – 750 mL) unsalted water cooked for 20 to 30 minutes equals 2 ½ cups (625 mL) cooked lentils.
3.    One cup (250 mL) of split, dry lentils plus 2 cups (500 mL) unsalted water cooked for 5 to 15 minutes equals 2 cups (500 mL) cooked lentils.
4.    Lentil Puree: Place cooked lentils in a food processor. For every cup (250 mL)of cooked lentils, add ¼ cup (60 mL) water. Blend until smooth. Lentil puree has a similar consistency to canned pumpkin. Add additional water 1 tablespoon (15 mL) at a time if more moisture is needed.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Easy Ways to Add More Lentils to Your Diet:
1.    Puree them and use them to make a dip like hummus. Check out the Baked Spinach & Artichoke Dip with Gouda recipe. The lentils are processed with the cream cheese and sour cream. No one will know they are even there!
2.    Add them to your soup, stew, salad or even stir fry.  Try using split red lentils for some added colour! My Mom adds them to her Greek Salad.
3.    Enjoy a vegetarian entrée or side dish made with lentils.
4.    Use lentils to stretch ground meat.  Simply add split red lentils or pureed lentils to the ground meat. Check out the Sloppy Joe recipe for an example of how to do that!

Here are a sampling of lentil recipes including a salad, soup, dip and two examples of stretching the flavour of meat with some lentils! Enjoy!

Lentil Caprese Salad
2 cups (500 mL) chopped baby kale or spinach
1½ cups (375 mL) halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup (250 mL) bocconcini cheese, sliced (200g container, drained/rinsed)
1 cup (250 mL) cooked lentils
2 Tbsp (30 mL) finely sliced basil
1 green onion, sliced thinly
3 Tbsp (45 mL) balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp (45 mL) olive oil
1 tsp (5 mL) whole grain mustard
¼ tsp (1 mL) coarse black pepper
to taste sea salt
1.    Combine the kale, tomatoes, cheese, lentils, basil, and onion together in a large bowl.
2.    In a separate bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients and season with salt.
3.    Just before serving, toss the salad with the dressing.
Servings: 4-6
Recipe courtesy:

Baked Spinach & Artichoke Dip with Gouda
1 Tbsp (15 mL) canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1-10 oz (300 g) bag baby spinach, torn or chopped
1/4 tsp (1 mL) cumin
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1-8 oz (250 g) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (60 mL) sour cream
1 cup (250 mL) canned lentils, drained well
1-4 oz (110 mL) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (125 mL) grated aged Gouda, divided
1/2 cup (125 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
dash ground black pepper
dash sea salt
1.    In a large, heavy skillet, heat canola oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onion for 5 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and spinach and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the spinach wilts and any excess moisture has cooked off. Add the cumin and salt, stir to combine and remove from the heat. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180 C).
2.    Place cream cheese, sour cream, lentils, artichoke hearts, and spinach mixture in the bowl of a food processor and pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until almost smooth – do not worry about a few remaining chunks. Add half the Gouda and Parmesan and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse until combined.
3.    Transfer to a shallow baking dish, cover loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes, until warmed through. Remove the foil, sprinkle with remaining Gouda and Parmesan and bake another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the edges are bubbly. Serve warm with pita or tortilla chips, sliced fresh baguette, or grainy crackers.
Servings: 8-10
Recipe courtesy:

Lemon Lentil Soup
2 tsp (10 mL) canola oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
pinch hot red pepper flakes
1 tsp (5 mL) cumin
1½ cups (375 mL) dry split red lentils, cleaned and rinsed
6 cups (1.5 L) chicken stock
2 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
2 tbsp (30 mL) fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat oil in large saucepan or Dutch oven.
2. Add onion, garlic and hot pepper flakes and cook on low heat for five minutes.
3. Add cumin and lentils, combine well. Add stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
4. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender and soup is beginning to thicken, about 30 minutes.
5. Add extra stock or water to thin if necessary. Add lemon juice.
6. Serve sprinkled with parsley.
Servings: 5 - 6
Recipe courtesy:

Bacon Lentil Burrito by Chef Michael Smith
My kids love these burritos but they don’t know why. I do though. Lentils are flavour sponges. Lentils do such a good job absorbing the bright sunny flavours of the southwest that no one notices the missing **** in this burrito. They notice the crisp smoky bacon though!
For the burrito filling:
4 thick slices of bacon, chopped
1 onion, diced
1 tsp (5 mL) chili powder
1 tsp (5 mL) cumin powder
1 tsp (5 mL)  dried oregano
1 cup (250 mL)  dry green Lentils
4 cups ( 1 L)  water
1 cup (250 mL) corn
1 tsp (5 mL)  salt
1 tsp (5 mL)  your favourite hot sauce
To assemble the burritos
4 large soft tortillas
1 carrot, shredded
4 ounces or so of ‘taco-blend’ shredded cheese
¼ cup (60 mL) or so of your favourite salsa
a handful or two of cilantro leaves and tender stems
1.    Begin by crisping the bacon. Toss it into a saucepot along with a splash or two of water. Bring the mixture to a simmer. As the bacon begins simmering the water will encourage it to cook evenly. Eventually the water boils away leaving the bacon bits to crisp in the rendered bacon fat. Be patient. When the bits are crisp strain them out and reserve.
2.    Toss the onion and seasonings into the pan and stir until the flavours brighten and the textures soften, 5 minutes or so.
3.    Pour in the lentils and water and bring the mixture to a slow, steady, simmer. Continue cooking as the lentils absorb the moisture and begin softening. Stir occasionally and keep an eye on the works. Eventually they’ll become tender and absorb all the water, about 45 minutes or so. If the mixtures still seems a bit wet for a burrito filling just simmer a few minutes longer. In the last few minutes of cooking stir the corn, salt and hot sauce into the works.
4.    Lay 4 tortilla shells out on your work surface and evenly divide the filling between them. Top with grated carrot, grated cheese and salsa. Sprinkle on the crisp bacon and top with lots of cilantro. Fold in the sides and roll the works up tightly. Shout ‘caliente!’ Serve and share!
Servings: 4
Recipe courtesy: Michael Smith and

Red Lentil, White Bean & Beef Sloppy Joes
3 lb (1.5 kg) ground beef
2 (19 oz/540 mL) cans navy beans
2 cups (500 mL) dry split red lentils
1 (28 oz/796 mL) can crushed tomatoes
1 (28 oz/796 mL) can diced tomatoes
3 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
12 cups (4 L) water
1/3 cup (75 mL) molasses
1/3 cup (75 mL) brown sugar
1 tbsp (30 mL) garlic powder
1 tbsp (30 mL) onion powder
1 tbsp(30 mL) basil
½ cup (125 mL)  apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1.    Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C).
2.    Place uncooked ground beef into large roaster, stir in the rest of ingredients, except for salt and pepper. Bake for about 2.5 hours. Stir two or three times during cooking.
3.    Add salt and pepper to taste.
Servings: 12-16
Recipe courtesy:

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