The underrated lentil is one of the healthiest items to keep in the pantry. A pound of lentils might put you back about $1.50, or so, making it one of the least expensive, high protein meals around. In fact, lentils are about 30 percent protein and contain impressive levels of lysine and iron.
In Italy, lentils are typically eaten in celebration of New Year’s but are a staple all year ’round. They cook much faster than most beans, usually in less than an hour. I like to let them simmer for a couple of hours, if I can, to pick up the other flavors in the pot.
Although I vary the recipe based upon what’s in the fridge, my lentil recipe typically goes something like this (from Food Nation Radio Network):
1 package lentils (15-16 oz)
1 lb of sausage (it does not matter what kind or flavor)
1 TB tomato paste
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup sliced carrots
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried thyme or 1 tsp fresh
1/2 tsp dried oregano or 1 tsp fresh
1 tsp – 1 TB minced garlic
water to cover
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 generous tsp of sea salt, or to taste
Rinse lentils in a colander and set aside. In a large, deep, pot, add sausage and heat to high heat, breaking up the sausage into very small pieces. Allow to brown well until it’s almost crispy. Turn heat down to medium high. Make a well in the center of the sausage and add tomato paste. Allow to caramelize. Add onion and carrot and saute until onion is translucent. Add lentils and allow to toast lightly. Add the remaining ingredients and heat up to high until it comes to a boil. Simmer, adding water as needed to cover the lentils for about two hours, but at least until the lentils are soft. Add the salt, to taste. Simmer five minutes more and serve with crusty bread and a crisp salad.
Elizabeth Dougherty has been a food writer for over 10 years, attended culinary school and holds a Bachelor’s degree, Magna Cum Laude in Hospitality, Business and Labor Relations from NYIT. She has been a talk show host of nearly 150 episodes of Food Nation Radio which airs each Saturday afternoon at 4 on WWBA AM820 News and other stations. You can read her articles and hear previous shows on her podcast page on the Food Nation Radio Network website and on Facebook.