Food can be like words of encouragement, and eating seasonally is one of the most loving ways to communicate with your precious body. With the arrival of spring, we say goodbye to the cold, dry winter, and hello to wetter and increasingly warmer weather. This means that astringent legumes like lentils are back on the menu. Despite their tiny size, lentils are big on nutrients. Today’s Meatless Monday recipe, red lentils with lemongrass, is one of the simplest weeknight meals, and it’s also quick cooking and comforting.
Lentils & Nutrition
While many people consider lentils a year round staple, in Ayurveda they’re primarily a spring food. In nature, lentils fall from the vine in autumn. They then lie dormant all winter until spring, when they begin to sprout. Like most beans, they’re considered astringent. They’re light and dry, counteracting spring’s heavy, oily kapha qualities.
Lentils are a pulse, or a legume that is harvested for drying. They’re part of the larger legume family, a class of vegetables that also includes beans and peas. According to the western perspective, one cup of red lentils contains about 18% of the recommended daily intake of carbohydrates, about 57% of the DRI of fiber, and 18 grams of protein. Although this is about as much as a 3-ounce serving of chicken breast, the protein in lentils is incomplete, meaning they lack some essential amino acids, so vegans and vegetarians might want to consider pairing them with brown rice, a complementary incomplete protein. Lentils are rich in folate and iron. All that said, there’s of course so much more to food than nutritional makeup. So let’s talk a little about how best to cook these lovely little pulses so they taste amazing.
How To Cook Lentils Perfectly Every Time
When cooked properly, all dried beans will have better texture and flavor than their canned counterparts. Proper cooking gives them a lovely pillow-y, creamy texture. It’s true that for some lentil dishes you might want a mushy texture, but if not, make sure to mind the pot. Immediately lowering the heat to a gentle simmer after bringing lentils—or any beans—to a boil will help to achieve that crave-worthy texture. When it comes to salt, it has the opposite effect of overcooking: if added too early, salt can make beans tough. Add salt at the end of cooking.
Red Lentils: To Presoak Or Not
There are many different opinions about presoaking beans and how it affects texture and flavor. Without fail, I always presoak them, except for lentils (sometimes). Picture this: you’ve had a long workday and you arrive home, hungry, with no cooking plan, no leftovers, and a sparsely stocked kitchen. Instead of ordering takeout, make some lentils. Unlike other beans, they don’t require presoaking, and they cook quickly. That said, although presoaking isn’t necessary, it will make lentils more digestible and cut their cooking time in half.
Perceiving time as abundant is for most of us a mindset achieved with practice. But whether you’ve come to peace with time or are still working on it, it’s always a good idea to feed yourself lovingly. Whether you’re feeling Zen or frantic, lentils are a food that will serve you well, particularly in the wet, transitioning-to-warm spring. All of us could benefit from more home-cooked meals and more self-love, and lentils make both of those things easy. Plus, they make life more delicious, and who doesn’t love that?
Red Lentils With Lemongrass
(Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-Free)
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin coconut oil
- 1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
- 5 thin slices of ginger (approximately 1-inch each)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup dried red lentils
- 1 cup strained tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1/4-3/4 teaspoon sea or pink Himalayan salt
- 1 drop food-grade lemongrass essential oil
- 2 Tablespoons lime juice
- fresh chopped cilantro, to taste
- Put the red lentils in a strainer and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water. Drain and set them aside.
- In a medium saucepan, warm the coconut oil over medium heat.
- When hot, add the onions, ginger, and black pepper and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until the onions are translucent and fragrant.
- Add the minced garlic, stir, and cook for another minute.
- Add the lentils, strained tomatoes, and water to the pan.
- Stir, bring to a rapid simmer, and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes.
- Check the lentils. If they’re still crunchy, cook for a little longer, adding additional water as needed. When the lentils are tender, add the salt. At this point they can be refrigerated for up to five days.
- When ready to serve, transfer to a non-reactive bowl and stir in the lime juice and lemongrass essential oil.
- Plate, topping each portion with freshly chopped cilantro, and serve.
Additional Cooking Notes
- When cooking with essential oils, it’s important to use non-reactive containers and utensils. Glass, ceramic, or high-quality stainless steel is recommended; avoid plastic.
- If you don’t have lemongrass essential oil, add a few slices of fresh lemongrass in step 3.
- If you like it hot, consider adding fresh or dried chili during step 2, or as a garnish when serving.
- Some other delicious, nutritious serving additions for these red lentils: steamed Swiss chard or spinach, and/or poached, fried, or hardboiled eggs.
Photos by Shiraz Leyva