I know lentils are supposed to be good for me. But what are they and how do I prepare them?

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

Lentils are grouped with beans and peas as part of the legume family because, like all legumes, they grow in pods. Lentils are high in protein and fiber and low in fat, which makes them a healthy substitute for meat. They're also packed with folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium and fiber.

Lentils come in three main varieties: brown, green and red. Most grocery stores carry brown lentils, usually dried. Green and red lentils may be found at specialty food markets. Here are some tips for choosing your color:

  • Brown lentils. The least expensive, they soften when cooked and can become mushy. Use for soups.
  • Green lentils. Also called French lentils, these have a nuttier flavor and stay firm when cooked. Green lentils are the best choice for salads.
  • Red lentils. The fastest cooking, these lose their shape and turn golden when cooked. They taste milder and sweeter than green lentils. Use them for purees and Indian dals.

Unlike other legumes, lentils cook quickly without pre-soaking. Just make sure to rinse away any dirt, dust or debris before adding them to recipes. Lentils work well in soups, stews and salads. Or you boil them for 15 to 30 minutes, add turmeric, ginger or other seasonings, and serve over rice or mix with other vegetables and enjoy.

May 19, 2011