Lentils
Photo: Polka Dot Images/Thinkstock
I bought my first bag of lentils about 35 years ago. At the time, I was working as a chef in a pub in London. It was in my early days of becoming a vegetarian, and I was looking for alternatives to meat. Those days, we didn't have cookbooks to refer to for ideas on cooking such foods, so being a creative soul, I got to experimenting and discovered lentils.

Occasionally, I would sneak my lentils into the pub dishes like steak and kidney pie in place of the meat to see if anyone noticed. If I told those beer drinkers in advance that they were eating lentils, they probably wouldn't have gone within a mile of the stuff, but once they had eaten and enjoyed it, they were always intrigued—in fact, it became a topic of conversation around the bar or the pool table. I've had so many similar experiences over the years that I've learned that there are certain words I'm best avoiding, especially when preparing foods for more traditional folks who prefer to stay within the realm of the familiar.

While shopping for a client in a health food store in London a few years ago, I was approached by a young woman who looked like she had just lost her best friend. She was holding a bag of lentils and asked me in a very sad voice if she could speak to me for a moment. (I obviously looked like I knew what I was doing as I had a cart overflowing with food.) She said she had just been to a nutritionist who told her to omit all sugar, dairy products, meat, bread and sodas from her diet and to eat these, she said, holding out a bag of lentils. The poor lady felt like the bottom had fallen out of her world. All that was comfortable and familiar to her had suddenly been taken away, and she was entering a strange and unusual world with no map in hand. Sadly, this is often the case: People are told not to do this and that, but aren't given any real guidelines or reasons to be excited about the alternatives. I left that store with a sense of having a mission in life.


Find out what makes lentils so good for you and how to cook them to perfection