Ever since I discovered my first bag of lentils, I've been on a mission to explore ways to make grains, beans and other vegetarian staples irresistible. These foods are packed with nutrients vital to good health, and I strongly recommend becoming proficient in preparing them for yourself and your family. Not only are they inexpensive, but once you get the basics down, they're versatile and make a wonderful palette for you, the culinary artist!

Why Lentils?

Lentils, like other members of the legume family, are wonderful dietary sources of protein. They don't contain all the amino acids to make them a complete protein, so combine them with whole grains to get their full protein benefits. Because of their high fiber content, lentils also help lower cholesterol, support healthy digestion and help stabilize blood sugar levels. They are also high in magnesium (vital for heart health and many other functions in the body), contain vitamin B6 (which supports the health of the nervous system and hormonal health) and are a good source of iron and folic acid (both especially vital during pregnancy).

Shopping for Lentils

You can find lentils in the bulk bins in most health food stores, and many companies sell them prepackaged. As long as they're not exposed to too much light and kept in sealed containers, they'll store well for up to 12 months. Once cooked, they'll keep fresh in covered containers in the refrigerator for three to four days. Cooked lentil dishes also freeze well.

Cooking with Lentils

Lentils are easy to prepare and versatile—and unlike other beans, they require no soaking, so they're great staples to have around for quick, healthy meals. As a general rule, when cooking lentils and all other beans, never add salt or other salty seasonings until after the beans have become tender, as the salt will toughen them and it will take much longer for them to cook.

There are dozens of varieties of lentils cultivated; the most commonly used are green lentils, puy or French lentils and whole or split red lentils. The green and puy lentils retain their shape after cooking, whereas the smaller red lentils become mushy, so they form a great base for soups.

Read about the 3 most common types of lentils and how to prepare them


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