For all these reasons and more, lentils could perhaps be included in my top 10 most delicious and nutritious foods (although I’ve never actually compiled this list so there’s a good chance that there more than 10 foods in my top 10 list. But to me it’s like asking a parent to choose their favourite child. It really would be a most impossible task). Here are just a few highlights:
- Lentils are high in soluble and insoluble fibre, meaning they’ll help to keep your cholesterol levels in check and your gut in tip-top condition.
- They’re high in protein and a medium sized bowl of lentils equates to the perfect amount to satisfy your protein needs.
- They’ve got an impressive amount of iron. When some people think iron they think meat, but from now on I want you to think lentils!
Now while these long term benefits are all good and well, I must confess that I’m a lot more interested in the short term paybacks that we get out of eating lentils regularly. When you sit down and eat a meal with lentils (yes I really want you to sit down when you eat), here are the more immediate things you’ll get out of it:
- The fuel in lentils breaks down slowly leaving you energised for longer: all that whole food fibre I told you about helps out with one very important thing: it slows down the digestion of your meal. The advantage of this is that the food is put on slow burn so it sustains you for a good number of hours. And of course, the iron helps to keep your energy levels up too.
- Lentils help to keep your body leaner: the primary reason why lentils are so great for keeping your body lean is for the very same reason as they keep you energised. They break down slowly. Let me explain: Most processed foods are low in naturally present fibre and thus, they don’t take long to break down after you eat them. The consequence of this is that your body then has to deal with a huge onslaught of calories all in one hit and unfortunately, your body can only burn a certain number of calories at any one time. Here’s a general principal you might want to remember: any calories that can’t be used immediately are likely to be stored as fat. So, that’s why a 500 calorie meal of lentils, which breaks down slowly, has a completely different effect on your body shape than a 500 calorie meal like bread, butter and jam which breaks down fast.
- Lentils keep your appetite in check: and lastly, the great thing about lentils being a slow-burner is that you’re not left ravenous and craving all sorts of crap an hour or so after you’ve eaten. And we all know that when we’re feeling full and satisfied, we’re capable of making much better decisions about what we eat. So it’s definitely a win-win situation.
That’s why if I know I’ve got a busy day filled with important meetings for example, a lentil salad is likely to be my first choice for lunch because I know that it’ll not only keep me full all afternoon, but it will keep me energised and mentally alert too. And if I have a few busy nights on my schedule and I know I won’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, having a big pot of lentil stew in the fridge can make life very simple.
So that’s why I love lentils, and that’s why I very often recommend clients eat more themselves. But the thing I’ve found with lentils is that they are one of those mystical foods that everyone knows they should be eating more of, but have no idea how to cook them. And everyone is always asking me for more recipes for lentils. The lentil recipe I’m about to show you is definitely one of my favourites because it’s simple to make, absolutely delicious, and makes excellent left-overs. And once you’re confident with this core recipe you can tweak it in an uncountable number of ways to create completely different dishes. So there’s no chance of getting bored!
Indian Lentil Stew with Cumin, Carrot & Ground Coriander
- 4 medium carrots (about 400g / 14 ounces)
- 2 medium onions
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 2 hot small chillis
- 1 inch ginger
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 350g puy green lentils (12 ounces)
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
- 1 large courgette
- 300g frozen spinach
VEG: Wash, scrub (peel if non-organic) & dice the carrots into thinish quarter moons. Roughly chop the onions, garlic and chili. Peel and finely grate the ginger (or slice into very thin matchsticks).
Heat a large soup pot over medium heat, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil and add the carrots and onions. Sauté gently for 4 -5 minutes before adding the garlic, ginger and chili. Continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
LENTILS: Meanwhile, tip the lentils into a dry colander and pick through it quickly for any stones or bits of grit that sometimes find their way into bags of lentils and are really no fun at all to bite into. Once you’re happy that there aren’t any large stray intruders, put the colander under the kitchen tap and run lots of cold water over them as you stir the lentils around with your hand to encourage any smaller bits of grit to fall out of the bottom. Once done, give the colander a good shake and set it aside.
SPICES: By now the onion carrot ginger mix should be gently colouring so add the whole cumin seeds and stir continuously for 30-60 seconds until you notice a distinct roasted cumin smell wafting out of the pot. (Remember, part of the joy of cooking is taking a few seconds to savour the smell or consistency of the dish as you go. This is a great opportunity!) Now’s the time to add the next batch of ingredients.
STEW: Tip in the tinned tomatoes, the ground coriander and turmeric, then tip in 2 tins of water (just use the empty tomato tin to measure).
Bring everything to the boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer and let everything cook for 30 minutes. You might want to pop back 2 or 3 times during this time to give things a stir, and to add more water if you feel it needs it. Don’t forget to set a timer!
FINALE: Once the 30 minutes are up, wash the courgette, chop off and discard the ends and slice into 1cm thick ¼ moons. Add them to the lentil stew and give everything a good stir. If you feel it needs a little more water, feel free to add it, but remember you’re making a stew and not a soup (unless that’s what you’re after of course), so don’t go overboard.
After 3 minutes, add your frozen spinach directly to the pot and keep stirring until it has completely defrosted. Now, take your delicious lentil stew off the heat, taste it, season with freshly ground salt & pepper to taste and serve immediately.
A Few Alterations To Mix Up This Lentil Recipe:
- For a creamier version, add ½ a cup of coconut milk/cream at the same time as you add your spinach.
- Or, spoon over with a few tablespoons of plain, organic Greek yogurt right before serving.
- Top with a generous handful of freshly chopped coriander or mint
- Create a herbed lentil stew by swapping the spices (ginger, cumin, turmeric & ground coriander) for fresh herbs like thyme, sage, rosemary and oregano. This one’s great poured over a bowl of mashed cauliflower or served with a grilled duck breast.
If you have other good ideas to mix-up this recipe let me know in the comments below!