When we are in Crete, my husband and I do our major produce and cheese shopping at the Saturday laiki agora (people’s market). However we get dry pulses – lentils, beans, and peas – at a local mini-market in a nearby village. On a recent trip to pick up some white beans and lentils, we noticed that the sign on the bin stated that they were from Kanada. We asked if the sign was accurate, and the owner told us many of the dry peas, beans, and lentils he sells are from Canada.
News to me, and I live part of the year in Canada. So I researched (OK, Googled) and lo and behold I found that Canada is indeed the world’s largest exporter of pulses: peas, beans, and lentils. Go figure.
So, why do we love lowly lentils so much?
1. Easy to Make
Whether green, red, DuPuy or black, we eat lentils at least once each week. Sometimes we just boil them and add garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar, or make them in soups or salads.
Unlike other pulses, you do not need to soak lentils: just rinse, boil, and season. For every cup of lentils, use 2½ cups of unsalted water to get 2½ cups of cooked lentils. It’s important to use unsalted water, as salt will toughen lentils.
And, unlike some other pulses, they don’t cause gas!
Besides being incredibly easy to make, they are nutritionally dense and full of fiber and lean protein. One cup of cooked lentils has 230 calories, practically no fat, 16 grams of fiber and almost 20 percent of your potassium, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6 requirements.
As if being healthy wasn’t enough, lentils are one of the most sustainable crops. They:
- Produce fewer emissions: Unlike other crops such as wheat, lentils do not need nitrogen fertilizer. Why is this good? The process of making nitrogen fertilizer uses a lot of natural gas and releases carbon dioxide, one of the major causes of global warming, into the air. Nitrogen fertilizer also causes soil to release nitrous oxide into the air; nitrous oxide has over almost 300 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide.
- Make happy dirt: lentils improve the soil by increasing the number and health of critical microorganisms. When farmers use lentils in crop rotation, these microorganisms feed the other crops, and they crowd out disease-causing bacteria and fungi.
- Use less water: Fewer than 1% of pulse crops, including lentils, need irrigation. In comparison, water footprints to produce a kilogram of beef, pork, chicken and soybeans are 18, 11 and five times higher than the water footprint of pulses.
Looking for a yummy way to use lentils? The following easy soup is from my recently published cookbook, The Mediterranean Diet. You can also find Canadian restaurants featuring lentils on their menu in the month of June at Fun de Lentils.
- ½ cup dried red lentils
- ¼ cup fine grain bulgur
- ¼ cup long grain rice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium tomato, chopped, with juice
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 5 cups chicken stock or canned broth
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon chili powder or cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped dry mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Place the lentils, bulgur and rice in a sieve and rinse thoroughly with cold running water. Pick out any small stones or other foreign objects.
- Pour the olive oil into a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat and cook the onion until it is transparent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low, add the chopped tomato and cook until the tomato is soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add the lentils, bulgur and rice to the saucepan along with the stock, paprika, chili powder, mint, salt and pepper. Increase the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils, rice and bulgur are tender, about 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately.