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Lynda Balslev: Unearthing the lentil

Lynda Balslev
Columnist
You may be most familiar with the brown and green lentils, but lentils come in a rainbow of colors, ranging from red to yellow to black. They have subtle differences in flavor and cooking properties.
Photo by Lynda Balslev for TasteFood

Don’t underestimate the lentil. These tiny pebblelike legumes may be a tad frumpy in appearance, but any perceived drabness or lumpiness shouldn’t deter you from eating them. Lentils are rich in plant-based protein and fiber and are an excellent source of B vitamins, magnesium and potassium. Not only that, but they are remarkably satisfying and comforting to eat — and easy on the wallet, as well.

You may be most familiar with the brown and green lentils, but lentils come in a rainbow of colors, ranging from red to yellow to black. They have subtle differences in flavor and cooking properties.

For instance, brown lentils are the sturdy workhorse, a wonderful earthy and thickening addition to soups and stews, since they soften and break down with cooking. French green lentils (Puy lentils) have a fresher flavor. They hold their shape with cooking, which makes them a great candidate for salads or a side dish. Black lentils are the smallest ones. These tiny, glistening legumes are earthier in flavor than brown lentils and hold their shape with cooking. They make striking salads, side dishes or simple garnishes scattered over greens.



This bright curry-spiced soup highlights the red lentil. Sunny red lentils are smaller than green and brown lentils. They have a mild nutty, fruity flavor that complements the acidity of the tomatoes and Indian spices in this soup without muddying it (unlike the brown lentil, for instance, which you often want to cook down to impart its earthiness into a soup). Since red lentils are delicate, they cook very quickly, which is handy for a quick dinner preparation, but also requires attention so they don’t overcook and turn into mush.

Curried Red Lentil Soup

Active time: 25 minutes



Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 large carrot, finely diced

1 small poblano pepper, seeded, finely diced

1 small red bell pepper, seeded, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger with juices

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

4 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over

1 (8-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus more for garnish

Greek yogurt for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the carrot and peppers and saute until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes more. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the curry powder, cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne and cook for another 30 seconds or so to toast the spices, stirring constantly.

Add the broth, lentils and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook, partially covered, over medium-low heat until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar, lime juice and salt. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with additional cilantro and a dollop of yogurt, if desired.

Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay area

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