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Lentils rich in protein

The lentil is a lovely little legume. But it is not a bean - although beans are also legumes, one of thousands of plant species having seed pods that split along both sides when ripe. When dried, lentils are called pulses - the main source of pro...

The lentil is a lovely little legume. But it is not a bean - although beans are also legumes, one of thousands of plant species having seed pods that split along both sides when ripe. When dried, lentils are called pulses - the main source of protein for many people throughout the world.

"Lentil" (Lens culinaris) comes from the Latin word for lens. A lentil is shaped like a double convex optic lens, which took its name from the lentil.

There are hundreds of varieties of lentils, with more than 50 cultivated for food. They come in gray, brown, green, red, orange and yellow. And their flavor is somewhat nutty.

Lentils originated in the Near East and have been traced back to 8000-7000 B.C. When tightly covered, they have an indefinite shelf life.

To cook lentils, pick over and remove any stones or shriveled lentils, rinse and drain. Cover with water or broth and boil

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for 2 to 3 minutes, reduce heat and simmer until tender - from 10 minutes to one hour depending on the kind of lentils. Acidic ingredients may lengthen cooking time.

Lentil Soup

1 carrot, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 small bay leaf

Zc cup Cajun sausage, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

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2½ cups chicken broth

½ cup lentils, picked over and rinsed

½ cup roasted red peppers, drained and chopped

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, or to taste

In a heavy saucepan cook carrots, onions, garlic, bay leaf and sausage in oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened. Stir in broth and lentils and simmer mixture, covered partially, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes.

Stir roasted peppers, 2 tablespoons parsley, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and cook soup for 10 minutes. Discard bay leaf, divide soup between 2 bowls, and garnish it with the remaining parsley. Serves two.

Lentil Soup

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2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 large carrots, peeled, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

4 teaspoons curry powder

1 pound dried lentils

9 cups (or more) chicken or vegetable broth

1½ cups plain yogurt

¼ cup chopped fresh mint

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Heat oil in heavy, large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and garlic and sauté until vegetables soften. Add curry, then lentils and stir for 2 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender, adding more broth if soup is too thick, for about an hour. Stir occasionally. Season soup with salt and pepper.

Whisk yogurt, mint, cilantro and basil in small bowl to blend. Season yogurt with salt and pepper. Ladle hot soup into bowls and spoon generous dollops of herbed yogurt on soup. Makes 10 servings.

Creamy Lentil Soup with Caramelized Onion

1½ cups red lentils

4 cups chicken broth or water

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 (1-inch) piece ginger root, peeled and chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped

1 cup milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

¼ cup unsalted butter

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Pick over lentils, removing any stones or discolored lentils. Rinse thoroughly and place in a nonreactive deep pot. Add chicken broth or water, turmeric, ginger and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 25 minutes until lentils are soft.

Remove from heat and, working in batches, puree in a food processor or blender until smooth. Return soup to pot, stir in milk, salt and pepper and heat until piping hot. Simmer gently over low heat while you finish the recipe.

In a skillet over high heat, melt butter. Add onions and cumin seeds and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions brown.

To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls and divide onion mixture among the bowls, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve at once. Makes 6 servings.

Lentil Spread

1 cup lentils, cooked in 2 cups of water or 1½ cups canned cooked lentils, drained

1 sweet onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

In a large saucepan, gently sauté sweet onion and garlic in oil over low heat until softened. Puree cooked lentils and vegetables. Add lemon juice and whiz until combined. Serve lentil pate at room temperature with toasted pita bread cut in wedges. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Resources: www.epicurious.com/; homecooking.about.com/

Readers can reach Forum food columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com

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