In India one variety of lentil (masur or
masoor) is soaked to remove skin, split and becomes dal, although dried
beans and peas - hulled or not and split or not - are also called dal.
Stewed and sometimes pureed, dal is served over or with rice or bread.
Lentils eaten together with rice or bread provide a source of
"complete" protein. In poor families, this combination is virtually the
sole source of nourishment; wealthier families will serve it as part of
a more widely varied diet.
In some Moslem countries, lentils are considered such an important
source of nourishment that a soup of lentils and lamb is often the one
dish that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan.
Lentils vegetables, like dried beans and peas, are called a pulse. Any edible seed
that is taken from the pod and dried is a pulse. Some confusion arises,
however, when the mush made in some countries, usually from lentils is
also called pulse.
Unlike dried beans, lentils do not need to be presoaked, although some
books and packages will tell you to do so. They do, however, need to be
well washed and picked over, especially if you buy lentils in bulk.
Frequently, there are tiny stones that have been scooped up with the
seeds and if not picked out, can break a tooth. Many bulk lentils sold in
America are called "quick cooking" and will be ready to eat in 45
minutes or less. Brown and, especially, green lentils keep their shape
during long cooking, but red lentils, which turn yellow when cooked -
through more colorful - fall into a mush if cooked too long. Otherwise,
one variety can pretty much be substituted for another. I usually begin
to check lentils of any kind after cooking them about 35 to 40 minutes
to be sure they are just tender and not overcooked.
It is unfortunate that lentils share with dried beans the tendency to
create uncomfortable gas in people who lack the enzyme that aids in the
digestion of the simple sugars in the small intestine. Happily, there
is now an over-the-counter product, Beano that can provide the missing
enzyme and relieve this problem for most of us.
Lentils contain no cholesterol and almost no fat. They are high in
fiber, carbohydrates, iron, and vitamin B.
Count on 1 cup of dry lentils to provide about 3 cups of cooked when
you want to prepare simple lentils vegetables cooking recipes.