A number of people have told me that they don’t know what to do with lentils, so it’s time for Lentils 101 along with a belly warming recipe for Lentil Stuffed Sweet Potatoes. I’ve had so many questions about lentils, including:
- What makes lentils good for you?
- How long should they be cooked?
- Do they have to be soaked first?
- Is it okay to use canned lentils instead of dried?
- Is one kind better than others?
- Will they give me gas?
Here are the answers to some of your most asked questions about lentils:
What makes lentils healthy?
Lentils are nutrient dense and very affordable. They contain both soluble and insoluble fibre. Fiber acts like a broom, cleaning the intestinal tract and collecting and binding carcinogens for removal from the body. Once cup of cooked lentils provides more than 15 grams of fibre, more than half of the recommended daily requirement of 25 grams for women (for men it is 38 grams). Lentils help to manage blood sugar, lower high blood cholesterol and prevent constipation. Lentils are also a good source of plant based protein as well as iron and folate to prevent anemia and support brain health.
Will lentils give me gas?
If you’re new to eating lentils, the fiber content may cause bloating and abdominal pain initially, and the soluble fiber may be metabolized by gas-forming bacteria, resulting in increased flatulence. Start by eating smaller portions of lentils initially, and gradually increase your serving size. As you eat them more regularly your system will adapt to this nutrient dense food. Fibre absorbs a lot of water in the intestinal tract as well, so be sure to drink plenty of water.
Do Lentils have to be soaked before cooking?
Lentils do not have to be soaked like other legumes; however, soaking lentils may help to remove the anti-nutrients, namely lectins and phytates. Anti-nutrients are naturally occurring compounds found in legumes, grains, nuts, seeds and many vegetables that act as a natural protection against pests. For most people our bodies are not bothered by these naturally occurring compounds. For a few folks the anti-nutrients in lentils may reduce the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients, so soaking is beneficial to reduce these compounds. Soaking also reduces the cooking time.
Can I use canned lentils instead of dried lentils?
If you’re in a pinch or pressed for time, go ahead and use canned lentils instead of dry. Just look for lentils with no salt added and in BPA free cans.
Is one kind of lentils better than others? How long does it take to cook them?
Dried lentils are a wonderful pantry staple that can be stored in an air-tight container for up to a year. All varieties of lentils are rich in fiber and a healthy choice to add to your diet.
Brown lentils have a delicious earthy flavour. They cook in about 20 minutes.
Green lentils have a peppery taste and take longer to cook, about 30 minutes or more.
Red lentils cook and soften quickly, so are a great addition to pasta sauce, soups, stews and anywhere that you’re trying to “hide” the lentils from fussy family members. They cook in 15 minutes (20 minutes if you want them to be mushy).
Yellow lentils have a sweet, nutty flavour and cook quickly like red lentils, in about 15 minutes. They are delicious in curried dishes.
French lentils, also called Puy lentils, are a good choice for recipes in which you want the lentils to retain their shape, like in salads. They are considered the most nutritious of the lentils, rich in the antioxidant anthocyanin. They require a longer cooking time, about 40-50 minutes.
(NOTE: all cooking times are for lentils that have NOT been soaked. Cooking time will be reduced by 1/3 to ½ for pre-soaked lentils. Red and yellow lentils cook quickly without soaking).
This recipe for Lentil Stuffed Sweet Potatoes is a great place to start if you’re new to using lentils, or if you’ve only ever used them in soups or stews. Lentils provide a dense, meaty flavour and are a great accompaniment to baked sweet potatoes. For additional flavour, add Carrot Top Pesto on top of the Lentil Stuffed Sweet Potatoes.
Sweet potatoes are another a great source of fiber, as well as an excellent source of vitamin A, and a good source of vitamin C, manganese, potassium and vitamin B6.
The combination of lentils and sweet potatoes makes for a fiber rich meal that is rich in iron, folate, antioxidants, and B vitamins to support immune health and reduce anemia, fatigue and the symptoms associated with depression.
Lentil Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- 6 sweet potatoes
- 1 cup lentils soaked and drained (I used brown lentils)
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cups water
- 2 tbsp avocado oil
- 3 carrots chopped
- 3 celery stalks chopped
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- Preheat oven to 425°. Wash sweet potatoes and poke in several spots with a fork to release steam during baking. Place sweet potatoes on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a fork will easily pierce through the flesh.
- Boil water and add lentils and bay leaves. Return to boil, then reduce heat and simmer lentils until al denté, about 15-20 minutes (for brown lentils).
- Heat avocado oil in a deep pan. Add onions and cook about 2 minutes. Add remaining vegetables, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook until softened, about 5-6 minutes.
- Add cooked lentils and heat together.
- Cut open sweet potatoes and spoon lentil mixture onto sweet potatoes.