Originally published in The Journal on October 17, 2017.
By Meet Your Vegetables intern Karlie Weiler
During my semester abroad in the ancient city of Toledo, Spain, I tasted a variety of unique foods that piqued my interest in Mediterranean cuisine. My host mom referred to one of her common dishes simply as lentejas, or lentils, but what went into the dish was much more nutrient-packed than just the iron-rich legume that gives the dish its name. Throughout the afternoon, she would let whole onions, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic cloves and herbs simmer with the lentils while they cooked. Once everything had boiled down, she used a food processor, mixing everything into a grey-brown glop. Surprisingly, it was one of the best dishes I had while abroad, albeit one of the most visually unappealing.
Lentils alone have loads of nutritious benefits, including a high iron content, which my host mom continuously reminded me, proud of her traditional dish. Their nutrient density makes lentils a great option for vegans and vegetarians who oftentimes rely only on spinach and other dark, leafy greens as a source of iron.
Additionally, because of their neutral flavor, lentils pair well with nearly all vegetables and meats, making them very versatile and easy to use. To cook, add the lentils and water to a pot in a roughly 1:3 ratio, cover, and let boil for about fifteen minutes. During this cooking, the lentils will soak up the water and nearly double in size. Any spices or other base ingredients – like tomatoes or onions – should be added at this time so the lentils can fully absorb their flavors.
Lentils are great for work week meal prepping. Cooked, they last in the refrigerator for the about 4-5 days and can easily be added to anything from a stir-fry to soups. By having one base ingredient like lentils prepped in the refrigerator, meal planning will be easy, even if each meal isn’t completely laid out. Simply add whatever vegetables and meat you have on hand to the lentils or other base ingredient and season accordingly! Once you’ve adopted lentils into your diet, you’ll discover even more ways to use them as alternatives to rice or quinoa in many common dishes.
If you want to experiment with a lentil dish similar to the one I tasted in Toledo, and one that is much more aesthetically pleasing than my host mom’s lentejas, try making the soup below created by Beth Jones, one of the chefs who teaches weekly cooking classes at the Mill City Farmers Market every Saturday. You can fill this soup with seasonal vegetables, from carrots to zucchini, which can be found at the Mill City Farmers Market.