Lentils are to India as meatloaf is to America: the quintessential comfort food. Ranging from yellow and red to deep black, these tiny disc-shaped members of the legume family are eaten in some form at least twice a day in "any self-respecting Indian household," says Kavita Mehta, founder of the Web-based Indian Foods Co. In fact, India is the world's biggest producer and consumer of lentils. Known as dal, lentils typically are served at every meal with steamed rice or bread.
Why to try them: This superfood gives you protein and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, as well as about twice as much iron as other legumes. And lentils are higher in most B vitamins and folate, which is especially important for women of childbearing age because folate reduces the risk of birth defects. Plus, U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers discovered that the pigment in Beluga black lentils acts like an antioxidant and helps protect against heart disease, cancer, and the aging process in general. Not too shabby for something the size of a pencil eraser.
What to do with them: Lentils can be stored a long time, are easy to make, and are one of the cheapest protein sources going, at just 75 cents per pound at grocery stores. And unlike other legumes, you don't have to soak them before cooking. Just rinse them in cold water and simmer in water or broth. Enjoy them plain or spiced with herbs, onions, or garlic.
Indian Lentils With Coconut
Recipe by Mark Bittman
This recipe is as easy as it is tasty.
Prep: 5 minutes