A staple of Indian cooking, lentils provide carbohydrate, protein and fibre. It is inexpensive and can be easily adapted for various dishes
GROWING up, one of my favourite dishes was my late mother’s lentil curry (or dalca) that was filled with generous helpings of potatoes, brinjals and okra. I liked to pour the gravy over rice and with a piece of salted fish, my meal for the day was complete. It was a dish that my mother could prepare with inexpensive yet tasty ingredients.
Although I can no longer enjoy my mother’s lentil curry, it is still a favourite dish. Lentil curry is always served together with nasi briyani at Malay weddings or at Mamak restaurants. It is also a great accompaniment to roti canai or capati.
Back then, lentils were just one of the inexpensive yet tasty ingredients that my mother used in her cooking. We had no idea that the yellow-coloured pulse is full of health benefits. In recent years, lentil has been included in the so-called super food list.
Although the term is avoided by dietitians as they consider it a marketing gimmick and focus more on a balanced diet, there is no doubt that these small lens-shaped seeds are nutrient-dense.
It is part of the legume food group that also includes kidney beans, soya beans, chickpeas and peanuts.
In the Malaysian food pyramid, legumes are placed together with other protein sources including fish, poultry and meat. It is recommended that we eat between a half and one serving of legumes every day.
Lentils are a good source of carbohydrates, protein and fibre, and as such should be included in our
daily diet, says Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur dietitian Rachel Moey.
Available all year round, it is easy to prepare and can be added to a variety of dishes.
“Stew it, puree it, boil it in soup, make it as a salad, side dish or even stuffed in paratha — and you have one nutritious and inexpensive meal.”
Various studies have found that eating lentils can lower the risk of cancer. One of the studies found that consuming at least two servings of lentils per week was associated with a 24 per cent reduced risk of breast cancer compared with those who ate lentils less than once a month.
A Norwegian study found that higher intake of lentils lowers the risk of cancer of the mouth, oesophagus, throat and larynx by about 37 per cent. Other studies have found that the risk of colon cancer also fell by 47 per cent.
The fibre, folic acid and potassium in lentil help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), an increased fibre intake can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or the “bad” cholesterol. The potassium, calcium and magnesium in lentil have also been found to lower blood pressure naturally.
GOOD FOOD CHOICE
Moey says for vegetarians, lentil is a good substitute for meat protein as a cup of cooked lentils provides 10g of protein, similar to one palm size of lean meat, which offers 14g protein.
“This makes lentils a replacement to other protein sources such as fish, chicken and eggs. However, it is not a complete protein source as it does not have all the nine essential amino acids. Ultimately, it is important to obtain protein from a variety of food such as nuts, seeds, beans, grains and peas.”
Moey says protein in the human body is made up of about 20 types of amino acids. However, about nine of them — valine, leucine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, lysine, methionine, threonine and histidine — have to be obtained from our diet.
“Lentils provide these amino acids except methionine. But you can get it if you pair lentils with methionine-rich plant sources such as whole grain rice and you will get a full spectrum of amino acids.”
She says lentils contain both soluble and insoluble fibre which helps to reduce cholesterol, regulates bowel movement and improves blood sugar control, making it the perfect choice for diabetics.
Eating lentil also helps replenish our iron store, especially for women who are either menstruating or preparing their body for pregnancy. Adding lentils by just one cup can already help to achieve 30 per cent of your daily requirement.”
However, Moey warns that lentils still provides energy and calories. Any food, if taken too much and out of balance, will not be beneficial.
“Taking too much will increase one’s calorie intake. That increases a person’s risk of having an excessive energy intake. If the energy is not exerted at the end of the day, it will be stored in the body as fat. Too much energy intake increases a person’s risk to be overweight or obese.”
“As cliche as it sounds, the secret to health is always a healthy and balanced diet. Not one food is superior over another. There is no single food that provides all macronutrients, vitamins and minerals that a person needs. Therefore, moderation is still key.”
VARIETY OF LENTILS
1. Brown Lentils
This is the most common variety. It can range in colour from khaki brown to dark black and has a mild, earthy flavour. It is ideal for use in warm salads, casseroles, soups and stews. Brown lentils also work well in veggie burgers or vegetarian meatloaf.
2. Green Lentils
This is extremely similar to brown lentils, but with a more robust and slightly peppery flavour and come in a range of sizes. Like brown lentils, green lentils retain their shape well. This, combined with their strong flavour, makes them suitable for salads or side dishes.
3. Red and Yellow Lentils
This variety ranges in colour from golden yellow to orange and red. It is also the only variety sold “split”, meaning they processed into smaller lentil bits. These somewhat sweet and nutty lentils are very common in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine and are the key to classic dishes such as Indian dhal.
Because of their “split” nature, they tend to disintegrate when cooked, making them ideal for use in soups or stews (especially as a thickener), and in casseroles or any other dish where they are pureed.
4. Specialty Lentils
There are many varieties of specialty lentils, but the most common are Black beluga and Puy.
* Black beluga: When cooked, black beluga lentils are shiny, tiny and black — they look a bit like caviar: hence their name. Thanks to their rich, earthy flavour, soft texture and beautiful appearance, these lentils make a great base for salads or as a feature with any kind of protein.
* Puy : Puy lentils are grown in the volcanic soil of a specific region in central France called Le Puy. Puy lentils are known for their dark, bluish-slate-green colour and rich, peppery flavour. These high-quality lentils should star as the centre of a meal. They make a great base for meat or fish, or can be easily featured in a side or main dish salad.
Source : fix.com
WATERMELON AND LENTIL SALAD
(Serves : 4 to 6)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp honey
2 tbsp canola oil
Salt and pepper
1 cucumber, quartered and sliced on bias
4 cups cubed ripe watermelon
1 cup cooked green lentils
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint (reserve some for garnish)
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
1. Whisk dressing ingredients in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
2. Combine salad ingredients and toss with prepared dressing. Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with toasted peanuts and chopped mint.
Source : Lentils.org