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 — of 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.
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-to-3 ratio, cover and let boil for about 15 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 workweek meal prepping. Cooked, they last in the refrigerator for the about four to five 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 created by Beth Jones, one of the chefs who teaches 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.
Visit millcityfarmersmarket.org for more seasonal recipes and information about the market.
Sausage and lentil soup
By market chef Beth Jones
2 slices raw bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, small dice
1 carrot, small dice
2 ribs celery, small dice
2 cups lentils, rinsed and checked for debris
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 quarts (8 cups) chicken stock
1/2 pound raw Andouille sausage, small dice
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium stockpot, sauté the bacon until crisp. Drain off the fat, reserving 1 tablespoon. Add the vegetables and sauté until softened. Add the sausage, lentils, thyme and stock and simmer 20 minutes or until the lentils are cooked and the soup has begun to thicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper.