As one Hindu proverb goes, “Rice is good, but lentils are my life.” Arguably one of the oldest domesticated crops in the human diet, lentils are a staple in Europe, India, and the Middle East, owing to their dense nutritional value and functionality in the kitchen – not mention their stick-to-the-ribs, comfort-food character.

Good for the heart, blood, and digestive tract, one cup of cooked lentils contains 36% of the recommended daily value of complete protein. That same cup also delivers 37% of daily iron, essential for helping to carry fresh oxygen to cells and maintain strong bones during treatment. That cup again offers 90% of the daily recommended portion of folate, a naturally occurring B vitamin that helps to support red blood cell health.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, laboratory studies suggest folate also helps reproduce and repair DNA. Diets deficient in the nutrient can yield damage that may lead to cancer.

Lentils come in an autumnal rainbow of brown, green, yellow, orange, black, and white varieties. Size, flavor, cooking time, and consistency will vary among seeds of different hues, but the legumes’ nutritional value is colorblind. Choose the variety that suits the recipe you are going to make.

Chef Tips

Lentils are a cheap pantry staple and a go-to standby. While they do come in pre-cooked and canned varieties, I recommend always keeping dry lentils and beans on hand for their versatility and nutritional value. Lentils are a favorite option of mine, as they don’t need soaking and cook quickly.

Quick-cooking lentils are a great addition to many soups and stews. Try our Brown Lentil and Rice Soup with carrots. This classic recipe is quick and easy to prepare, provides complete protein, and is delicious year-round.

Lentils are also the perfect side dish to chicken or fish, simply sautéed with olive oil, fresh herbs, and salt to taste. For a comfort food staple try our Lentil Shepherd’s Pie.

Once cooked, leftover lentils can be stored in the fridge for up to one week or frozen for future use.

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