Lentils have been part of my diet for years. I make an annual pot of lentil soup with my leftover holiday ham bone and have experimented with the less common varieties, too — creating hearty summer salads with sturdy French lentils du Puy and Indian-spiced dals with the delicate pink and gold ones.
While shopping recently, I encountered black lentils for the first time. Several happy cooking experiments later, I have made them a pantry staple. Here's why.
No matter what the color, lentils (along with beans, peas and peanuts) are part of the legume family, which means they're high in protein, calcium and fiber; low in fat; and loaded with scads of vitamins and minerals.
Another bonus: Unlike beans, lentils don't need to be soaked before cooking, so they're a serious weeknight dinner option. And I've developed a cooking method that speeds up the process even more. I cook my lentils in a skillet instead of a pot and in just enough water — five cups of water for one pound of lentils — to be completely absorbed by the time the lentils are tender. The combination of the small amount of water and the large surface area causes the skillet to heat up quickly. Once the water comes to a simmer, the lentils are done in just 15 minutes.
Compared with the wan brown variety, black lentils look dark and dramatic when cooked. And compared with the softer pink and gold varieties, black lentils are toothy and shapely. Couple the lentils with a grain like pearl couscous, as I have in this quick skillet supper, and you have an attractive and quick meal, and a complete source of protein in one simple dish.
I also add grated carrots and zucchini, stirring them in at the very end of cooking, when the heat from the lentils and couscous cooks them through in just seconds.
Now, you could make this dish with brown lentils, but you'll get more "oohs" and "ahs" with the black ones.
Black Lentil and Pearl Couscous Skillet Supper
If you cook up a full pound of lentils, you'll have leftovers that you can add to soups and salads, or freeze.
- 2 cups cooked lentils, preferably black (see below)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, cut into medium dice
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 cup pearl (or Israeli) couscous
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 3/4 cup chopped dried apricots
- 8 ounces each, grated carrots and zucchini
- 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- Salt and ground black pepper
Start by cooking black lentils (see below). While they cook, prepare the remaining ingredients.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, cumin and turmeric; cook until fragrant, a minute or so longer. Add couscous and broth; bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, partially covered, until liquid is almost absorbed, about 8 minutes. Stir in apricots, hot lentils, carrots, zucchini and cilantro; continue to cook until heated through, a couple of minutes longer. Adjust seasonings, including salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
Makes 6 cups
To cook 1 pound of lentils (which yields about 6 cups), bring 5 cups of water and 1 pound of lentils to boil in a covered 12-inch skillet. Reduce heat to medium, and continue to cook until water is almost absorbed and lentils are just tender, about 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand a few minutes.
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