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Lentils Take the Chill Out

Food Fitness to Nourish Your Body

Putting together a pot of soup does not have to be an all-day project, and some of the most healthful soups take the least time to prepare.

Lentils take the chill out

The place to start is with lentils. Unlike many dried beans and legumes, lentils cook quickly because they don't require soaking. Health experts love lentils because they are rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and the phytochemicals that help protect your body from cancer and other chronic diseases. A standard, one-half cup serving of lentils contains six to eight grams of fiber and so much protein that they can be used as a meat substitute.

Using lentils in dishes is also an inexpensive way to provide hearty, healthful bulk. In addition to soups, lentils are used in salads, dips, stews, and as toppings for whole grains like rice or couscous.

Lentils are ethnically diverse, popular in many parts of Europe, India and the Middle East. Brown lentils are used in hearty peasant stews and tiny green lentils are a French delicacy.

Brown lentils are the ones most commonly seen in American supermarkets, although red and yellow lentils can also be found, especially in specialty markets. Stored airtight at room temperature, they will keep up to a year.

Before cooking, pick through them and remove debris and any broken or discolored lentils. Rinse them under cold water and place them in a pan along with a bay leaf and enough water or broth to cover by one inch. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 to 20 minutes, adding more liquid as necessary, until they are just tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When cooked right, lentils are chewy yet tender, with the kind of mouth-feel and flavor we expect from comfort foods. If overcooked, they may become mushy.

Noteable Note: If using canned beans or lentils, drain and rinse thoroughly in cold water before using.

Stock up on Lentil Soup!

According to a new study from The Cochrane Collaboration, an independent health-research organization, people on diets that call for fiber-rich, complex-carb-loaded foods like lentils, sweet potatoes, and apples lost a little over two pounds more in five weeks, compared with people on low-fat or other types of diets.

These foods rank low on the glycemic index (GI), which means they are less likely to cause blood sugar spikes and leave you feeling hungry.

In this Italian-inspired recipe, lentils, fresh vegetables and some olive oil are cooked with pasta to make a satisfying, nutritious soup that will warm any day.

Italian Lentil Stew

Lentil Soup 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup diced fennel
1-1/2 cups green or small brown lentils
1/2 cup finely-chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2-1 teaspoon chopped dried chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup small pasta

In a small Dutch oven or 3-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Stir in the carrot, onion and fennel and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, just to soften the vegetables slightly. Add the lentils and 6 cups water. Stir in parsley, basil, marjoram and chives. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered.
Stir in the salt, pepper and pasta. Cook until the pasta is done and the lentils are soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add more water, stirring it in gradually until mixture is desired consistency. Adjust seasonings and add more herbs if desired. (This dish can also be served as a soup, depending on the amount of water used.) At this point, the stew (or soup) can be served, or stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
Makes 8 servings if served as a stew, more if thinned to a soup.
Nutritional information per serving:
Calories: 163; Total fat: 2g; Carbohdyrate: 26g; Protein: 11g; Fiber: 12g; Sodium: 17mg
Diabetic Exchanges: 1-1/2 Bread/Starch, 1 Very Lean Meat

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Lentil Dahl

This Indian curry tastes so fabulous you may forget it can also be part of a cleansing regime. This healing food stabilizes blood sugar, cleanses the intestinal tract, protects the liver from toxins, lowers cholesterol, and reduces joint inflammation. It is also quick and easy to make.

Lentil Dahl 1 yam, cubed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
4 dried red chillies
1 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups cooked lentils (or two small cans, rinsed)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
Fresh cilantro (if desired)
1/2 cup water

In a medium to large pot, boil the cubed yam in water until soft. Pour off excess water, leaving enough to mash the yam with a hand blender until smooth.

In a frying pan, cook the onion, mustard seeds, chillies, ginger, and garlic in the olive oil over low heat until the onion is transparent. Add the onion mixture to the mashed yam. Then add the lentils, turmeric, Celtic sea salt and 1/2 cup water. Stir together. Let the mixture simmer over low heat until warmed and the flavors mingle. Serve in bowls with fresh cilantro as a garnish.

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Quick Recipe: Lentil and Chickpea Curry

Saute 1 chopped onion, 1 diced carrot, 1 diced rib celery and 1 minced clove garlic in pot with 1 tablespoon oil. Saute until all ingredients are soft. Add 1 tablespoon curry powder and cook until fragrant. Add 1 quart low sodium broth, 1 rinsed and drained can (15 ounce) each lentils and chickpeas and 1 bay leaf. Cook ten minutes. Remove bay leaf and add 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Serve topped with plain yogurt.

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