Lentils are tiny, lens-shaped legumes that come in array of colors, including yellow, red, green, brown, and black. Compared with other legumes, lentils are particularly rich in compounds known as polyphenols. These plant-based micronutrients are thought to help protect against cardiovascular disease.
Another advantage to lentils is that you don't need to soak them in advance, as is necessary with beans. And they cook quickly — usually in about 20 minutes or less. In fact, red lentils (which are actually orange) cook in just five minutes. Add one cup of lentils to three cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, the lentils are ready; you can then drain, rinse in cool water, and use them in salads. If you cook red lentils longer, they turn yellow and become very soft, with a smooth, pureed texture.
Lentils are popular in cuisines around the world. Dal, a curried lentil dish, is a staple throughout India. Mujadarra, from the Middle East, is a mixture of lentils, rice, and onions seasoned with cumin. The French use lentilles du Puy, a dark-green variety considered the caviar of lentils, in salads and soups.
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