Lentils: One of My All-Time Favorite Ingredients | Cooking With Jade

Lentils: One of My All-Time Favorite Ingredients

Lentils: One of My All-Time Favorite Ingredients
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Being a vegan, Indian food has become one of my absolute favorite cuisines. Having grown up going to restaurants where the only vegan options were “salt” or “pepper,” seeing so many flavorful, traditional vegan dishes on the streets and in the restaurants of India truly warmed my heart. Did you know that roughly 30% of India’s population identifies as vegetarian? By just about any measure, it is the most vegetarian country on earth. And one of the foundations of Indian vegetarian/vegan cooking is lentils: the edible seed of the legume plant.


Why Lentils?

Lentils, also known as dal, are an essential ingredient in Indian cooking. They are a staple food in the Indian subcontinent and have been consumed for thousands of years. Lentils are versatile, nutritious, and economical, making them a popular choice in Indian households. In this article, I’ll explore the importance of lentils in Indian cooking.

Lentils Are A Great Source of Protein and Nutrients

When you’re exploring a country the size of India, trying to pack in as many activities as you can, you need as much energy as you can get. For many of my foodie friends, that energy comes from meat. I, on the other hand, have to get a little creative. That’s why lentils are so clutch. Lentils are a rich source of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They are an excellent source of nutrients, making them a healthy addition to any diet.

At the risk of sounding like a diet blogger, lentils are also low in fat and calories, making them an ideal food for weight loss and maintenance. And while I’m not one to “count calories” (I shudder to think of my totals on this delicious trip), I try to eat foods that nourish my body and soul. Lentils are incredibly nourishing, and great multitaskers. The high fiber content in lentils aids digestion, and the complex carbohydrates provide a sustained release of energy, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. Lentils are also a rich source of iron, which is essential for maintaining healthy blood and preventing anemia. No wonder Taste of Home  (https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/what-are-lentils-and-how-to-use-them/) calls lentils the “secret superfood!”

And lentils aren’t just good for the body: they’re good for the earth too. According to a recent Washington Post article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/03/21/lentils-are-just-waiting-their-hummus-moment/), lentils help rebuild soil, which in America is often depleted by crops like corn and wheat. According to that same article, lentils also pull nitrogen out of the air, helping to purify it. This truly is a food that does it all. Let’s just say if someone told me that lentils could cure the common cold, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Lentils cooked

Lentil Preparations

As I quickly found out, lentils are a versatile ingredient in Indian cooking. They can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, curries, and salads. While exploring the southern state of Gujarat, I came across an instantly crave-able street snack called dhokla–tasty lentil cakes served at restaurants and street stalls all over the sprawling Gujarati capital of Gandhinagar. A popular South Indian breakfast item, I loved loading up on these delicious, protein-packed treats before starting my day. Ground black lentils are also used to make dosas, the popular rice crepe eaten all over South India (don’t worry, you’ll hear a lot more about dosas in my next article). Further north, lentils are the key ingredient dal makhani, a warm lentil stew that’s as rejuvenating as it is flavorful.

Lentils Play A Key Role In Indian Culture

Dal makhani, by the way, is commonly served at Indian weddings. I can attest to this first-hand, as I have been to more than a few traditional Indian weddings (one of the best things about being an itinerant chef is that you make friends from so many different backgrounds). As I found out during my travels to India, lentils are used in many religious ceremonies and rituals, funerals, and festivals. During Navratri, a nine-day festival celebrated in many parts of India, people observe a fast and eat only vegetarian food, including lentils. Since Navratri takes place in October, I wasn’t able to partake in the lentil-laden festivities this trip. All the more reason to come back!

Lentil Soup

My Love Affair With Lentils

You know that cliche question, “What food would you take with you on a desert island?” I think I have too many loves to choose just one, but lentils definitely make the shortlist. They’re tasty, affordable, and incredibly nutritious. No wonder they have helped sustain billions of people for thousands of years. And even though I ate my weight in these small seeds during my travels throughout India, I still crave them. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a dal makhani recipe to perfect.

If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.

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