- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sleek and fashionably slim, lentils are the no-excuse answer to healthful eating. The lentil is in the same family as beans and shares much of the nutritional profile high protein, high fiber and almost no fat. However, it has some virtues its round cousin can’t claim.

Compared with beans, dried lentils take a fraction of the time — 45 minutes at most — to cook. If you’re forgoing beans because the legumes lead to digestive problems, you’ll probably find lentils are easier on your system.

At an ethnic grocery store, you’ll find red lentils, which are actually bright orange and smaller than the green. Red lentils are so tender when cooked that they can be served mashed or pureed.

Because lentils are sold dried, you can keep them in a cool dark place for months without worrying about spoilage. Whenever you want a filling but relatively quick dinner, pull out the lentils.

Lentil and ham soup

3/4 cup lentils

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 small onion, chopped

1 cup sliced carrots

1 8-ounce ham steak, trimmed of fat and diced

1 cup chopped kale leaves (without rib)

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon crushed dried thyme

4 cups chicken broth

Place lentils in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Drain well and set aside. Heat oil in Dutch oven. Add garlic and onion and saute 5 minutes over medium-high heat. Add carrots, ham, lentils, kale, bay leaf, thyme and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Remove about 1 cup of lentil mixture and puree in blender, or use an immersion blender and puree half the soup. Return to Dutch oven and reheat, if necessary. Makes 2 generous servings.

Garlic and cheese bread

2 slices crusty country bread about ½-inch thick and 7 inches long

1 garlic clove, split in half

1 tablespoon butter softened

1/4 cup shredded Swiss or Gruyere cheese

Place bread on a baking sheet. Rub surface of both slices with garlic. Spread half the butter very lightly over each bread slice. Sprinkle half the cheese over each bread slice.Place in preheated 400-degree oven and toast for 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

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