Lentils were never on my list of foods that I enjoy eating UNTIL I tried an Indian recipe called Arhar Dhal. Growing up my mother would occasionally make soup from green or brown lentils. The taste wasn’t offensive to me, but it lacked flavour, so I hated eating lentil soup.
There are about a hundred varieties of lentils, ranging from yellow to orange, red to green and brown to black. They are used around the world, but are more popular in Eastern Europe and India. In Ireland red lentils seem to be the favoured, at least when I came here 13 years ago. However, lately puy lentils are becoming the gourmet rage…it seems that all it takes is for a televised chef to feature a particular dish and… voila…we become inundated with it…
Lentils are very rich in protein, folic acid and both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. They are also very high in vitamin C and B, and they also contain eight of the essential amino acids. They also contain many minerals, as well as they are a high source of antioxidants. Lentils help to lower cholesterol, fight diabetes and prevent digestion problems. They are also great factors in weight loss, cancer and heart prevention.
Lentils’ contribution to heart health lies not just in their fiber, but in the significant amounts of folate and magnesium they supply. Magnesium is nature’s own calcium channel blocker. When enough magnesium is present the flow of blood improves carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart. Want to literally keep your heart happy? Eat lentils.
Lentils give you energy to burn while stabilizing blood sugar. They provide soluble fiber that helps stabilize blood sugar levels. If you have insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes, legumes like lentils can really help you balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy. Studies of high fiber diets and blood sugar levels have shown the dramatic benefits provided by these high fiber foods.
Lentils will increase your energy by replenishing your iron stores. Particularly for menstruating women, who are more at risk for iron deficiency, boosting iron stores with lentils is a good idea–especially because, unlike red meat, lentils are not rich in fat and calories. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism.
If you’re concerned about the purines in lentils, recent research suggests that purines from plant foods do not increase the risk of uric-related conditions like the purines from meat and fish do. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. Purines are natural substances found in all of the body’s cells, and in virtually all foods. Purines provide part of the chemical structure of our genes and the genes of plants and animals. Lentils contain naturally-occurring purines.
Okay…..back to Arhar Dhal. The first time I made this lentil dish I made it with red lentils because that’s what the recipe called for. Richard and I ate it along with some sliced bread. Our eyes were watering and our noses were running and we drank plenty of water…but we couldn’t stop eating it because it was so good!
That was before we met “G”… She laughed at us and said in India they use Dhal as a “gravy” on rice. It definitely cuts the heat…AND she said not to use the red lentils but use the “big yellow ones”. In Ireland those are called yellow split peas. So…I made it again…with yellow split peas and as a “gravy” over rice. FANTASTIC! I couldn’t believe the difference. Okay…so now I’m absolutely hooked on lentils. I even found 3 other varieties at an Asian store in Athlone…Mhung Dhal (tiny yellow lentils), Urid Split (black split lentils) and Split Mung beans…all products of India. Can’t wait to try ALL of them!
Here’s the recipe for Arhar Dhal
1 cup yellow split peas
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 green chili peppers
2 dried red chili peppers
1 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
2 bay leaves
Mixed spice (1/4 tsp onion seed, 1/4 tsp. fenugreek seed, 1/2 tsp anise seed, 1/2 tsp cumin seed, 1/2 tsp. brown mustard seed)
2 Tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
Rinse the lentils and cover with water and bring to a boil over medium heat in a heavy pot with the turmeric and sugar. Add half of the ginger and the cumin powder. Simmer lentils until cooked and thick, adding more water as it cooks. You want the lentils to cook like a thick gravy. Remove from heat and stir in the salt. Adding salt to lentils at the beginning lengthens the cooking time.
Heat the ghee in a small cast iron (heavy) skillet and add the mixed spices. When the mustard seeds crackle add the bay leaves, remaining chopped ginger, slit green chilies and the broken red chilies. Fry for 2 minutes and pour over the lentils. Mix thoroughly. Serve over rice.