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Lentils (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

Lentils are a true winter pantry staple. If you’ve got a jar of these dried legumes in the cupboard, you’ve got the beginnings of a hearty, comforting meal. Known as pulses, the dried seed of a plant from the lentil species combines well with other pantry ingredients, which is great for this season when fresh produce is so lacking. Green French lentils (also known as Puy lentils) pair beautifully with earthy dried mushrooms, toasted walnuts, dried herbs, fried eggs, and have a special fondness for bacon. Egyptian red lentils simmer happily in soups with dried chile, canned tomato, and Middle Eastern spices. Cooking with lentils is about using the right variety for the right recipe. Green lentils have a seed coat, which helps maintain their perfect lens shape and slightly firm texture during cooking, making them better for lentil salad or fritters. Red lentils have no seed coat, and thus fall apart even when gently simmered. They are best for pureed soups where this texture won’t matter.

This week at la Domestique is dedicated to cooking with lentils, combining their earthy, peppery flavor with ingredients from the winter pantry. We’ll explore red, green, brown, and yellow lentils through the cuisines of France, Italy, India, northern Africa, and the Middle East. Lentils are good for stretching meals, adding heft to soups and stews, providing protein in winter salads, and combining well with leftovers. They are well-suited to meatless meals, full of protein and fiber that really stays with you. According to The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion, lentils stored in an airtight container will keep for a year. These pulses are thrifty, costing about $2 a pound here in the United States. Prepare lentils by rinsing them and checking for stones, which can be accidentally thrown into the batch during harvest. Cooking lentils is easy, as they need no special care, only about half an hour in simmering liquid. Prepare them ahead of time to add to stews, salads, and pasta dishes. Tomorrow is 10 Ways Tuesday and I’ve got plenty of modern, creative ideas for cooking with lentils during winter.

Do you cook with lentils? What is your favorite variety? Share your tips in the comments section.
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