Lentils are a legume and commonly come in three main varieties: brown, green and red. They are easier to prepare than most other legumes. They cook much faster than beans and normally don’t require soaking. Lentils with husk remain whole with moderate cooking; lentils without husk tend to disintegrate into a thick purée. Lentils are high in protein and fiber and low in fat, which makes them a healthy substitute for meat.
Dried lentils can also be sprouted by soaking them in water for one day and then keeping them moist for several days.
About 30% of their calories come from protein; lentils have the third-highest level of protein, by weight, of any legume or nut, other than soybeans and hemp. Lentils contain the essential amino acids isoleucine and lysine, and are a source of inexpensive protein in many parts of the world. Lentils are deficient in two essential amino acids, methionine and cysteine. However, sprouted lentils contain all essential amino acids, including methionine and cysteine. Lentils also are a good source of dietary fiber, iron, folate, vitamin B1, and minerals.
Lentils stand up well to drought, and are grown throughout the world. The Palouse region of eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle, constitute the most important lentil-producing region in the United States. Montana and North Dakota are also significant lentil growers.
Lentils are mild tasting and are commonly served with rice in many parts of the world. They are good at taking on the flavors of the seasoning and other ingredients you add.