Lentils were one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East and have been a part of the human diet for at least 13,000 years. That’s a LONG time. Though often associated with Indian food and Indian flavors, they lend themselves well to other cuisines. Canary lentils have a wonderful bright yellow color and they stay firm, even when cooked through. Of the plant-based proteins, lentils are the third highest when it comes to percentage of calories from protein (26%), behind hemp (I don’t get much hemp in my diet) and soybeans. They are also very high in fiber and iron. Given lentil’s low cost and high nutritional value they are an obvious addition to American diets. I’m betting there isn’t a lot of lentil consumption going on between the two coasts. The other secret about lentils (in addition to being cheap and amazingly good for you) is that they are super easy to make. I love them in soup, but they also make an excellent side dish. Try them with a Spanish or Mexican meal, rather than just with Indian food, for a simple change of pace.
Mexican Canary Lentils (4 main dish servings or 8 side dish servings)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 leeks, washed carefully, sliced lengthwise and then thinly sliced
- ½ Vidalia or Maui onion, finely diced
- 1 28-oz can Italian crushed tomatoes (I prefer San Marzano)
- 1 12-oz jar red salsa (I use TJ’s “Salsa Autentica” which is medium-hot, relatively smooth salsa – pick your preferred heat level)
- 1 ½ cups canary lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones
- 1 cup cotija cheese, crumbled
- ½ cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
Heat olive oil in large non-stick skillet. Add leeks and onions. Saute over medium heat until soft, 10-12 minutes. Add tomatoes, salsa and lentils. Fill salsa jar with water. Add water to saucepan as well. Bring to a simmer. Simmer until lentils are just tender, 45-60 minutes. Make sure you don’t overcook them. You want them to be tender but not mushy. Serve with cotija cheese and cilantro sprinkled on top.