“Lentejas, si quieres las comes y si no las dejas” is a popular Spanish saying* I’ve heard from my mother on many an occasion. As lentils have long been a favorite of mine, I opt for taking rather than leaving, like in this Vegan Lentil and Pumpkin Dip.
I’ve always known they were good for me, but my love for lentils grew a bit more ardent after finding out just how good they are.
The unassuming little lentil (lens culinaris) has a long and illustrious pedigree. Humans have been cultivating and eating them for thousands of years, going by archaeological findings in the Middle East where vessels containing dried lentils dating back 9,500 to 13,000 years have been unearthed.
Lentils, which can be yellow, red-orange, green, brown, and sometimes also black, are generally considered to be one of the healthiest foods in existence. They are inexpensive and nutritious, high in protein including two essential amino acids isoleucine and lysine, fibre, folate, vitamin B and minerals.
Combining lentils with rice is said to provide a complete protein dish. Lentils are said to originate in India, where they are still eaten by millions of people every day in the ubiquitous stew called dhal, accompanied by chapatti bread or rice, the Indian equivalent of rice and beans in the Dominican Republic. Middle Eastern cooks prepare lentil dishes in all shapes and forms, including soups, stews and salads.
In Africa, a spicy lentil stew called kik or kik wot is traditionally eaten with Ethiopia’s national food injera flat bread. Yellow lentils are used to make a mild stew, which is one of the first solid foods Ethiopian women feed their babies.
In Europe and the Americas lentils tend to be used in hearty soups. In Italy, eating lentils on New Year’s Eve is supposed to ensure a prosperous new year, a belief said to derive from the coin-like shape of lentils.
In many of these countries lentils used to be known as a poor person’s food. After whole-food and vegetarian diets became popular in the 1960s and 70s, they acquired a reputation as a hippy food and to some extent as an exotic delicacy as Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine went global. As a meat substitute or in their own right, lentils with their earthy taste make for a satisfying ingredient in soups, stews, pies, salads and veggie burgers.
Although not a core component of Dominican cuisine, lentils are not completely unknown in the country. We feature in our collection a lentil stew in the European tradition, with a singularly Dominican flavour, as well as other lentil-based dishes.
*Lentils, eat them or leave them. Another version is: “Lentejas, comida de viejas, si quieres las comes y si no, las dejas” – Lentils, food for old ladies, eat them or leave them.
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil , divided
- 4 garlic cloves , crushed
- A pinch of cumin seeds
- 1 cup of diced auyama (West Indian pumpkin)
- 1 cup of boiled lentils
- 3/4 teaspoon of salt (or more, to taste)
- A pinch of paprika (optional)
- 1 cup of water that the lentils boiled in
- Juice of half a lemon (or lime)
- 1 tablespoon of minced parsley
Heat half the oil over very low heat. Stir in the garlic and cumin and cook stirring until the garlic releases its aroma. Stir in the auyama and lentils and cook stirring for a minute. Pour in the water and stir in salt and paprika and cover. Simmer until all the liquid has evaporated.
Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Add the lemon juice and puree in the food processor.
Garnish with the extra oil and minced parley. Serve with casabe or toasted bread.