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History of Lentils
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.
Lentil varieties and nutrition
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.
How to cook and serve
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.