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Mediterranean diet staple: lentils



This staple of the Mediterranean diet deserves more respect from North Americans. Nutritious, flavorful lentils are one of the world's most widely cultivated legumes.

They are thought to have originated in Egypt where they were prized both as food and as an aphrodisiac. Carbonated remains of lentils dating back 10,000 years were found by archaeologists in Syria.

Lentils were also a staple of the biblical diet. Cooks of that era ground them into meal for making bread, and they used them in stews. In Genesis 25:34, Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a piece of bread and "a pottage of lentils."

From the eastern Mediterranean, lentils spread to Western Europe and were later brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors.

The three main crops grown in the U.S. are: Domestic brown, domestic Red Chiefs that turn light gold when cooked, and green lentils.

One of the most flavorful varieties of lentils to appear on the market is the Black Beluga. The small black lentil acquired its name because of its resemblance to Beluga caviar.

Whether brown, green, or red, lentils are rich in protein, fiber and iron. They do not require soaking before being cooked as other legumes do. Simply wash them, place the required quantity in a saucepan and add the water.

Cook over medium heat for 8 to 20 minutes, depending on the type you are cooking.

For a tasty variety, add rice that has been sautéed to a golden color to the lentils and cook until tender. Add additional water if needed.

In a separate pan, cook sliced onions in butter or olive oil until golden brown. Pour over the top of mounds of lentils and rice before serving.

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