Those of us who MUST keep to a budget need to figure out the cheapest way to feed the people we love best. If you are a user of SNAP or WIC or if you have food from a food pantry or use food commodities this info is not a news flash.
Something I enjoy cooking and eating are little ole lentils. They are inexpensive to buy, fast and easy to prepare, and they are satisfying when I’m really hungry. For me, lentils are comfort food.
If you are unfamiliar with lentils you might be interested to know that they come in pretty colors! Depending where you shop you might discover orange, red or yellow lentils. The most common find will be green and brown. They all taste pretty much the same and cook the same way but I have discovered that the green or brown do not become so mushy after they are cooked.
Lentils on their own are fine but I prefer to add some sauteed veggies when I prepare them. I have a favorite cast iron skillet I use to saute vegetables so I like to chop an onion and a rib of celery, and add some carrot shavings for color and texture. I love cooking lentils in home made vegetable broth. The proportion I like to use is 1 cup lentils to 2 cups liquid.
SIDEBAR: Cooking lentils in plain ole tap water will be just fine. Don’t sweat the small stuff and remember that it is ALL small stuff. If you are out of carrots or celery, the Kitchen Police will not arrest you. END SIDEBAR
The beauty of lentils is that they do not need to be soaked.
SIDEBAR: At a church picnic I went to once there was a huge, LOUD debate which was accompanied by extreme laughter about whether or not to soak beans. If you ever bring a bean dish to one of our famous First-of-the-Month Fellowship dinners, you WILL be asked if they were soaked or not soaked! This question will be followed by gales of laughter. **I suppose you would have had to BE there to think this is as funny as I do. END SIDEBAR.
To cook lentils you put them into simmering water. After you add them in, lower the heat so as not to overcook the little darlings.
Since I am cooking for two I just add the cooking liquid (water or broth) to my little skillet, bring it up to a good simmer and add the lentils. If you have many mouths to feed you will naturally want to use a larger kettle. I prefer to cook lentils without a lid so I can observe the process and stir occasionally.
I make sure there are some bubbles going on as they cook but I do not want them to boil as that will cause them to overcook and be tough. Incidentally, lentils will be tough if they are old so make sure yours are fresh.
Do the taste test to check the tenderness…they will need to cook about 20 minutes. When they are as soft as you like you may add some salt and pepper to season them.
SIDEBAR: Unless you add the salt AT THE END of the cooking process, you will have tough lentils. You are striving for tender little morsels, not crunch. END SIDEBAR
A classic way to serve lentils is to put a fried egg atop each serving. Since I happened to have some hard cooked eggs on hand, I sliced them and used them as a garnish.
It’s really quite surprising how filling and delicious this simple meal can be. Add a simple salad or veggie plate and a fruity dessert and you have a low cost, satisfying meal! Even if you are living on a dime!
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PS/Leftover Lentils? Add them to your ground meat patties for dollar stretching meals! Since they tend to be on the dry order, you might like to whirl them in your blender or food processor with broth, water or tomato juice. You will be delighted with the results!