What’s the Big Deal About a Little Lentil?

October 11, 2011 in Blog Recipes, Cooking & Baking Hints, Diabetic Menu Item, fiber, Mediterranean, Weight Management, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

While I was at the annual conference of The American Dietetic Association, now known as The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, I came upon a booth sponsored by the Pulse Canada Association. First, let me tell you that prior to FNCE 2011, I did not know Pulse is the term for the edible seeds of legumes (plants with a pod), which includes beans, peas (split), lentils and chickpeas and that pulse has been around for a long time. (Don’t you just love the color of legumes?) The term pulse is derived from the Latin puls meaning thick soup or potage. The Pulse Canada group is differentiating the group of legumes in the previous sentence from peanuts and soybeans, because the latter group is high in fat. Think peanut oil/butter and soybean oil. The group distinguished as pulses is virtually fat free. Another group of legumes that are not included in the pulse group is green/string beans and green peas; they are not dried legumes.

In the U.S. we commonly group what the Canadians call pulses into a group called legumes. We don’t exclude, soy or peanuts; but it seems that it’s a useful exclusion. It seems more accurate to put peanuts with the tree nuts (also high in fat) and the soybeans,. Soy is good food, but more fat than dry beans. (Note: At least the fat of soy, peanuts, and tree nuts is a good type of fat.) The USDA healthy plate recommends that adults consume at least 3 cups of legumes per week. If we eat this amount of legumes, it can support a goal to reduce our intake of animal-based protein sources. It is somewhat of a double benefit; less animal protein and more vegetable protein – Great! Making one addition, supports making a reduction in the other group; these are directions that many Americans are striving to accomplish.

Legumes are a really powerful group of foods. They are a rich source of complex carbohydrates, natural fiber (both soluble and insoluble), vegetable protein, and many vitamins, minerals and plant nutrients. A really interesting thing about pulses is that they have the ability to work with the bacteria in the soil to fix the nitrogen from the air to convert it into a useable form for the plants. Most plants must have the nitrogen in the soil already in an unusable form. What is so wonderful about this fact is that, when growing legumes, you don’t need to have lots of fertilizer from non-renewable energy; that means that legumes are a very environmentally sustainable food choice.

Legumes are a good source of complex carbohydrates for everyone, but they are especially helpful for those with pre-diabetes and diabetes (and certainly, anyone who wants to maintain a steady blood glucose) because they have a low glycemic index – meaning that they keep blood sugar from rising too quickly after eating.

Legumes are a good way for those with Celiac disease to get fiber – no gluten in legumes. Vegetarians, especially vegans have been familiar with the use of legumes for centuries. Eating legumes with a grain, like wheat (which has gluten), rice, or quinoa, assures a high-quality protein.

In obtaining this high quality protein, and other nutrients, let’s not forget the food budget. Again we’re talking good economics! Even if you’re fortunate to have a job in these challenging economic times, legumes are a boon to the budget. Unfortunately, they are also frequently a forgotten option.

Legumes are a wonderful weapon in the weight loss arsenal. Why, you may ask? The answer is that their low fat, high fiber, protein packed little pods, help you stay full, satiated, for a very long time. If you’re full with a low fat, high protein, nutrition powerhouse, maybe you will be able to stay away from the cookies, candy, ice cream, chips, and so on.

Legumes can be used in a huge number of menu items, including: soups, salads, entrees, muffins, snacks, ….lentils in the omelet??? Why not? Let your creative bug go wild!

Prebiotics seem to be the rage of the day. So if you want to pay attention to your prebiotics then here’s your ticket. All it really means is that it can help stimulate the growth of good bacteria in the colon – like all natural intact fiber does.

Legumes are a very heart-healthy food (it’s good for your pulse), and I don’t mean only because they are packed with lots of folic acid, potassium, a long list of other vitamins, minerals, and plant nutrients, fiber, protein, and are essentially fat free. It’s the whole food; not just a single nutrient! Remember?

Complex carbohydrates are a good choice for sports and endurance activities because of their high protein and complex carbohydrates, which provide long-lasting energy release.


Cooking legumes - Don’t add acidic ingredients (vinegar, citrus juice or tomatoes or juice) to your cooking legumes until they are tender. Acid retards the cooking process.

If you use canned legumes, simply rinse and drain, about 40 to 50 percent of the sodium goes with the liquid. Better yet, cook legumes from dry and don’t add sodium.

What’s special about lentils?

  • I always thought that a lentil is a lentil, is a lentil; but as it turns out, lentils come in a variety of sizes and colors. The large ones are usually split to cook faster, and are excellent in purees. The whole lentils are best for salads and entrees.
  • One of the nice things about lentils is that they do not require soaking. For our busy lives this is a nice bonus.
  • Cooking lentils is relatively quick, compared with other legumes.
  • Just taste the lentil to decide if it is cooked the way that you desire. Don’t cook until mushy, unless, of course you are making a paste or puree.
  • One cup of dry lentils yields about 2 or 3 cups of cooked lentils.
  • Did I mention how inexpensive dried lentils are? J OK, yes I did.
  • Use 1 to 1½ cups of water for each cup of dry lentils.

Like many Americans, I’m looking for easy ways to increase my legume consumption.  One of the ways that I’ve done it, is by serving humus instead of salad dressing. Another way is that I’ve sprinkled rinsed canned beans on salads or made Minestrone-style Soup, but not often enough. So when the Canadian Pulses group offered a free cookbook called, “The Big Book of Little Lentils,” I accepted it. Last evening I flipped through it and it was really inspired me to try some new ideas. At the Expo they gave samples of several recipes, one was a chocolate cake. Because we don’t expect cake to contain lentils, it really sets the creative juice faucet in the flow position. One of the ideas that I thought could be very helpful for a family that eats burgers was a recipe for Beef & Lentil Burgers; it was really more like a veggie burger – less than half was beef. Very nice! Their slider recipe had no animal meat at all. They had recipes for cheesecake, cream pie and lentil banana carrot cake. In addition, they included recipes for salads, soups, pizza and appetizers. It so inspired me that I thought; “I did a pretty thorough job of designing muffin recipes, when I designed the Dr. Grandma’s Muffins Your Way recipes. But it’s interesting that I never wrote a recipe using legumes.

So this morning I developed a recipe using Dr. Grandma’s Muffins Your Way mix. I took some quick pictures and I can report that both Dr. Grandpa (Vic) and I really enjoyed them. One of our observations is that lentils don’t have a strong flavor, so they go along with just about any recipe. You can see many of the recipes in the booklet, if you visit: www.lentils.ca.

Are you motivated to add some quick cooking, no soaking needed lentils (pulses) to your menus? If you do, you will be rewarded with the health benefits, at a very low cost.

The following muffin recipe is a great breakfast, snack or dessert, if you want something that tastes great and will last for longer than other foods.

Dr. Grandma’s Lentil Muffins Your Way


1 cup cooked lentils

½ cup orange juice

2 eggs

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (Can double, if you prefer a moister muffin.)

1 packet of Dr. Grandma’s Muffins Your Way Mix

½ teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice

¾ cup raisins

Cinnamon sugar, optional

Chopped nuts, optional


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cook the lentils for 25 minutes – you may want to consider making more than you need to have them on hand to sprinkle in salads, soups and so on. I cooked the lentils without salt.

While the lentils are cooking, measure the other ingredients, and spray the muffin tin with vegetable oil spray. Drain and cool the lentils. Mix the dry ingredients, being sure to separate the raisins if stuck together. Mix the lentils and wet ingredients – just a couple of stirs. Then fill the muffin tins. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and nuts, if desired.

Bake for 16 to 20 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean.

Rinse the dry lentils.

Simmer the lentils in two times the amount of water as lentils.

Juice the oranges; zest would be good too.

Measure juice.

When tender, drain the lentils and measure 1 cup.

Mix dry ingredients, coating and separating the raisins.

Add the cool lentils.

Add the egg/orange juice and oil.

Just a couple of stirs - don't over mix.

Spoon evenly into 12 standard muffin tins.

Bake until a toothpick comes out clean.

Serve - Good Health Can Be Yummy!