Archeological studies have shown that lentils are one of the earliest cultivated crops, believed to have been used by homo sapiens as far back as 9,500 to possibly 13,000 years ago. Only soybeans have a higher ratio of protein per calorie, and besides their protein content lentils are a cook’s best friend taking only 15-25 minutes to prepare depending on the variety. Another huge health benefit is fiber. Some nutritionists claim that the secret to health and vitality is sufficient fiber intake. Lentils, like most beans and legumes, provide roughly 8-10 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup cooked. It is recommended to consume a minimum of 25 grams of fiber daily and adding lentils to your diet can help you achieve this very easily.
Beluga lentils, named after the caviar they resemble, are matte black prior to cooking but take on a beautiful glistening sheen once cooked, as well as retaining their structural integrity, making them perfect for salads, soups, and even stir fries. Like other lentils, belugas are high in protein and fiber, low in fat, with a healthy dose of iron not to mention several B vitamins. In order to absorb the iron from lentils it is important to have vitamin C in the same meal, the body’s ability to absorb iron from vegetarian sources (non-heme) is significantly improved with the presence of vitamin C. Cooking tends to destroy vitamin C, this is where finishing your plate with a little fresh lemon wedge is always a good idea. The black pigment that gives beluga lentils their surprising colour occurs because of high concentrations of a very powerful group of antioxidants called anthocyanins. These are the same antioxidants found in other dark foods like blueberries, black rice, plums and cherries. Anthocyanins, as a group of antioxidants have been shown to fight cancer development and might even play a role in preventing memory related illnesses.
Whether you’re looking for a quick side dish to add to your dinner buffet, or a plant based lunch to take to work this is a quick and easy lentil salad that takes advantage of local spring vegetables. Besides looking amazing, this salad is a nutritional goldmine. If you can’t find beluga lentils don’t worry, you can substitute French lentils (de puy), or even regular old green or brown lentils.
Heirloom Lentil, Asparagus & Snap Pea Salad
with an orange-ginger-sesame dressing
- 2 cups beluga lentils, cooked
- 1 cup snap peas, blanched, sliced diagonally
- asparagus, blanched, sliced diagonally
- 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
- 3-4 green onions, finely sliced
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted (optional)
- 1/2 cup crumbled/marinated feta (optional)
- chives, green onions fresh cilantro
- 1 Tb honey
- 1/2 orange, juice and zest
- 1 Tb ginger, minced
- 3 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp creamy Dijon mustard
- pinch dried chili flakes
- 2 Tb chives, minced
- 1 Tb soya sauce
- 2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Combine all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl, whisking well to marry all the flavours
- In a separate, large bowl combine lentils, blanched vegetables, parsley and green onions
- Add dressing ingredients to lentil and vegetable mixture, toss together
- Store marinated lentils and vegetables in the fridge for a minimum of four hours to allow the flavours to have a chance to mingle and get to know each other.
This salad stores very well for up to 4 days making it a great go to lunch to pack up and take to work. Although the toasted almonds and feta are optional, together they offer satisfying crunch and creamy saltiness respectively.
Bottom line: eat more lentils!