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Lentils, legumes rich in iron

Lentils are among the most consumed and oldest legumes, given that their consumption has been attested since the 6th millennium BC. From a botanical point of view, lentils are simply the fruits of the Lens Culinarys plant, a plant that in the past grew in the wild but today is cultivated all over the world, although it prefers warm climates and semi-arid soils.

It is true that lentils are a good source of nutrition; in fact, they provide more protein and carbs per gramme than even the most red meats. Additionally, lentils are a fantastic source of vitamins and mineral salts. Specifically, vitamin A, phosphorus, magnesium, and, most importantly, iron and potassium. The calorie intake is high but not excessive; in fact, 100 grammes of lentils provide just 330 kcal.

The characteristics of the different varieties of lentils

Having been cultivated for millennia, lentils are characterised by a very high number of varieties. Below, I list the most consumed ones in Italy:

  • Green lentils: Cultivated mainly in Puglia, they are characterised by their considerable size and compact consistency that they maintain even after cooking. It is generally served as a side dish.
  • Red lentils: They come from the Middle East and are distinguished by their diminutive size, noticeable softness, and sweetness. They are typically used to make creams and purées.
  • Amuna: It is cultivated mainly in Spain but is also consumed in Italy. It is often used to make soups because it is very soft and light in colour.
  • Villalba: Its flavour is medium—it’s neither overly strong nor overly sweet. It contains the highest amount of iron and proteins ever.
  • Ustica: It is a variety with very fine grains; it is usually used in soups and risottos.

How to cook them.

Apart from their nutritional value, lentils offer versatility. Its success over the millennia and its continued relevance now can be attributed to precisely this adaptability. The variety of dishes featuring this priceless legume that you will see below, which highlights their adaptability, is proof.

You can find soups, veloutés, creams, and even side dishes. Furthermore, I also offer you lentil-based first courses, enhanced both by the presence of rice and the presence of pasta. In short, there is something for everyone.

Here are the most delicious recipes

Lentils, as we have just seen, are very versatile legumes. It is therefore worth honouring this versatility by listing some delicious recipes.

Lentil and enoki mushroom soup: This soup is unique for two reasons. Firstly, enoki is used, a very aromatic mushroom from Japanese cuisine. Secondly, the lentils, after an initial boil, are blended together with soy milk and cooked a second time. We are therefore faced with a creamy, velvety, aromatic, and full-bodied first course.

Lentil and quinoa soup: A seemingly traditional soup, if quinoa—an unusual pseudocereal—had not been added. The recipe requires “separate” cooking of the lentils, which are added to the potatoes cooked in the broth only at a later stage.

Lentil and cotechino mousse: This is a creamy version of the classic lentils and cotechino. Cream cheese, which is used to cream the legume before being mixed, is what gives the dish its creamy texture. Conversely, the cotechino is prepared differently and added almost as a garnish.

Mashed lentils and carrots: This is a nice idea for a velvety soup with a unique texture and a full-bodied, sweet flavour. The recipe is simple, as it involves blending boiled lentils, steamed carrots, and some herbs. The puree can be enriched with some croutons or used as a mousse for creative appetisers.

The benefits of lentils

I have already mentioned the nutritional properties of lentils. It is useful, at this point, to delve deeper into the benefits for the body, which are numerous and varied. Here’s an overview:

They facilitate digestion: Because of its high fibre content, this valuable legume promotes digestive transit and can ease mild cases of constipation.

They keep energy levels high: The credit goes to the abundance of mineral salts, including potassium and phosphorus; the latter benefits cognitive abilities.

They combat iron deficiency and anaemia: Lentils are among the foods highest in iron. For this reason, they are a panacea for those who are deficient in this mineral, perhaps because they suffer from some form of anaemia.

Reduces hunger: Lentils, although quite caloric, are compatible with slimming diets. Minimal doses are enough to satisfy you and, thus, regulate your caloric intake.

They aid in the prevention of cancer: Antioxidants found in lentils, such as uncommon isoflavones, lower the risk of developing tumours.

The contraindications of this excellent legume

It may seem strange to associate lentils with contraindications; after all, we are talking about a healthy food. Yet some contraindications exist, as happens with the vast majority of foods. They concern individuals who are already predisposed, specifically those suffering from gout, uricemia, irritable bowel syndrome, and colitis.

The first two categories should limit the consumption of lentils due to the purine content they express. As regards irritable bowel syndrome and colitis, the abundance of fibre present in this legume is problematic. This type of problem is found with all “fibrous” plant foods.

There are no known contraindications of any type in relation to potential medication interactions. This legume is not currently associated with any recognised allergies or intolerances.