Ode to Lentils…and a “Bread” Invention
The first time I had lentils was at my best friend Holly’s house in middle school (taking me back
a couple years!). That’s the same house where I discovered my love for Persian food…oh wow, so good! My favorite dish her mom made was Adas Polo (rice, lentils, currants/raisins, spices and sometimes meat – chicken, ground lamb or beef)…I remember the taste to this day! I’ve never tried to make my own version of Adas Polo (thinking I could never come close to hers) but I have experimented with lentils in the last several years, particularly the past couple months.
For those that are unfamiliar with lentils, they are grouped with beans and peas as part of the legume family because they grow in pods. Lentils are high in protein and fiber and low in fat, which makes them a healthy substitute for meat. They’re also packed with folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium and fiber.
Lentils come in three main varieties: brown, green and red. Most grocery stores carry brown lentils, usually dried, though red and green lentils can be found at speciality markets – in Denver they can be found at a local Sprouts, Sunflower Market, Whole Foods or Natural Grocers/Vitamin Cottage.
A few tips on choosing your color:
- Brown lentils. The least expensive, they soften when cooked and can become mushy. Use for soups.
- Green lentils. Also called French lentils, these have a nuttier flavor and stay firm when cooked. Green lentils are the best choice for salads.
- Red lentils. The fastest cooking, these lose their shape and turn golden when cooked. They taste milder and sweeter than green lentils. Use them for purees and Indian dals…or my new recipe below!
Another plus for lentils is they cook quickly (15-30 minutes) and do not require pre-soaking, though I wash them off in a strainer to remove any dirt, dust etc before adding them to recipes (some packaged are pre-rinsed). Once cooked, add your favorite spices and seasonings, toss with cooked rice, vegetables, or briefly saute in a stir-fry OR you can try something new and make a lentil flatbread!
What you ask? Oh yes I did – flat”bread” with LENTILS! It’s grain-free, EASY, naturally gluten free, egg free and dairy free (unless you use butter for the oil). Apparently, I have an affinity for coming up with wacky gluten free bread ideas…my cooked rice flatbread/pizza crust was the first attempt to break the mold.
If I told you how many batches I have made (and ate) before sharing this recipe, you would probably laugh at me. I tried this bread with cooked lentils like my rice crust and decreased the water but it was quite crumbly and needed an egg to hold it together. I’ve probably eaten a whole years allotment of lentils in the past several weeks, but at least I am getting my share of protein/fiber/folate/iron/potassium and phosphorus. I can always come up with a good excuse :)
Here are just a few of the batches I made that I actually photographed…the top left I even experimented with adzuki beans (ground them into a flour, which almost killed my food processor) which sort of worked but it had way too strong of a bean taste for me. The bottom left is made from green lentils, the top right from brown and the bottom right from red lentils.
This recipe is fairly flexible but my favorite color lentil to use in this recipe is red due to it’s milder taste, making it a great canvas for any topping or spread or accompaniment for a meal, soup or salad. It does have a mild lentil taste (which is yummy) but I also added ground golden flaxseed to add a slight nutiness.
Spreads! (Top to bottom) Laughing Cow swiss spread, edamame hummus with sesame seeds and sunflower seed butter with paprika
Grain-Free Lentil Flatbread
2/3 cup dry lentils (I use red but brown, green or a sprouted variety work too)
2 Tbsp flaxseed meal (I use golden flax ground in my Magic Bullet)
1 cup water
sea salt (don’t skimp since this is the main seasoning)
2-3 Tbsp coconut oil (olive oil, grapeseed, canola, butter or ghee all work – use oil for vegan)
Favorite herbs and/or spices, optional
1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. In a small blender with grind attachment, food processor or a spice grinder, add lentils and grind to a flour. (I use my Magic Bullet with the flat blade).
3. Add the coconut oil (or oil/butter of choice) to a 8×8 or 9×9 pan* and let melt in the oven and warm (about 2 minutes). Meanwhile, add flaxseed meal, water and salt to ground lentils and blend again for about 15 seconds. It should resemble a thick but pourable pancake batter after it sits (the flax and lentils will start absorbing the water the longer it sits).
4. When oil is hot and melted, pour batter into the pan and spread with a spatula. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the bread forms a crust. Let cool slightly, cut and enjoy warm!
Bread can be refrigerated and toasted to reheat if needed.
*You can make the bread thick or thin by choosing your baking dish and add herbs and spices for different flavor variations. I prefer a medium thickness instead of a pizza crust thinness because I like the slightly crunchy outsides and a middle with a slight chew. If you prefer a crisper texture throughout, baking a larger pan or divide batter into two loaf pans. You will need to reduce cooking time for thinner bread, and in turn increase cooking time for thicker (about 5 minutes).