For those that abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the Lenten season, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with meatless meals. Even with a fish dinner, consuming enough protein can be a challenge. Fortunately, Jenna Smith, University of Illinois Extension registered dietitian and nutrition and wellness educator, says that lentils can help fill the protein gap during Lent.
Lentils are a legume, which means it belongs to the same food family tree as beans. People have been consuming lentils even before Biblical times. No doubt, lentils’ popularity throughout human history stems from its nutrient content and versatility. According to Smith, lentils are one of the richest sources of natural plant-based protein, and they contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Lentils are also a good source of soluble fiber, which can decrease blood cholesterol and promote heart health.
You can purchase lentils at your local grocery store either in dry or canned form. Recognize that canned lentils generally contain added sodium.
To decrease sodium, Smith recommends buying dried lentils, which have no added sodium, or as a second option, rinse canned lentils with water, which may wash away approximately 30 to 40 percent of the sodium. Prepare lentils by adding them to boiling water, and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Unlike dried beans, lentils do not need to be soaked first, saving you time and energy. You can also add lentils to soups to impart a grain-like texture, or pair them with meat, fish, and salad entrees. In Indian cooking, lentils are typically eaten with a flatbread or rice. Will you try making lentil soup or a lentil veggie burger for Lent this year?
Spiced Tomato Lentil Mix
¾ cup of canned lentils, drained and rinsed
1 (10 oz.) can of no salt added diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
1 Tablespoon chopped green onion
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 Tablespoon reduced-fat sour cream
2 Tablespoons sliced almonds
Optional: Naan bread or pita to scoop lentil mixture
Place lentils, drained diced tomatoes, green onions, and seasonings in a microwave-safe dish; stir. Cover the dish and cook on high for 2 minutes, pausing halfway through to stir the lentil mixture. Let the mixture rest for 1 minute. Remove from microwave. Top with sour cream and sliced almonds. Serve warm.
Yield: 2 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving): 170 calories, 4 grams fat, 55 milligrams sodium, 23 grams carbohydrate, 9 gram fiber, 11 grams protein