Legumes – things like lentils, peanuts and chickpeas – are plants grown specifically for their seeds. They are also an integral part of crop rotation – a farming practice of planting different crops in one location as a way to replace nitrogen and other nutrients that other crops deplete. This practice minimizes the need for fertilizers and helps ward off insects and fungus.
Plants get nutrients from the soil. And unless we amend the soil, it will degrade every season as plants pull more and more from the soil. Amendments can come in the form of artificial fertilizers and organic compost. We can also add nutrients back by planting particularly nutrient dense crops, such as clover, wheat grass and legumes. Instead of depleting the soil, they add nitrogen and other important nutrients back into the soil… and planting these crops across a tapped area of soil can help it recover, so that future crops will grow better.
For me, lentils are a protein- and nutrient- dense food that is also very economical. They come in a variety of colors and shapes – red, green, brown and the rounder French (green) lentils. The French lentils are better for holding their shape, the red are great for their wonderful color and in soups since they puree easily.
In the past few weeks, a bevy of recipes have popped up on the blogosphere…
Barley Pilaf with Lentils from The Perfect Pantry
Palak Dal from Closet Cooking
Crock-Pot Curried Red Lentils from Eat This.
Last week, I made a variation on Mulligatawny soup from We Are Never Full, and garnished it with seared scallops and spinach.
1 tbs. butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped into a few chunks
½ stalk of celery, chopped finely
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp. curry
2 tsp. ground coriander seed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. black pepper
1 can tomatoes
1 1/2 cups of red lentils
6 to 8 cups of chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
½ lb. scallops
½ lb. spinach
Sour cream or plain yogurt to garnish
1. Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and ginger and sauté until they soften and become fragrant.
2. To the pot, add the spices, carrots and celery. Cook for 1 minute more, just to toast the spices and help them release their flavor.
3. Add the lentils, tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until lentils are tender.
4. Meanwhile, season scallops with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil. Add the scallops and cook for 2 minutes or until they start to brown. Flip them over and then cook for 2 minutes more. Remove the scallops from the pan.
5. Return the scallop pan to the heat. Wilt spinach. Season with salt and pepper and lemon juice.
6. When lentils are tender, puree in the blender or with an immersion blender. Adjust seasoning with salt pepper and lemon juice. Garnish with scallops and spinach.