The easiest of all the pulses, because they don't need pre-soaking, there are in fact over 60 varieties of lentils. But as far as whole lentils are concerned there are three main types that concern us. Most popular are the green-brown variety (as I call them since they're usually a mixture of both colours) that look like little pills. I love their flavour, and if I never had any more meat I'd be content with a plentiful supply of these around.
There is a smaller version, sometimes called Chinese lentils, which are more red-brown and also rarer and more expensive. The French Puy lentils have a very superior flavour. I have included these tiny grey slate-like lentils in quite a few recipes as they retain their shape and texture when they're cooked, without going mushy.
To accompany a meal for two, place about 1½ oz (40 g) lentils in a small saucepan with 4 fl oz (120 ml) water and some salt. Next, bring them up to simmering point and gently simmer without a lid for about 30 minutes, or until they are tender but still have some bite and retain their shape, by which time most of the water will have been absorbed.
They are also excellent cooked with an onion first sweated in olive oil with rosemary or thyme, and simmered in red wine. Serve with meat or fish, or they're also very good in a salad.
Split lentils are literally filleted lentils, with the skins removed and split naturally into two halves. They cook into a mush very quickly and are suitable for thick purées and soups.
Dhal is simply the Indian word for lentils. The best kind to use for this are the red split lentils which most supermarkets stock.
Black-eyed beans are the lovely nutty beans that are popular in recipes from the deep south of America and, with the addition of other vegetables, they make very good beancakes.
A tin of cooked lentils allows you to rustle this lovely, French-inspired salad up in minutes. You could also serve it without the cheese as an accompaniment to chicken and fish. Let's raise the pulse rate!
A simple and cheap vegetarian recipe for one that's certainly full of flavour! Adapt it to suit other vegetables if you prefer and serve it with filling and nutritious brown rice.
Another recipe that's cheap but full of flavour and good nutrition: chicken cooked with a mixture of lentils, tomatoes and spices for a warming and healthy supper dish.
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