Green lentils, top row, left. Puy lentils, 3rd row from bottom, right.  Red split lentils 2nd row from bottom, centre

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.

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