This legume has been used for over 7000 years. Seeds have been found in various tombs dating back to 5500 BC. A native of Syria, then spread throughout the Mediterranean, it became a staple food for the Greeks and Romans appreciated it for its high nutritional value. During Roman times, a famous statesman known as Cato the Elder, dictated some rules on the best way to cook lentils and Galen, the celebrated physician of that time, emphasized its therapeutic virtues. In the seventeenth century, inspired by the form of the lentil, the piece of glass with two convex faces known as “lens” was invented, taking its name from the lentil, as well. Currently it is grown all over the world: Asia, North and Central America, India and Africa. In Italy it is mainly grown in the regions of Umbria, Lazio and the Marche. There are many varieties of lentils that are differentiated by colour and size. The seed varieties are green, brown, pink, black, and the size varies between 2 and 9 mm. On an agricultural level, it is a hardy plant, suitable for semi-arid, as well as cold climates. Despite its hardiness, this plant is rather difficult to cultivate, because it grows very low to the ground, making it difficult for the modern combine harvesters to harvest.
Lentils are rich in protein and starch, and contain good amounts of minerals including iron, calcium, potassium and fiber, as well as B vitamin, vitamin PP. The folic acid and vitamin B6 are good for the cardiovascular system, because they help maintain a healthy heart and blood vessels. It is highly recommended to eat these legumes, because in addition to being easily digestible, they are very low in fat and simple sugars, so they are well-suited to low-calorie diets. To get a better composition of ingested protein, it is ideal to consume them with cereals (eg. rice, pasta and bread). Their wealth of fibers make them very useful for the functioning of the intestinal tract and they are also useful for lowering cholesterol.
MAIA offers different types of lentils: small, large, black, brown and red split lentils:
Small lentils: this variety of lentil is typical of the central Apennines, where the same seeds have been cultivated by populations for so many centuries that they can now even be considered indigenous. The characteristic of this lentil is the small size of the seed and its variety of colour. Some seeds have the typical streaks that make it unique and easily distinguishable from the others. It is very popular in cooking, because the seeds do not lose their skins during preparation, they have a delicate taste, are easy to cook and do not overcook.
Black lentils: this variety is very particular. It’s seed is very small and completely black. It is produced in small amounts in the region of Tuscany, where it was selected from wild plants found in the Maremma. These plants were bred and selected for almost 10 years before they could be grown for commercial purposes. The characteristic of this fast-cooking lentil is its delicate flavor that goes particularly well with seafood and fish.
Large lentils: this variety of lentil was selected in Canada and subsequently adapted to grow in the Italian territories. It is large and the seed has a flattened shape. It has a rather delicate and aromatic taste.
Brown lentil: this variety originates form the Island of Rodi, but has successfully been grown by our farmers thanks to its vigor and superior productivity. It has a decisive taste that goes well with exotic dishes, especially from Asian or Middle Eastern cuisine.
Red split lentils: when the brown lentil is hulled, red lentil is obtained. By removing the shell, the amount of fiber decreases, making it much easier to digest which makes it a perfect product for people who suffer from colitis and bloating, and it is also easier to cook. It is perfect to prepare creams and exotic dishes
All of these lentils, except for the red ones have the same nutritional values, meaning that what characterizes them the most are their colour, taste, and consistency.
How to use them:
Lentils are a very versatile food and can be prepared in a multitude of different varieties, from appetizers to soups to side dishes. In Italy, one of the most famous dishes is pig’s trotter with lentils. It is typically eaten on News Year’s Eve at midnight, as a sign of good luck for the coming year. As with all of the products we offer, our lentils are selected and sorted with machines that eliminate any and all foreign elements. However, within the lentils it is easy to find small stones or fragments of soil, because this plant grows so low to the ground, it is inevitable that some objects will be collected together with it, when it is harvested. For this reason, we always recommend to wash the lentils very thoroughly. In addition to that, we recommend to eliminate the lentils that float in water.
Basic recipe: it is not necessary to pre-soak them. The black lentils and the red lentils cook in 20 minutes, while the large lentils, small lentils and the brown lentils cook in 40 minutes.
Rice and Lentils with Bacon
Ingredients: (makes 4 servings): 320 g carnaroli rice, 150 g small lentils, 50 g bacon, 1 small onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1 stalk of celery, 1 bunch of parsley, 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 bay leaf, salt
Cooking Instructions: boil the lentils in a pot with a good amount of water, the bay leaf, half of the onion-sliced, and ½ of the garlic, for 40 minutes from the moment of boiling, adding salt towards the end of the cooking time. In the meantime, finely chop the bacon, the remaining garlic, the parsley and the celery that have been cleaned. In a non-stick pan, sautee the onion with oil, adding the bacon, celery and parsley on a medium heat for a few moments. Add the lentils and the previously washed rice to the pan 15 minutes before finished cooking. Towards the end of the cooking time, stir everything together so that it is well mixed and distribute the rice and lentils onto a serving dish and serve.
Pork sausage with lentils
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 1 sausage (or shin), 1 onion, 300 g small lentils, 1 liter vegetable broth
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 stalks of celery, 150g chopped tomatoes
Cooking Instructions: put the sausage to cook in a pot of boiling water, following the instructions on the package, if you use a pre-cooked sausage. Finely chop the celery and onion, and sautee them in a non-stick pan with oil for a few minutes. Add the lentils and cook over high flame for a few minutes. Add the broth and cover with a lid, cook over medium flame until the lentils are tender but not too soft (about 35 minutes). If they are too dry, add more broth a little at a time: they must be soft but not liquid. Once that the sausage is ready, take it from the vacuum packaging and cut it into slices about 1cm thick. Put the lentils on a platter, add sausage slices and serve hot.
Fillet of duck and lentil soup
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 200 g small lentils, 4 duck legs, 1 bouquet garni (aromatic herbs), 20 g carrot, 20 g celery, 20 g onion, 20 g leeks, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 2 lt vegetable stock, salt and pepper
Cooking Instructions: remove the skin from the duck legs and wash them under running water. Heat the broth in a saucepan. In another saucepan, heat up some oil and add chopped celery, carrot, onion and leek, the bouquet garni, duck legs, and lentils. Fry for about 10 min. Then add the broth and bring to boil, add salt and pepper and reduce the level of the flame to proceed with cooking. After about 45 minutes, take out the duck and cut it into fillets. Remove the bouquet garni, add the duck fillets and serve.
Pasta with lentils
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 350 g pasta, 150 g large lentils, 1 onion, some basil leaves, 30 g breadcrumbs, olive oil, 2 salted anchovies
Cooking Instructions: boil the lentils in a large pot of water for 35 minutes, salting it only when it is almost finished cooking, drain and let cool. In a saucepan, sautee a chopped onion in 4 tablespoons of olive oil, add the lentils and chopped anchovies, let them simmer together, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Boil the pasta until it is “al dente” or chewy and pour into the pan with the lentils. Put the pan on the burner, stir and dress with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped basil before serving.
Mont Blanc with lentils
Ingredients (makes 6 servings): 500 g large lentils, 1 potato, 100 g cottage cheese, 4 sausages, 150g chopped tomatoes, 50 g grated cheese, 50 g cream, some chopped parsley, salt and pepper
Cooking Instructions: cook the sausages in a pan with the tomato. After boiling the lentils together with potatoes for 40 minutes, drain them and blend them together into a dense puree. Season with salt and pepper. Form a pyramid with the puree and make a hole in the center where you will place the sausages. Cover with the remaining puree and bake at 160 degrees for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a cheese garnish, mixing the ricotta with cream, grana padano grated cheese, and parsley.
Lentil, Tomato and Spring Onion Salad
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 12 basil leaves, 1 onion, 2 tablespoons chopped chives, 300 g large lentils, 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, 1 hot chilli pepper, 10 cherry tomatoes
Cooking Instructions: boil the lentils in salted water for about 30 minutes and turn off the flame when they are still “al dente” or crunchy. In the meantime, clean and finely chopped spring onions, the chives, and the chilli pepper and cut the cherry tomatoes in quarters, or even smaller pieces. In a small bowl, make a dressing with the oil, ground pepper, and salt. Put the cooled lentils in a large bowl: add the prepared ingredients, add the chilli and basil leaves with your fingers (keep some whole leaves to garnish the salad). Season with the oil dressing and mix everything well adding salt if necessary. Serve the lentil salad garnished with a few fresh basil leaves. Variation: If you do not like raw spring onion, you can toss the onion in a frying pan with oil and the lentils for a few minutes, then transfer it into a bowl, let cool and add the remaining ingredients as par the above recipe .
Brown lentil and mussel salad
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 400 g mixed salad, 150 g brown lentils, 1000 g mussels, 150 ml whole yogurt, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, 1 bunch radishes, 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
Cooking Instructions: leave the mussels to soak in cold salted water for at least 30 minutes. Boil the lentils for about 35 minutes, then drain and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and let cool. Wash the lettuce and sliced radishes. Clean the mussels thoroughly under running water, then let them open in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons oil, then shell them. In a bowl make a yogurt sauce prepared with fresh herbs, the lentils and the remaining oil. First serve the salad on the plates, and then place the mussels and radishes over the salad. Finally pour the sauce with lentils on top.
Savoury lentil and mushroom pie
Ingredients (makes 6 servings): 250 g puff pastry, 250 g brown lentils, 1 carrot, 50 g button mushrooms, 1 red onion, 1 egg, 1 small head of radicchio, 1 stalk of celery, 30 g grated Parmesan, thyme , 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
Cooking Instructions: boil the lentils in a pot with plenty of water flavoured with bay leaves, add salt when they almost finish cooking. Peel the onion and cut into very thin slices, peel and wash the celery, carrot, radish and mushrooms. Heat some oil in a pan, and sautee the onion, then add the other vegetables and lemon juice. Sautee on medium heat for about 10 minutes, then add the well-drained lentils and let everything simmer together. Remove the pan from the flame and let cool. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and mix with the egg, parmesan, a pinch of thyme, salt and pepper. Roll out the dough into a thin pastry, line a round baking sheet with baking paper. Pour in the lentil mixture and cook in a preheated oven at 180 ° C for about 40 minutes. Serve the pie warm.
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 300 g of brown lentils, 1 large onion, ghee (or ghee, butter), 2 potatoes, 3 tomatoes, 150 g of cabbage, spices: coriander, cumin, ginger, turmeric, chilli pepper
Cooking Instructions: soak the lentils for 2 hours. Heat up some ghee in a pan and fry the onion and half a teaspoon of grated ginger, add the peeled and diced potatoes and tomatoes, and drained lentils. After 3 minutes, add two teaspoons of ground coriander, one teaspoon of ground cumin, half a teaspoon of turmeric, half a hot chilli pepper and 1 and a half liters of water, bring to a boil. When the potatoes and lentils begin to soften, add cabbage and cook until everything is completely cooked.
Orange and Cinnamon Lentils
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 300 g red lentils, 1 orange, ½ onion, cinnamon, 1 carrot, olive oil, salt
Cooking Instructions: sautee the onion and carrot with a little oil until they soften, add the lentils and cover with water. Flavour with grated orange peel and cinnamon. Bring to a boil and let cook for 10 minutes. At this point, add the juice of half an orange, salt and continue cooking for another 10 minutes, until the lentils are soft. Serve hot.
Indian-style lentil soup
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 300 g red lentils, 1 onion, 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1 tsp coriander / fennel / cumin, 2 tablespoons sesame or sunflower oil, salt.
Cooking Instructions: crush or ground the coriander, cumin and fennel in a mortar. Rinse the lentils and put them to cook for 12 minutes with at least two cups of water, and turmeric (be careful not to soften them too much). Add the ground spice mix, salt and add more water if it’s too thick. Separately, in a steel pot, heat the oil, pour in mustard seeds and when they start to pop, add the onion, cut into thin slices; when it is golden brown remove the pot from the heat. Pour the warm soup into bowls and garnish them with the golden onions. You can make the lentils spicy, by adding the strong curry paste or red chilli pepper, when they finish cooking.
Rustic toasted bread with lentils
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 250 g red lentils, 1 sprig of rosemary, 2 cloves of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, rustic toasted slices of bread, pepper, 1 carrot, 1 onion, some celery
Cooking Instructions: boil a pint of water with the sliced carrot, onion and celery. Fry the garlic in a little oil, when you begin to smell a nice aroma, take out the garlic and add the thoroughly rinsed red lentils and some rosemary. Add the broth gradually and cook over medium heat until the lentils are very softened. Let the cream cool, while toasting the bread, and then serve the bread slices with a sprinkling of pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
Spiced red lentil and bulgur patties
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 1 cup red lentils, 1 cup bulgur, 3 chopped green onions, 1 ripe tomato (or 1 tablespoon tomato paste), 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon cumin powder, 3 tbsp chopped parsley, black pepper, lettuce, sliced lemon to taste
Cooking Instructions: wash the lentils, put them in a pot with three cups of water. Cook for about 12 minutes over medium flame. Now add the bulgur and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand (covered) for about 20 minutes, so the bulgur will absorb any excess water. After the mixture cools, add the chopped onions, tomato paste, spices, and chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Mix everything well, and place in the refrigerator for about 1 hour. With wet hands, form patties. Cover and leave in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve the patties on a tray covered with lettuce, garnished with slices of lemon. Eat them wrapped in lettuce with a little lemon juice.
Black lentil soup with seafood
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 300 g black lentils, 500 g cleaned mussels, 300 g squid, 1 clove of garlic, 400g prawns, extra virgin olive oil, 1 bunch of chopped parsley, white wine, celery, carrot and onion, 4 fillets of sole, 4 shelled scallops, salt and pepper
Cooking Instructions: boil a pot of water, half full with the carrot, onion and celery and a pinch of salt. In the meantime, open the mussels in a covered saucepan, then shell them and discard the shells and those that remained closed. Cut the squid into rings, slice the sole and scallops and sear the fish in broth for 2-3 minutes, then collect the fish and set it aside along with the mussels. Blanch the prawns for 2 minutes, then shell them and open them. Combine the prawns with the fish and the heads and pincers to the broth. Boil the black lentils with half broth and half water, then drain and set aside. Meanwhile, lightly sautee garlic and finish cooking the fish, adding white wine and broth if necessary. Add the cooked lentils, let everything sit for a couple of minutes with the burner off. Serve with sprinkled parsley as a garnish.
Onion and lentil soup
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 250 g black lentils, 2 large onions, 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 sprig of rosemary, 1 lt vegetable broth, 1 cup of white wine, 4 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, 4 slices of bread
Cooking Instructions: wash the lentils and cook for about 20 minutes, until they are tender. Put them aside. Peel the onions and cut into wedges. In a skillet, melt the butter along with olive oil, and sautee the onions with a pinch of salt. Fry the onions until they are tender. Pour in the wine and turn up the heat until it evaporates, then add the broth and the rosemary. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the lentils and cook for another 5 minutes. In the meantime, toast the bread and sprinkle it with the grated cheese: grill the top for a few minutes in the oven until the cheese has melted, then serve the soup with the toasted bread.
Lentil salad with bacon and vegetables
Ingredients (makes 4 servings): 2 carrots, 1 onion, 400 g black lentils, 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 200 g smoked bacon, salt and pepper, 2 stalks of celery
Cooking Instructions: cook the lentils in salted water for about 15 minutes and turn off the heat when the lentils are still a bit crunchy. Drain the lentils well and set aside. Wash and trim the celery, onions and carrots, then cut into small pieces. In a pan, put 4 tablespoons of olive oil and the vegetables, and let them soften, adjust with salt if necessary then and the bacon, that has been cut into small pieces. Add white wine. When the bacon fat becomes transparent, add the lentils, then add pepper and salt, and thoroughly mix all of the ingredients on the stove for a few minutes. Serve the lentil salad with bacon and vegetables warm or chilled.