It is often said that the lentil is the oldest vegetable in the world. In any case, remains have been found, dating back 9,000 to 10,000 years, in excavations in northern Syria. Its cultivation spread across most of the Middle East and the Egyptians ate lentils, especially in soup, judging from frescoes produced during the time of Ramses II.
The sale of lentils dates back to biblical times, when Jacob sold his birthright to his brother Esau in exchange for a lentil stew, called a pottage. In fact, the word potage now still means soup in French. However, it is likely that it was actually a dish of red lentils, the mujaddara that is still cooked in the Middle East.
A staple foodstuff in that region, and in North Africa and India, lentils later spread throughout Europe. They arrived in North America in the 16th century, but their cultivation only really took off in the 20th century, during the First World War.
Although they were scorned for a long time, classified as peasant food and confined to "local" dishes, lentils have, in recent years, been embraced by food-lovers.
The main producers are Canada, India, Nepal, China, Turkey, the United States, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Australia, Iran, and Syria.
Green Puy lentils are protected by an AOC (Controlled Designation of Origin), and green lentils from Berry have a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) and have been awarded a Label Rouge.
Coral lentils are always sold shelled, stripped of their thin skin.
Black lentils are quite mealy.
Lentils can be bought loose or in packets or canned.
Lentil flour can also be bought.
Lenses should always be rinsed before use. It is not really necessary to pick over them.
Unlike other pulses, lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking.
They are always cooked in water (5 times their volume), for between 45 and 25 minutes, depending on the variety. Coral lentils, which are already shelled, cook much faster than green or blonde lentils. The shorter the cooking time, the less they lose their color.
Lentils can be used to make soup and work well in a salad. They are often served alongside salted pork or sausages, but hold their own with foie gras, pigeon, or other poultry, or with meat or even fish.
Like all legumes, lentils should be stored in a dry place, in a well-sealed container.
Lentils are very high in fiber (which can sometimes cause intestinal problems).
They contain a lot of vegetable protein, complex slow carbohydrates, minerals (including iron), and B vitamins.
Lentils are categorized according to their color.
. Blonde lentils: the most common, cultivated in Argentina, Canada, Chile, the United States, and Turkey, but not in France. This is one of the biggest.
. Brown lentils: mainly used canned.
. Coral or pink lentils: cultivated in India, the Middle East, and North Africa: it has a slightly peppery flavor.
. Red lentils: quite rare. In France, it is grown only in Champagne and is called lentillons. Canada also produces it.
. Black beluga lentils: smooth, round, and black (the reason for its name "Beluga"), it is native to Canada.
. Green lentils: the most widely cultivated type of lentil, both in Europe and North America, it is sorted into three categories: large, medium, small. It has a thin skin but does not burst during cooking.
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