I Didn’t Really “Get” Lentils Until This Type Made Me a Fan
I grew up eating dal — the thick lentil soup that is a staple of South Asian cooking. Even so, lentils and I have never had a great relationship. They bored me as a kid. When I became a vegetarian as a teenager, I avoided them. My attempts to make peace with the lens-shaped legume as an adult didn’t go well: I recall one time so severely undercooking a bag of brown lentils that I just decided to write them off completely.
So I loaded up on chickpeas, black beans, and cannellini beans instead, and that worked just fine for me. Then one day, I was strolling through Whole Foods and caught sight of bags that looked like caviar on display. They were black lentils. I was so intrigued, I put aside our past differences, and picked up a bag.
Friends, that bag completely altered my opinions about lentils.
The Prettiest Lentils Around Also Happen to Be the Most Delicious
If, like me, you’ve always thought lentils were a yawn, black lentils will change your opinion. They also go by the name beluga lentils because, as I noted, they really do look like caviar. They’re petite and pretty but it’s not just their looks that make them stand out.
They have a thicker skin than other lentil varieties, so you can simmer a pot until tender and they’ll hold their shape rather than turn mushy. This was the thing that really hooked me: Lentils can have texture!
I quickly realized that what I hadn’t liked about lentils was, in fact, their mushiness. But black lentils also have an extra rich, earthy flavor you don’t find in green or red lentils, which only adds to their appeal.
Why Black Lentils Deserve a Spot in Your Pantry
Perhaps, until like me, you don’t find mushy textures off-putting. Maybe you like brown, red, and green lentils. (And if so, you’re not alone — they’re a staple food for a reason.) But I still think you ought to give a bag of black lentils a try.
That’s because they’re practically in a category all their own. Rather than being a meek ingredient on your shelf, black lentils are assertive. They’re so eye-catching on the plate and in the bowl that they suddenly make the whole honest act of eating a legume feel fancy. Yet, they’re still the affordable, nutrient powerhouse (Fiber! Complex carbs! Plant-based protein and iron!) that everyone should be eating more of — and eating more of them when they feel extra special makes it extra easy.
Buy a bag: Black Lentils from Amazon, $18.50 for 2 pounds
My Favorite Ways to Use Black Lentils
- Make an all-week lunch salad. Since black lentils hold up so well when cooked, they’re the stuff of meal prep dreams. I love throwing together a big lentil salad filled with colorful vegetables and working my way through it all week long.
- Marinate them. Another way to use them in meal prep is to marinate them. Cook a batch of black lentils, follow the marinade recipe here, and toss everything together while the lentils are still warm. They’ll get more flavorful the more they sit, and can be piled on toast, sprinkled on salads, tossed with brown rice, or enjoyed as-is.
- Use them in the slow cooker. Slow cookers are great for making soup, but because they simmer all day, regular lentils tend to turn to complete mush in the appliance. That won’t happen if you use black lentils. Here’s a recipe to try.
- Turn them into a striking dal. While what I love about black lentils is their al dente texture, if you keep simmering them on the stove for another 10 minutes or so past when they’re perfectly tender, they will begin to fall apart a bit. But even then, they remain more intact than other lentils, which makes for a unique dal. This recipe from Smitten Kitchen is a favorite.
There are countless ingredients clamoring for space in your kitchen. Taste Makers are the ones that actually make a dish amazing. Each month, we’re exploring one ingredient that has earned its place in our small kitchens and will make even simple food taste spectacular.
Your turn: What’s your favorite underrated ingredient in your pantry? What do you reach for when you want to elevate your cooking quickly and easily? Tell us in the comments below! We may give it the star treatment in an upcoming edition of Taste Makers.