This tiny, lens-shaped pulse (seed of a bean plant) is often used as a meat substitute throughout North Africa, Middle and Far East. There are 3 main varieties:
1. the French or European lentil has the grey-brown exterior seed coat on and creamy yellow center. These choice lentils were originally grown in the volcanic soils of Puy in France, but now they're also grown in North America and Italy.
2. Egyptian or red lentils have no seed coat and are smaller and red.
3. Yellow lentils (also small, without the seed coat and yellow).
The same lentil seed (or dal as called in India) can be used three ways - whole, split with the outer layer, split without the outer layer. If you soak the split seed with outer layer, the outer peel comes off easily. For example, Mung is green seed as whole, split you see the green with yellow inside, without outer layer it is yellow. Same with Urad, whole seed is black, split is whitish inside, without outer layer just whitish.
Season: available year-round
How to select: Lentils are always dried immediately when ripe, and sold dried.
How to store: in an airtight container for up to one year.
How to prepare: Commonly pureed and simmered. Use in side dishes, main courses soups or salads. "Dal" is the Hindi word for any of 60 different dried pulses, including lentils, and "Dal" often refers to dishes made with lentils cooked with spices, tomatoes and onions.
Matches well with: bacon, bay leaves, Feta cheese, garlic, goat cheese, ham, lemon, mint, olive oil, onions, parsley, peppers, pork, radishes, sausages, scallions, spinach, thyme, tomatoes, vinegar
Substitutions: lentils = yellow split peas