If you grew up around the Mediterranean, like I did, you probably hated lentils as a child. I think I have figured out why. It is because of the way our moms cooked them. In Greece, lentils are traditionally boiled to death (until they become a thick mush, that is) and you can hardly tell the poor lentils apart in this dark brown, vinegar stinking plate. To be honest, vinegar does suit them really well, but when I was a kid I hated it as well, which only made the dish even more blunt. Now, to be fair with my mom, she did cook lentils the traditional way, adding garlic and onions and olive oil and all that healthy stuff. I was just not.. how should I put it?… Convinced! I was not convinced.
When I left home at the tender age of 18 to study in a city far-far away, the first year I survived with stuffed tortellini with tons of cheese on top. Plus junk food. Plus spare ribs. It does sound strange for someone who has been vegan for over a year, but blame it on my youth. Anyway, after a year I started craving strange stuff like sardines. I realized that I was essentially malnourished as I was not offering my body any of the good stuff: vitamins, nutrients, you know, these sort of things. And then I started cooking lentils. And other things as well, but this is a lentil appreciation post. I cooked them the way my mother did and I was never crazy about them, but I switched regular vinegar for balsamic and that already made a great difference. Also, I was convinced they were good for me. That is a dangerous aspect of my personality. If I am convinced that something needs to be done, I will do it no matter what. (On a side note, I am now reading 1Q84 by Murakami -spoiler alert!!!- and one of the main heroines is a serial killer but she is convinced she is doing it for good.)
OK. time to see why lentils rock so hard.
1/4 cup dried beluga lentils (about 1/2 cup cooked, or a bit more) contains:
- 25% of the daily recommended amount of iron
- 56% of the daily recommended amount of folic acid
- 11% of the daily recommended amount of magnesium
- 13% of the daily recommended amount of zinc
- 24% of the daily recommended amount of protein
- 40% of the daily recommended amount dietary fiber
And the other types of lentils have similar nutritional value. As we eat pulses a lot around here, we try and get a variety of them. Right now in our pantry there are puy (or French) lentils, green lentils and red lentils. They all have different tastes, sizes and texture, so you can eat a super nutritious food three times a week without getting bored of it.
But what is buckwheat? And why did I add it in this dish?
Buckwheat is NOT a cereal. It is a seed and despite its name, it has nothing to do with wheat. It is gluten free and safe to use for people with Celiac’s disease. It looks like this:
We discovered it this summer in Greece, when one of N.’s aunts introduced us to it, saying it contains all protein amino acids, much like quinoa. I was impressed that with all this research I haven’t heard of it. Not that I am a dietician, but I am a bit of a maniac when it comes to health foods. So why is buckwheat so special?
A 1/4 cup serving of buckwheat contains:
- 15% of the daily recommended amount of niacin (B3)
- 11% of the daily recommended amount of riboflavin (B2)
- 5% of the daily recommended amount of pantothenic acid (B5)
- 28% of the daily recommended amount of manganese
- 23% of the daily recommended amount of copper
- 15% of the daily recommended amount of phosphorus
- 7% of the daily recommended amount of zinc
- 6% of the daily recommended amount of potassium
- 5% of the daily recommended amount of selenium
- 5% of the daily recommended amount of iron
Additionally, one quarter of a cup contains 6 grams of protein. Now, if you are a vegan, you know that this means it is a great source of protein! And this is why I eat about a million 1/4 cups per day.
Yes, but does buckwheat taste like dirt, or?
Actually, buckwheat tastes great. It has an earthy taste (no, not like the hemp powder earthy taste. It has a GOOD earthy taste) and a nice texture. It doesn’t become mushy when you boil it and it tastes a bit like quinoa, but better. It is neither sweet not savory, which is why it is so versatile. Apart from mixing 1/4 cup with rice or lentils (they have the same cooking time, which is very convenient), I also make breakfast with it. I put in a rice cooker (you can do it in a regular non-stick pot) 1 part buckwheat and 2 parts water. I let it cook on low heat for 15-20′ and then I let it cool a bit. I chop up apricots and cherries and add almond milk in the buckwheat bowl. I also add a tablespoon of sesame paste (15% of your daily calcium, 17% of your daily iron), some cinnamon and maple syrup. And I absolutely recommend it! As buckwheat has a low glycemic index, it is great if you are trying to avoid or regulate your diabetes.
Plain and simple.
Ingredients for 2 fillings
- 1/2 cup beluga lentils
- 1/2 cup buckwheat
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 cup chopped up parsley and dill
- balsamic vinegar to taste
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- grape molasses (petimezi) to taste
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 laurel leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
If you are using a rice cooker (do buy a rice cooker! It will save your life. My Korean ex-housemate gave us one as a wedding present and she will have my eternal gratitude):
Put in the rice cooker the lentils, buckwheat, water, garlic and laurel leaves. After about 20 minutes it will be ready. Take the rice cooker bin out and add in the tomatoes (chopped), herbs, balsamic vinegar, molasses, olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix! In the photos I added them on top just because it looks cooler. Don’t mind that.
If you are using a regular non-stick pot, the procedure is the same. You just need to leave the pot alone for 15 minutes. If you start opening it and mixing things, the lentils will turn into that mush that I hate so much. It’s all about texture and taste people!
Do not add salt while the lentils are cooking because -like all legumes- they will stay hard for ever.