Lentils: Your first step in cutting down on meat
Getting pulses in your diet with the easiest simplest recipe for easy simple lentil soup:
This is another “news you can use” post. You can help save the world one bowl of soup at a time.
We have a small kitchen where I work, a place where employees and volunteers can prep and clean up from their lunches. Next to one of the microwave ovens is a “free” area, where folks leave food for the next person to grab. Anytime there is a luncheon with leftover pizza or sandwiches, that’s where they land. Other offerings include cookies, doughnuts, and candy.
Several weeks ago, while I passed through the kitchen, there were four bags of lentils laying in the free section of the kitchen counter. Four one-pound bags, enough to feed my wife and me for months. I grabbed one and set it aside to take home after work.
Later that day, when I stopped to warm my lunch in a microwave, the rest of the lentils were gone, and in walked Nancy, who works in admin. “Were you able to grab any lentils, Nancy?” I asked.
“I was the one to bring them in!” she said. Nancy went on to tell me that she and her husband had stocked up on just about everything at the start of the pandemic, and she knew that the lentils would keep for a long time. But as time passed, the lentils just sat there; so she brought them in to put on the free counter.
I thanked her for the bag that I grabbed, but that got me thinking. Nancy hadn’t cooked any of the lentils because she probably had never cooked them before. She, as is the case with a lot of folks, just doesn’t know how to get away from cooking and eating pork chops, steaks, and fried chicken.
For more than 20 years, agriculture has been recognized as a major source of greenhouse gases, with the production of meat, especially beef, having an outsized portion of this carbon footprint.More recent research establishes that, globally, meat production is the source of twice as much greenhouse gas as that for the production of grains and produce.
So getting away from eating meat, especially beef, is one way for you to save the planet. And one of the best ways to get away from eating any kind of meat is to switch at least part of your diet to one based on pulses.
A pulse is the edible seed of a member of the pea family. Lentils are pulses, along with beans and chickpeas. There are a variety of lentils. Among my favorites are the dark black French lentils that aren’t much bigger than poppy seeds. I love their rich, full flavor and dark, inviting color. Today we’re just concentrating on the green lentils, the ones most commonly found on grocery shelves.
Lentils and other pulses can substitute for meat in your diet, because they contain protein. Most proteins from plants are incomplete, lacking at least one essential amino acid. The amino acids that pulses lack, however, can be found in other plant-based foods. For folks who eschew meat and dairy a diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains eaten with pulses should provide all the amino acids needed to make all the proteins a human needs. In her groundbreaking book, Diet For a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé maintained that grains needed to be eaten simultaneously with pulses to ensure that the body could make protein, but that’s not necessary.
Even if you’re like Nancy and have never ever cooked lentils, here is the simplest, easiest way to make a vegetarian main dish that is simple and easy: The extra easy lentil soup recipe. I came up with it myself.
Making the lentil soup
First, you have to go buy the lentils. For most folks this will be their first time buying them. So put them on your grocery list. You can use the illustration below as a guide. Just write down lentils along with all the kohlrabi, kale, and other stuff you plan on buying at the store.
When you get to the store you will usually find the lentils in the dried bean section. Don’t know where it is? Just ask. even smaller markets have a dried bean section. It’s usually next to where they keep baking stuff like flour and yeast. Lentils are often sold in one-pound bags, as you can see below. The bags sell for about $1.50. Like other pulses, lentils offer a great value. Several meals can be made from a one-pound bag.
For the soup you’ll also need bouillon. Finding it shouldn’t be much harder. Bouillon is usually in the baking section, too. but if you have a hard time finding it, just ask. Most of the time I buy boullion in cubes.
So now that you’ve bought everything you need, here’s the easiest simplest recipe for easy simple lentil soup:
1 cup lentils, rinsed
4 cups water
1 bouillon cube
Put the lentils, water, and bullion cube in a pot. On a stove, heat the pot till boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for one half hour or until lentils are tender. Add more water for a thinner soup.
Serve with bread or crackers.
If you can’t cook something that simple, well, I don’t want to see your Doordash bill.
If you’re serious about dropping some meat from your diet, a good resource is the Meatless Monday initiative. Their website gives great recipes, reduced meat strategies, and inspiration. Paul McCartney is a big supporter, and he’s one of the coolest persons on the planet.
One of the complaints I’ve heard about lentils is that they are only good for making soups. But at our home we fashion them into burgers and meatless meatloaf. Believe it or not, you can even make lentil tacos.
Of course, lentils are only one pulse. There are lots of beans to use in your diet. I’ll be posting about cooking and eating other pulses soon. If you have any lentil recipes that you’d like to share, just put them in the comments section.
For more environmental news and recipes follow me on Twitter @EcoScripsit.
Hendrickson, J. Energy use in the U.S. food system: a summary of existing research and analysis. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, 1996