5 healthy lentil recipes

Indian Brahmins have been vegetarians for centuries. Empowered with a knowledge of food chemistry and culinary skills that have been passed on from generation to generation, Indian vegetarians use dairy products and legumes, especially lentils, as good sources of proteins. No vegetarian meal is complete without homemade yoghurt and a lentil soup “dhal”. In South Indian Brahmin homes, breakfast, lunch and dinner menus always include one or more lentil dishes.

Plants of the family Leguminosae, including peas, beans and lentils, are rich in protein. Lentils, which also go by the name pulses or grams, come in different sizes, shapes and colours. They are the little seeds contained within a pod, the legume. The widely used lentils in dhal are toor (English pigeon pea, botanical name Cajanus indicus), channa (English Bengal gram, botanical name Cicer arietinum, popular names chickpea, garbanzo), urud (English black gram, botanical name Vigna mungo) and mung (English green gram, botanical name Vigna radiate).

Recipes may include lentils as whole seeds, broken halves, with or without an outer skin or as a flour. People of North Indian origin use red lentil (masoor dhal or Lens esculenta) more often than do people of South Indian origin. In many Catholic countries, lentils have long been used as a staple food during Lent. Currently, the leading commercial producers of lentils include India, Kenya, Turkey, Canada, China and Syria.

More than any other dried or fresh legume, lentils have driven the most popular legume cuisines around the world. Lentils are available all the year. One can easily cook lentils without soaking them for hours. They readily absorb flavours from other ingredients, including spices. No elaborate preparation is necessary to enjoy their taste or to benefit from their nutritive values. When limited by time or energy, simply cook them in water and season with salt and pepper — and they’re ready to satisfy your gastronomic pleasures.

Fresh lentils are hard to find unless you live close to an area where lentils are grown. Dried lentils either in bulk or in small quantities are available in almost all Grocery stores. Holes and powderiness indicate insect attack. Store them in air-tight containers. Canned lentils are often laced with additives, so check the labels before buying. Lentils are also available as flours in Indian grocery and healthfood stores, which are used in Indian cuisine for making breakfast, snack and dessert specialties.

Lentil nutrition

Nutrients such as protein, amino acids, minerals, vitamins and fibre contained within one cup of lentils have health benefits that not many food ingredients can give you. One cup of lentils is an excellent source (more than 75 per cent of daily requirement) of molybdenum and folate, a very good source (more than 50 per cent of daily requirement) of dietary fibre, tryptophan and manganese, a good source (more than 25 per cent of daily requirement) of iron, protein, phosphorus, copper, vitamin B1 (thiamine) and potassium. Loaded with nutrients, one cup of lentils has just 966 kilojoules.


Lentils are excellent colon cleansers. You need to have at least 35 grams of absorbable fibre daily to keep your colon healthy. Soluble fibre in lentils gets cholesterol out of bile and insoluble fibre prevents digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation and diverticulosis. Fibre is also good for a healthy heart. Soluble fibre stabilises blood sugar levels. In addition, lentils have healthy complex carbohydrates.

Blood sugar

Lentils help to balance blood sugar levels while providing steady, slow-burning energy for people with insulin resistance, hypoglycaemia or diabetes.


Homocysteine is an amoni acid that can damage blood vessels and contribute to heart disease. Folate, in combination with vitamin B6, converts homocysteine immediately into cysteine or methionine, lowering the levels of homocysteine. Lentils have all essential amino acids except methionine, but by converting the harmful homocysteine into methionine, lentils satisfy dietary needs for methionine.

Magnesium from lentils acts as a natural calcium channel blocker, thereby improving the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients in arteries throughout the body. A lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart. Lentils keep the cardiovascular system healthy.


Iron in lentils is an energy booster. As an integral component of haemoglobin, iron transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells. Iron is also a part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. Pregnant, lactating and menstruating women need more iron. Lentils can help them meet the body’s need for increased iron supply. It’s also true for growing children and adolescents.

In a nutshell, everyone needs the healthy nutrients in lentils.

Lentil recipes

Lentil Pancakes

  • 3 cups rice
  • ½ cup channa dhal
  • ½ cup urud dhal (without the skin)
  • 4 dried red chillies (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ cup ginger, peeled & thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp yeast
  • 1 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup spinach, finely chopped
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (fresh is preferable)
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • Soak rice and dhals in 8 cups of hot water for 3–4hrs or overnight at room temperature. Transfer soaked ingredients to a grinder or food processor along with ginger, garlic and red chillies. Grind to make a smooth batter with a consistency similar to that of any other pancake. Stir in the yeast. Let it ferment for 4 hours at room temperature. At this point, you may transfer it to a refrigerator and use the next day if you want to.

    Add onion, spinach and coconut to the batter. Season to taste. Mix thoroughly.

    Cook pancakes in a greased skillet over medium–high heat. Spread a cup of batter on the skillet, make a circle using the back side of a ladle. When the lower side is cooked (about 2 minutes), apply a teaspoon of oil over the upper surface, turn to cook, about a minute or two. Makes about 16–20 pancakes.

    While the pancakes are hot, brush them with butter. Serve hot with a hot sauce, ketchup or coconut chutney (recipe follows).

    Serves 8–10

    Idli (Steamed Rice Cakes)

    This is a breakfast item in most South Indian homes and even in hospitals. Idli are easy to make and digest, yet are still highly nutritious. You can buy the idli batter from Indian grocery stores.

  • 4 cups rice or idli rice (available in Indian grocery stores)
  • 1 cup yrud dhal (whole or split, skin removed, sold in Indian grocery stores)
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek
  • salt to taste
  • 1 package yeast
  • Soak rice, urud and fenugreek in 10 cups of hot water overnight. Grind in food processor to make a smooth paste — the consistency should be thicker than that of pancake batter. Salt to taste. Add yeast, mix thoroughly and ferment it at room temperature for 4–6 hours. At this point, you may transfer it to the refrigerator for later or go ahead and make the idli. Ready-to-use batter is available in Indian grocery stores if you prefer. Alternatively, instead of using the grain, you can use rice flour and urud flour in the same proportions. Grind the fenugreek in a coffee grinder and add to the flour mix. Add water to the flour mix and whisk thoroughly to make a smooth batter. Add yeast and ferment.

    An idli maker is gadget designed for steaming the idli. You can make 16–32 idli together using plates designed for this purpose. Idli plates are stacked one above the other and steam-cooked in a pressure cooker without the weight on or in the idli maker. When I was a graduate student, I had none of these with me. I used an egg poacher for steam cooking. However, the idli plates are inexpensive and save time and energy.

    Depending on the gadget you use, take enough water to generate steam in the container. I use a pressure cooker in which I can make 16 idli at a time. The bottom portion of the idli stand should be above the water level. You can make four idli to a plate. Fill each well with a tablespoon of batter. After stacking the plates, hold the central stem and place it inside the container. Cover with the lid. If you use the pressure cooker, don’t use the weight. Steam cook over a high heat. When the idli are ready, about 4 minutes (you can tell by the aroma), turn off the heat and let the pressure go down.

    Serve hot or at room temperature. Idli will keep well for a few days in a refrigerator. You can even freeze them. You may steam the cold or frozen idli. Serve them with idli powder, sambar (lentil vegetable stew) or coconut chutney.

    Makes 32–40 idli.

    Idli Powder

  • 4 cups channa dhal
  • ½ cup urud dhal
  • ½ cup peppercorns
  • 1 cup walnuts or almonds
  • 2 cups sesame seeds
  • 1 cup flax seeds
  • 1–2 cups red chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp salt or to taste
  • Dry roast the dhals, peppercorns and nuts in a heavy skillet over medium–high heat, tossing, for 4–5 minutes. The dhals should be slightly golden in colour. Transfer to a bowl and add salt.

    Dry roast the sesame and flax seeds in a heavy skillet over medium–high heat, tossing. When the seeds pop (burst), about 4–5 minutes, turn off the heat and add the chilli powder and mix well.

    Grind the roasted dhals, peppercorns and almonds in a blender or a food processor to a coarse powder. Transfer them to a bowl. Grind the roasted seeds and chilli powder to a fine powder. Mix the two powders together.

    Store the idli powder in an airtight container. Use it when you make pancakes or idli. When serving with pancakes or idli, add 12 tsp vegetable oil to 1 tsp idli powder. Apply it over an idli or a pancake. Eaten this way, pancakes or idli are delicious.

    Serves 8–10

    Lentil stew (Sambar)

    Spicy, aromatic, flavoursome and nutritious, sambar is the main source of protein, minerals and vegetables for a strict vegetarian.

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil, preferably canola, sesame or sunflower
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 pinch asafoetida
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 2 cups lentils
  • 1 cup tomatoes, diced
  • 250g eggplant in thin strips or 2 cups frozen pearl onions
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup cilantro, finely chopped, or curry leaves
  • Pop the mustard seeds in hot oil in a heavy skillet over medium–high heat. Sauté the onions with the asafoetida, garlic, ginger and curry powder over a medium heat until the onions brown, about 5 minutes.

    Add 6 cups water or vegetable stock and bring to the boil over a high heat, about 5 minutes. Add the lentils, tomato and eggplant or pearl onions. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until lentils soften, about 20–25 minutes. Dissolve the corn starch in a cup of water and add it to the soup, stir thoroughly and continue cooking over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat off. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste and mix thoroughly. Garnish with cilantro or curry leaves. Serve hot or at room temperature.

    Serve with pita bread, cooked rice, pancakes, idli or Indian chappatis.

    Serves 8–10


    This is a favourite snack item for a day at the beach. On hot summer evenings, you’ll find vendors selling them on South Indian beaches. The recipe includes cooked whole mung or chickpeas (garbanzo beans).

  • 4 cups whole chickpeas
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp urud
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4–8 dried red chillies
  • 1 cup onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp garlic minced
  • 1 tsp ginger, minced
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (fresh is preferable)
  • Salt to taste
  • Soak the chickpeas in hot water overnight. Drain and cook in 12 cups of water until the chickpeas are soft but not mushy, 20 minutes over medium–high heat. (I always cook chickpeas or any bean in a pressure cooker). Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over a medium heat and fry the mustard, urud, cumin and chillies, about 2–3 minutes. Sauté the onions in the mixture and sauté a further 3–4 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger and turmeric and cook 1 minute. Add the coconut and cooked chickpeas, mix and continue cooking over a medium–high heat for 3–4 minutes. Salt to taste.

    Serve at room temperature. Enjoy sundal by itself or have with flat bread.

    Serves 8-10

    5 healthy lentil recipes

    By: The WellBeing Team

    Lentils are a healthy, low-calorie food that’s inexpensive and can be the basis for delicious dining.


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    The WellBeing Team

    The WellBeing Team

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