The Caviar of Lentils
Lentils seem to have a reputation as poor man’s food; a high-protein staple that fills you up on the cheap. But no one would dare to characterize Beluga lentils in this way. Even when cooked, they stay firm and maintain their regal, caviar-like appearance (hence the name), which makes them perfect for salads, appetizers and standalone dishes.
My husband is off tonight taking a Szechuan Chinese cooking class (!), which means one thing: Salmon for dinner. You see, despite his many virtues, Alex is not a huge fan of fish, which means I have to sneak off and get my fish on anytime he’s out of town or is otherwise engaged during the dinner hour. And when considering what to pair with Salmon, beluga lentils were the first thing that popped into my head. Salmon and lentils are a classic French bistro combo, and I’ve had a bag of belugas in the pantry and a single 4 oz fillet of quick-frozen wild salmon waiting patiently in the freezer for exactly this occasion. Oh, when the cat is away, how the mice come out and play…
They may look like caviar, but they’re as easy as pie…
Lentils are a perpetual favorite, since they can cook up from dry in about 30 minutes. The ratio of beluga lentil:water is 1:4, so 4 cups water to 1 cup of lentils would serve 4 people. If you want them al-dente and firm to toss into a salad, cook them for 12-15 minutes. If you want them a little softer to serve as a side dish, cook for 20-30 minutes. As with all dry beans, save the salting until the end of the cooking process, or else you’ll slow it down.
Since I was just cooking for myself, I decided there was no need to make a big huge production. To make beluga lentils for one, I just diced up a quarter of an onion and minced a garlic clove and sauteed them for about 3 minutes in 1 tsp olive oil in my little saucepan. Then, I added 1/4 cup of dried beluga lentils (rinsed), a bay leaf and 1 cup of water. I brought them to a simmer, covered and cooked for 20 minutes. Then I added salt/pepper to taste and simmered for another 5 minutes until the lentils were tender to my liking. I removed the bay leaf, and voila! You can multiply this recipe by as many times as you need to to serve more than just yourself.
I also decided to steam a side dish of spinach right in that same lentil saucepan so as to avoid dirtying up another pot. (The problem with cooking for one is that you can’t pawn off the dirty dishes on someone else. Best to be economical, then.)
Salmon and Beluga Lentils: A luxurious pairing. Nutritionally speaking.
Belugas are royalty in the lentil kingdom for their nutritional value, as well. They are even higher in protein than many other lentil varieties (which are hardly anything to sneeze at themselves): 13g per 1/4 cup dry, versus 8g for the same size serving of standard green lentils.
Also, 1 cup of cooked Belugas (1/4 cup dry) contains a whopping 9g of fiber. That’s ~35% of the recommended intake for women and ~25% of the recommended intake for men. That same serving size contains 13g of protein and 20% of the daily value for iron–whose relatively poor bioavailability will be greatly enhanced by our genius pairing with the fish. All for a modest 170 calories. The high fiber content is what makes beans in general– and belugas in particular–a very smart carbohydrate choice for people with diabetes, and a very smart overall choice for people with high cholesterol, heart disease or anyone looking to feel fuller on fewer calories.
Belugas and salmon, served atop a bed of spinach, may possibly be the most satisfying and nutritious combinations you can eat for under 500 calories. Assuming you eat your belugas as I did–accompanied by a 4oz fillet of salmon pan seared in 2 tsp of olive oil and 2 cups of spinach, steamed–this modest little meal contains about 450 calories, 36g (!) of protein, 40g carbohydrate (of which 11g is fiber–mostly the cholesterol-lowering kind), a full day’s worth of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, a full day’s worth of Vitamin A, and about 30% of the daily value for iron. As I mentioned earlier, the presence of the fish will help you absorb the relatively large amount of iron in the lentils and the spinach, which would normally not be very bioavailable. This is *a lot* of food and *a lot* of nutrition for not a lot of calories. It is beyond me why any body builder would waste their time with protein shakes or muscle bars when they could eat something this nutrient-dense and delicious to the same effect. And if you’re on a cholesterol-lowering diet, then this is a filling, satisfying meal that was practically made for you.
Oh, and did I mention that the entire meal took me 30 minutes, start to finish? Now *that’s* a luxury!