Some people needlessly worry about getting enough iron on a vegetarian diet. Just as with the other myths about vegetarian diets, such as the not getting enough protein or calcium myths, you can be assured there’s nothing to worry about on all counts. Medical studies show that iron deficiency anemia is no more common among vegetarians and vegans than among the general population.
One source of confusion stems from the two kinds of dietary iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Meat contains both heme and non-heme iron whereas plant foods contain only non-heme.
It was once thought that heme iron was better for us in some way and that non-heme iron was hard to absorb. We now know better. It turns out that non-heme iron is well absorbed because many other substances in food, such as vitamin C, citric acid and malic acid, widely available in both fruits and vegetables, greatly increase its absorption. Even spices such as garlic can greatly increase the absorbability of non-heme iron, especially from grains. Read more
Of all the legumes to choose from, lentils are some of the most nutritious, and easiest to cook. They don’t need to be pre-soaked, and cook in 20-30 minutes, making them suitable for weeknight dinners. Varieties include common brown lentils, also known as green lentils; French green lentils, also called lentilles de Puy; beluga lentils which are small and black; and red lentils, which cook quickly, becoming soft and golden. Green and beluga lentils are suited for soups or salads; red lentils are best in soups and stews, but can also be used to make delicious patties.
Dal is the Indian name for peas, beans and lentils that have been split and sometimes skinned;they’re sold in Indian markets. Varieties include chana dal (from a relative of the chickpea), masoor dal (from pink lentils), moong dal (from mung beans), toor dal (from yellow lentils), and urid dal (from black lentils, although the dal is white because the lentils have been skinned). Dal is usually served as a curry or a flavorful soup.
So when you’re looking to add variety to your diet, whether eating at home or at a restaurant, give one of the many types of lentil dishes a try. Here are some delicious recipes to try.
Here is a simple lentil soup. It uses warm spices, such as cinnamon, to add depth of flavor. (Serves 8)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup onions, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2 large bay leaves
1½ cups brown lentils
8 cups water
1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the oil in a medium stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and sauté until they are translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the cumin, cinnamon, ginger and bay leaves and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the lentils and water, bring to a boil, and cook until the lentils are soft, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro and serve.
Lentil Salad à l’Ancienne
A wonderful salad when the weather is cool. The small green French lentils called Le Puy are especially good for salads because they are tender yet firm when cooked.
1¼ cups French green lentils
1 small onion, halved
1 small carrot, halved
2 medium shallots, 1 peeled and left whole, the other diced fine
2 cloves garlic, peeled
8 tablespoons olive oil
3½ ounces veggie Canadian bacon, cut into ¼-inch dice
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons finely chopped
½ cup small croutons (see Chef ‘s Tip)
Place the lentils in a medium saucepan, cover them with cold water and bring them to a boil. Skim any scum off the surface and add the onion, carrot, whole shallot, and garlic. Reduce the heat and simmer until almost tender, about 25 minutes. Add salt to taste and cook 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
While the lentils are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and add the veggie bacon. Once the veggie bacon is crisp, remove it from the pan. Return the pan to the heat and add 3 tablespoons of the red wine vinegar, stirring to scrape up any bits of veggie bacon stuck in the pan; remove from the heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining 6 tablespoons olive oil and 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar with the Dijon mustard, and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, to make a vinaigrette. Drain the lentils, and remove and discard the vegetables. While the lentils are still warm, season them with the vinaigrette and the reserved vinegar-oil mixture from the sauté pan. Add the veggie bacon pieces and the diced shallot to the lentils and stir well.
Taste for seasoning. The salad should be slightly spicy. Add more black pepper and Dijon mustard to taste. Spoon into a serving bowl or onto individual plates. Top with the parsley and croutons and serve.
It’s easy to make your own tiny croutons to garnish this salad. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut 2 slices of firm-textured bread into 1/8-inch cubes and toss them with a little olive oil and black pepper. Spread them out on a baking sheet and bake them in a 350°F oven until they are crisp and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Try to find kabocha, buttercup, or one of the other sweet winter squashes for this stew. Serve this thick stew over couscous or basmati rice. Add some steamed broccoli or kale for a delicious, satisfying meal.
1 cup dry red lentils (masoor dal) or yellow split peas
4 cups water, divided
1 onion, chopped
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups peeled and chopped winter squash (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
Place lentils and 2 cups water in a pot and bring to a simmer. Cover loosely and cook until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes.
In a separate pot, braise the onion in ½ cup water until soft and translucent, then add mustard seeds, turmeric, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, remaining 1½ cups water, and diced squash. Cover and cook over medium heat until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 15 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, cooked lentils, and salt to taste.