Popular in parts of Europe and a staple throughout much of the Middle East and India, this tiny, lens-shaped pulse has long been used as a meat substitute. There are three main varieties of lentils. The French or European lentil, sold with the seed coat on, has a grayish-brown exterior and a creamy yellow interior. The reddish orange Egyptian or red lentil is smaller, rounder and sans seed coat. There's also a yellow lentil. None of these varieties are used fresh but are dried as soon as they're ripe. The regular brown lentils are commonly found in supermarkets whereas the red and yellow lentils, though available in some supermarkets, must usually be purchased in Middle Eastern or East Indian markets. Lentils should be stored airtight at room temperature and will keep up to a year. They can be used as a side dish (puréed, whole and combined with vegetables), in salads, soups and stews. One of the most notable showcases for the lentil is the spicy East Indian . Lentils have a fair amount of calcium and vitamins A and B, and are a good source of iron and phosphorus.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.