Sometimes called beluga caviar because of their resemblance to caviar, black lentils join black rice, black garlic and black quinoa as one of the must-have ingredients of the moment.
But it’s not just their dark colouring that makes black lentils stand out from the crowd - they’re full of rich, earthy flavours and healthy nutrients, a great way to include protein in vegan and vegetarian diets, and super quick and easy to prepare. Try this black and red lentil curry with paneer and you’ll see what we mean.
Facts about lentils
Lentils are small, lens-shaped legumes with a savoury, earthy flavour. They are a staple food in Asian and North African cuisines, but are also enjoyed in many other countries around the world. Rich in plant proteins, they provide a good source of healthy energy, making them a popular choice for vegans and vegetarians, as well as anyone trying to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
They are available in a range of different colours and sizes, and can usually be found in canned or dried form at Asian markets or health food stores. Dried lentils are less starchy than dried beans, so they don’t need soaking, and they take just 15 to 30 minutes to cook, depending on the variety. They are also great at soaking up other flavours, and can be cooked in stock, with herbs, spices or aromatic vegetables for a richly layered and flavourful dish.
Lentils are also highly nutritious, providing a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, phosphorus and manganese. They are particularly high in energy-providing protein, which makes them an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans, and they are also high in fibre, which encourages regular bowel movements and the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
The only downside to lentils is that they can sometimes lose their shape and turn mushy when cooked. But there is one variety of lentil that holds together better than the rest. Black lentils have a slightly thicker skin than other varieties which stops them from disintegrating during cooking, so they can add texture as well as flavour to your favourite lentil dishes.
Black lentils have a richer, more intensely earthy flavour than other varieties of lentil, and they taste great served with other proteins and meaty vegetables. Their glossy black colour is caused by a plant compound called anthocyanin, a potent antioxidant found in other blue or black fruit and vegetables like blueberries, plums, and cherries.
Because black lentils hold together so well, they’re perfect for meal prep recipes. They’ll stay together in a slow cooker, so you can drop them in and let them cook while you do other things, and they keep in the fridge for several days, so you can cook a big batch at the beginning of the week and add them to different dishes each day. Try adding them to salads, soups, curries, Buddha bowls or burritos - there are plenty of dishes that taste great with lentils, so you can plan a varied menu. You can even make a marinade for them, so they’re taking on extra flavours until you need them.
Black lentils recipes
If you’d like to taste black lentils for yourself, try adding some to one of these easy lentil recipes, or take a look at some of our favourite black lentil recipes from around the internet.
Braised black lentils: this simple dish from All Recipes works well as a flavourful side dish or a light lunch. Earthy black lentils are flavoured with aromatic vegetables, herbs and stock and cooked until they soak up all the flavours and become deliciously tender. If you want to make this dish vegan-friendly, you can switch the chicken stock for vegetable stock.
Seasoned black lentils: another simple dish, this time from A Couple Cooks, this recipe shows you how to bring out the aromatic, earthy flavours of the lentils with seasoning. The lentils are simmered in a vegetable broth with salt, thyme, tarragon and garlic for a flavourful vegan meal that’s ready in 20 minutes. The lentils can be enjoyed by themselves, or used as a base for salads, tacos, burrito bowls and more.
Spiced black lentils with yoghurt and mint: this flavourful dish from Bon Appetit uses earthy aromatic spices like coriander, cumin and mustard to highlight the flavour of the lentils, with creamy Greek yoghurt and cool mint providing the perfect contrast. It takes just 10 minutes prep time, then you can leave it to cook, making it a great choice for busy weeknights. It will also keep in the fridge for two days, so you can make a bigger batch and save some for later.
Vegan black lentil curry: this deliciously creamy vegan curry from Bianca Zapatka is made from lentils spiced with ginger, garlic and curry powder, with a rich tomato and coconut milk sauce, diced sweet potato and baby spinach. This dish is low-calorie and packed with vegetables and planted-based proteins. Being healthy never tasted so good.
Black lentils with spinach labneh: another delicious and healthy weeknight meal, this recipe from Alexandra Cooks combines black lentils with sweet balsamic caramelised onions, fresh green baby spinach and creamy labneh or burrata. It takes just 35 minutes from start to finish, and the recipe is full of helpful meal prep tips to make life as simple as possible.
Punjabi-style black lentil dal: this gorgeously buttery dal dish from Smitten Kitchen is an interpretation of a traditional Punjabi makhani dal. The lentils are simmered in a tomato sauce flavoured with onion, garlic and spices and topped with melted butter and a swirl of cream for a decadent finish.
Black, brown, red, yellow or green, there are many different types of lentils to try, and they’re all delicious. Yellow, or chana lentils are the star ingredient in aromatic curry house favourite, tadka dal, and you can make your own version at home in minutes, with the ultimate tadka dal recipe from founder of The Spice Club, Monica Haldar.
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