I'd like to stir the pot a little and get some feed back from readers about a hot topic: soaking vs not soaking lentils.
The cooking community seems to disagree over the issue of whether to soak lentils. Many feel it is unnecessary to soak lentils beforehand due to several varieties swift cooking times. I, however, think soaking is a necessary step for grains, beans, and legumes - henceforth written as seeds - for multiple reasons. While this is not an exhaustive list of reasons for sprouting seeds, those listed below are some of the more important.
~ The main reason sprouting seeds is necessary is for the digestion of nutrients. It seems pointless to consume seeds if your body is unable to absorb anything nutritious. Seeds can be difficult to digest due to the presence of anti-nutrients, like phytic acid, in the hull; they prevent the absorption of minerals in our digestive systems, resulting in deficiencies for those who rely on alternative protein sources. This can contribute to health problems such as anemia and osteoporosis. Sprouting greatly reduces the presence of anti-nutrients, making digestion of seeds much easier, and increasing the amount of vitamins and minerals absorbed. In fact, non-soaked lentils are deficient in methionine and cystine, but once sprouted they contain sufficient levels of all necessary amino acids.
~ Slowly bringing the seeds back from a dormant state helps retain a large portion of the vitamins and minerals. Sprouting not only produces necessary nutrients, it maintains needed levels that are otherwise lost through rapid and/or high heat cooking methods.
~ The germination process of soaking seeds promotes the release of enzymes. This breaks down complex sugars, which greatly reduces any unpleasant side effects of digestion. Even if you are not as intrigued by the nutrient absorption process as I am, surely less gas would be appealing to anyone.
~ Lastly, purchasing dried seeds is more economical, and allows you to have greater control over the needed firmness of the seed in the cooking process.
Quick soaking methods are accessible, however, I do not use these practices. The rapid boiling simply cuts down on cooking time instead of encouraging sprouting and retaining necessary nutrients. I would encourage you to take the time in planning a meal with seeds to allow for the long soak method.
I also want to stress the need for organic seeds. Too often, companies will bleach the seeds during processing (not including the probable toxic environment they were grown in) which will prohibit or cancel out the nutrients within. Organic dried seeds are not grossly expensive, so it is worth finding available varieties to use.
Lentils are a great food staple as they have limitless possibilities. I already hold food and cooking in high regard, so it should come as no surprise I am fascinated with the process of sprouting seeds, which is another reason I love using them. The ability to take what appears to be lifeless and watch it spring forth and come alive is magical. All it takes is time and water. It's amazing.
If you look closely at the photo above, you can see the lentils have very small white shoots that appeared during their soak in water. This is important to ensure the sprouting process was successful. You don't have to stop the sprouting process so early either. The water can be changed every 12 hours until the sprouts have reached the desired length for any dish they'll be used in, or even eaten raw.
In preparing the soup, allowing the lentils to soak longer will do no harm, and will in fact permit the seeds more time for sprout growth. Lentils do not have a strong flavor naturally, just a mellow earthy taste, so the addition of spices is key. Leeks collect sand as they grow, so be sure to cut off the dark green leaves and the bulb, then slice lengthwise in half and soak in cool water. Afterward, give the pieces a good rinse before chopping up for the soup. It is important to add the salt at the end of the cooking process as to not toughen the lentils. Vegetable broth can also be used instead of water to provide richer flavor. The soup should cook for a total of 30-40 min, so adjust the cooking time if all ingredients are prepped beforehand.
Simple Lentil Soup
28 oz fire roasted diced tomatoes
3 1/2 cups brown lentils
4 cups water + 1 cup water
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp olive oil
3 large stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 leeks, roughly chopped
1 portobello mushroom cap, roughly chopped
3 cups fresh spinach, thoroughly washed and rinsed
1/4 cup 2% milk
1 tsp salt
Prep: Pour the dried lentils onto a smooth surface and remove any stones and wrinkled/broken lentils. To soak, use a large glass bowl which will allow for the expansion of the lentils.
24 hours before cooking the soup, soak the lentils in cool water, covering the lentils with at least 2 inches of water. After 12 hours, drain the water and replace with warm water.
Just before cooking, drain and rinse the lentils.
Cook: In a large pot, pour in the tomatoes and bring to a low boil on medium heat, then stir in the lentils. Add 4 cups of water, garlic, and all spices (except salt) stirring well and continue to cook at a low boil. In a small pan, add the olive oil and sauté the celery until soft and translucent, then add to the soup. Next add the leeks and portobello mushroom cap, allowing the soup to cook for 10 min. Then add 1 cup water and the spinach leaves, stirring slowly until the leaves have wilted. Finally add the salt and milk, mixing everything together, and remove from heat.
~Yields approximately 6 servings.
~Original recipe by Brie.
Feel free to add your opinions, tips, or leave any questions in the comments.