Lentils come from the lentil plant. The lentil plant produces pods, which contain lens-shaped seeds, which are what we call lentils. This makes them part of the legume family, the same family as peas and beans. They are an ancient plant, and have long been cultivated in Southern Europe and the Middle East.
Lentils are a good source of vegetable protein, high in fibre, and low in fat. They are also good sources of folic acid, iron and magnesium. They are normally used in soups, casseroles, and curries such as dahl.
There are many different varieties and colours of lentils. The main types you may come across are:
These are good in soups. The go mushy if cooked for too long but otherwise retain their shape.
These are good for making dahl and thick soup, and they go mushy quite quickly. They turn yellow when cooked and make a good paste or thickener.
Green lentils/Puy lentils
These stay firmer when cooked. They are good to use in casseroles and stews where you want the lentils to remain whole.
Lentils come dried in packets, or in tins. I find the tinned ones easier to use myself as they do not take as long to cook. However both kinds will keep for a long time in your store cupboard.