Around the world, rice and legumes are central components of many diets. In India, a lentil dish called daal, which is richly flavored with spices including ginger, turmeric, cayenne and cumin, is served with rice at almost every meal. Daal bhat, lentils with rice, is the national dish of Nepal. Rice and lentils are inexpensive, low in fat and nutritious.
Lentil cultivation in the Middle East dates to around 9500 BC and may be one of the world’s first cultivated crops. Nowadays, Canada is the world’s leading lentil producer, growing more than a million tons in 2008. A 1-cup, 230-calorie serving of lentils provides 63 percent of the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber, 37 percent of the RDA of iron, 198 percent of the RDA of molybdenum, 89 percent of the RDA of folate and 50 percent of the RDA of manganese. A cup of lentils has 18 g of protein and only 6 calories from fat. The Harvard School of Public Health website recommends lentils as a high-protein, low-fat meat alternative.
Lentils are extremely inexpensive and easy to prepare. The cheapest way is to buy dried lentils in bulk or prepackaged. Unlike other dried beans, lentils don’t require pre-soaking. However, you do need to sort through them to remove any small stones. Then rinse them and cook them in water or broth. Most recipes recommend cooking lentils for 15 to 30 minutes. You can add spices and vegetables to vary the taste. Dried lentils can be safely stored in a cool place for up to a year.
Rice comes in many varieties, but white and brown are the most common. Brown rice is a whole grain, as it retains the high-fiber, unmilled kernel. Brown rice is higher in protein, fiber and other nutrients than white rice. In the United States, white rice is fortified with thiamine, niacin, iron, riboflavin and folic acid. Calcium and vitamin D are also commonly added. Although brown rice is the healthier option, it takes longer to cook, and many people are accustomed to the more refined taste of white rice.
While meat contains all the essential amino acids, vegans have to eat a combination of foods to get all their nutrients. Lentils and rice, when eaten together, form a complete protein. Legumes such as lentils contain the greatest amount of protein available from the vegetable kingdom. While many nonvegetarians worry that a meatless diet lacks protein, most meat eaters consume much more protein than they need.