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Lentil peas are a type of small legume similar to other types of beans and peas. They come in a variety of colors, with brown and green being the most plentiful, although red and yellow varieties frequently are used in Indian cooking. In stores, lentil peas can be sold dry or precooked and canned. Although the flavor varies depending on the variety and color, lentils generally have an earthy flavor with some nuttiness. As a food, lentil peas are a staple in Indian cuisine and are used in many dishes around the world, the most simple of which is a lentil stew that includes basic vegetables and sometimes bacon or a ham hock for flavor.
Even though lentil peas are in the same family as beans, they do not take as long to cook from their dried form. When added to a pot of water, lentils take only from 30 to 60 minutes to cook. They are fairly small, however, so it can be easy to overcook lentils, in which case they quickly break down into a mush. Lentils should be washed or soaked before cooking, because they can have a strong earthy flavor and produce dark, almost black, foam when cooked unwashed.
In Indian cuisine, lentil peas are used in many dishes, sometimes in very small amounts to provide some texture or to absorb excess liquid. The taste of the lentils can be made nuttier by frying them in some oil until they just start to brown before adding water. Other regions, such as Africa and the Middle East also use lentil peas in their traditional cuisine, partly because the plant grows well in a variety of climates.
One of the simplest lentil pea dishes is lentil soup. This involves frying onions, carrots and celery in a pot with a bay leaf and then adding the lentils. Water is placed in the pot to cover the lentil peas, sometimes with a smoked ham hock or cooked bacon for flavor. The entire soup is then cooked until the lentils are soft and the liquid has reduced to the desired amount.
Nutritionally, lentil peas have one of the highest amounts of protein available in a non-meat food. They also contain high amounts of iron, folate, vitamin B1 and manganese. The legumes also are a good source of dietary fiber. Lentils also have a very low glycemic index — essentially zero — meaning they are digested slowly and will not cause blood sugar to spike when eaten.