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Lentil lamentations

The fickle legume first broke my heart many years ago, after I wandered into an Indian market because a friend had moved from NH to Alaska and I wanted to send her some of the yellow dalthat she missed. At that time I'd never had Indian food. The red lentils called out to me - I was enraptured by their beauty....you know the rest: into the pot for what I thought would be gorgeous soup, and they turned into a pumpkin - well, no, but that would have been better than their mutation into body-doubles for the plebeian yellow split pea.

So I was wary of the allure of the colorful mixed lentils on a website which sold dried legumes. The description notes that the color fades with prolonged cooking. But I thought, if I simmer tham gently until they are just tender.... Their arrival today was perfectly timed, since I wanted to make soup and had a container of beef stock near its use-by date. I seared some diced (raw) London broil, adding onions, garlic, bay leaf, celery, and the broth. After it simmered for 90 minutes, I added carrot and the mix of lentils. Alas, the orange ones (supposedly Petite Crimson but possibly Red Chief) turned beige within 2 minutes. The soup tastes good, but the visual appeal it limited to the various sizes of the lentils; the colors are 3 shades of brown and the little black beluga variety.

Are there any colorful varieties of lentil or bean that keep their color/pattern when cooked, or any way to cook them so as to preserve their appearance? I got 3# of the mixed lentils so I can experiment a little. I also bought the absolutely breathtaking Christmas Lima Bean, creamy with maroon marbling. My crest will fall to the ground if these beauties turn a sullen, solid color when cooked!

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  1. I know!! and while I don't mind, just try feeding a 7 year old baby-poop colored soup.

    The black belugas stay dark and pretty.

    I learned from Cook's Illustrated that sweating lentils with acid helps retain their shape, so maybe experiment with that to start

    Good luck with the Christmas Limas!

    1 Reply
    1. re: yamalam

      Not wishing to be harsh or anything, but my 7 year old had no choice in the matter and he damn well knew it. He now eats anything he can lay hand to, if you want to classify that as an eating disorder...

      The green and orange guys that I have retain their color within reason, although to be honest this is a matter of indifference to me. My concern is that they should have a good flavor, which they reliably do.

    2. Du Puy stay firm, and dark green. They are successfully grown in western Canada as at lower cost than the French original.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jayt90

        While I have used the common green lentils in the past, as well several of the Indian ones (usually split or peeled), my current favorite is the Puy. As you say it stays intact. I don't have problems with the color. I've also experimented with the Beluga. For Christmas I wanted to push that caviar look, so I cooked them alone, drained them, and dressed them with a simple vinaigrette - maximizing the clean black appearance. I accentuated the black with an accent of white pine nuts.

        It sounds as though these bean mixes look pretty in the package, but aren't so great when cooked. I've seen them in the store, but wondered what was the point. Seems to be a sales gimmick.

        It's a good idea to cook unknown things like beans and grains alone for the first time. That gives you an idea of how they cook, how long they need, how they taste, etc. Later you can experiment with combinations. Plus you can always combine them after cooking. Puy lentils and barley is a combination that tested this way.

      2. Greygarious: I can't speak for some of the beans you mention (Christmas Lima Bean, which sounds really pretty), but split red lentils (masoor dal) are well known to change from red to yellow when they are cooked.
        That is their basic characteristic - did you expect otherwise?
        (Indian recipes usually cook most dals with turmeric, so they end up yellow anyway.)

        It's an interesting scientific question: why many dals and beans lose their vivid colours when cooked ..... Anyone know the answer?

        1 Reply
        1. re: Rasam

          I think the light yellow color when they're cooked is rather pretty. I have to admit they're a gorgeous orange when uncooked though.

        2. A very pretty bean that gets plump and creamy while still keeping it's good looks is the yellow eye bean from Rancho Gordo.

          Could you fool yourself and season your lentils with turmeric, paprika, or annatto?

          1. A related question - does anyone else successfully cook lentils in a rice cooker? I've done red lentils, which cook nice and fast but do turn into yellow mush. Are there other lentils that will work in a rice cooker? Last time I stirred them up with an egg, bread crumbs, diced veggies, cumin and turmeric and made yummy patties, like a lentil falafel. Thank you.