Lentils are yet another example of that "everything old is new again" syndrome.

In the case of lentils, they are not only old, they are one of the most ancient of foods. Today, they are one of the most chic and trendy edibles around.Savvy shoppers, dieters, chefs and vegetarians are just some of the folks who can't do without lentils.

Lentils are the most digestible of all the legumes, and the easiest to prepare. Unlike other beans, lentils don't have to be pre-soaked, and can be cooked from scratch in just 15 to 20 minutes.

There are healthy benefits as well. One cup of cooked lentils provides 232 calories, 18 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbohydrate and only a trace of fat and sodium. And no cholesterol.

Lentils go in soups, sauces, stuffings, salads, side dishes and even sandwiches. Some cooks, particularly those with a vegetarian bent, consider them staples just as they do rice, potatoes and pasta.

Red and green lentils are used most often. In Asia, red lentils are preferred, possibly because people think they're pretty. In this country, green lentils are most popular. Green lentils are a bit larger than the red variety.

Almost all of the U.S.-grown lentils come from a region spanning the northern Idaho/eastern Washington border, known as the Palouse (French for green lawn).

There is no "use by" date necessary for lentils. Uncooked lentils can be stored indefinitely in a cool, dry place. According to the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, after lengthy storage, there may be a slight change in lentils' color, but there's virtually no effect on taste.

Before using, put lentils in a colander and rinse. Pick through them, discarding any shriveled lentils or bits of gravel.

Drain off cooking liquid as soon as the lentils are done or they'll continue to cook.

Cover and refrigerate leftover cooked lentils and use within five days.

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RECIPES

LENTIL AND RICE ONE-POT SUPPER

1 cup lentils

1/2 cup rice

2 cups sliced carrots

3 cups water

1 packet vegetable broth

1 teaspoon garlic

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 tablespoon olive oil

Wash and pick over lentils. Place in a large saucepot with rice and carrots. Add all remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook until rice is done, 20-30 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

- From USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council

CURRY-FLAVORED LENTIL SOUP

1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced or put through a press

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

2 teaspoons curry powder (or more to taste)

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

2 cups dried lentils, washed

2 quarts water or vegetable stock

2 teaspoons salt, preferably sea salt, or to taste

freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven, and saute the onion until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add half the garlic and the spices and continue to cook another 3 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add the lentils and water or stock and bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat and simmer 30 minutes. Add the remaining garlic, salt and pepper and continue to simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes to an hour.

Remove half the lentils from the pot and mash or puree in a blender pot and mash or puree in a blender or food processor. Return them to the pot and heat through. Correct seasonings and serve, garnishing each bowl with chopped fresh cilantro.

- From "The Vegetarian Feast" by Martha Rose Schulman