I find it endearing that the optical lens is names after the lentil (Latin for “lens”), whose shape it echoes. The big up side to cooking with lentils is that they are substantial, filling, highly nutritious, and relatively quick to cook. They are great cooked into stews, mashed into spreads, molded into croquettes of all sizes, and mixed into grain-based salads. Plus, unlike most dried beans, they require no pre-soaking. They’re also a lot of fun to sprout. Some varieties of lentils hold their shape, while others have a tendency to turn quickly to mush. I’ve found that peppery green Le Puy lentils from France, hold their shape nicely, as do black beluga lentils. I’m often tempted by the vibrant hues of the red and yellow varieties, but because they lose structure so quickly they are best in pureed soups or more traditional Indian preparations., such as dal. Don’t let their diminutive size fool you; lentils have one of the richest protein profiles of any vegetable, backed up with super-sized levels of iron, fiber, and folate.