One hundred and seventy two years ago, when our fore parents came from India to the shores of Guyana, they ensured that they brought along with them their rich culture, undying religion and effervescent spirits. What they also brought was their knack for cooking a variety of foods that would out last their lives and stand the test of time in the Guyanese cooking culture. One such food that came with them was the Lentil. A common myth is that lentil is what Guyanese term as Dal, however, lentil is the legume that is used to make Dal, and it is not the Dal itself.
Lentil, which is considered a vegetable, is a seed and a part of the legume family. It originated from Asia and upon coming to Guyana, quickly became a staple ingredient in most Guyanese dishes. Many use this vegetable as a substitute for meat. Not only are lentils considered a main ingredient in dishes, but they are extremely versatile; meaning they can be cooked in various ways – steamed, fried, boiled, stewed and can also be used in foods as an appetiser or main course. They are also considered to be convenient to chefs and housewives since they can be bought fresh, frozen or canned.
Lentils have been known to be around for over 8000 years, and have grown in popularity. This increased usage and amplified esteem can be attributed to the facts that they are high in nutritional value and unlike seasonal vegetables; they are available throughout the year.
The wide variety of nutrients packed into this small vegetable is responsible for so many health benefits that is has endeared itself to its users and has become the staple food in many households. Low in calories and fat, the lentil is beneficial to persons on diets and assists with their aim of being healthy and looking good since it lowers cholesterol and speeds up the metabolism. They are loaded with iron and protein and are considered a great way to replenish the body’s iron stores, build muscle mass and provide energy especially for people who don’t eat red meat like vegans and vegetarians. This powerful food is filled with vitamin B and this is important for the healthy functioning of the nervous, digestive, and immune systems.
We always hear that fibre is essential to a diet and that we should ensure we have our daily intake of the required fibre. Ever wondered why? Well… fibre helps to regulate blood sugar by providing steady, slow-burning energy and balancing blood sugar levels, and it assists with lowering cholesterol. Lentils are filled with fibre that enhances your diet.
Studies have proved that consuming lentils regularly helps to fight the risk of breast cancer and coronary heart disease. They are extremely beneficial to diabetes patients as the soluble fiber in lentils traps carbohydrates which help to prevent wide swings in blood sugar level throughout the day.
Back in the days…to now!
Over time, recipes and ways of turning lentils into snacks and meals have evolved and developed. Our fore parents made tasty, simple dishes using red, black, green and yellow lentils that had mouths watering and stomach growling. These included the pholourie, where the soaked lentils were ground and mixed with flour before frying to serve as an appetiser. This scrumptious morsel has become an appetiser for birthdays, family gatherings, poojas or just a snack on any given day.
Another snack or appetiser that is a known Guyanese speciality is fried lentils. This inventive way of enjoying lentil has been to flavour it with spices and pepper and fry it, making it a snack that can be used at anytime during the day.