This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Lentils (The Lens Esculenta), which are a leguminous pulse of allied nature with beans, contain but little sulphur, and therefore do not provoke flatulence as beans and peas are apt to do. The plant (Ervum lens) is cultivated freely in Egypt for the sake of its seeds, which grow in numerous pods, and are flat on both sides. Three kinds are sold in Great Britain - Indian, Egyptian, and German, the two former being red. In France this pulse is much eaten during Lent, and is supposed by some to give its name to the penitential season, men becoming under its subduing dietary influence "Lenti, et lenes."About the year 1840 a Mr. Wharton sold the flour of Lentils (under the title of Ervalenta), which was then of a primrose colour. He failed in his enterprise, and Mr. Du Barry took up the business with success, but substituting the red Arabian Lentil for the yellow German pulse. Jacob's mess of pottage which he bartered to Esau for his birthright was, it is believed, prepared from the red Lentil; and the same food was the bread of Ezekiel. Phosphates abound in the Lentil, which are restorative, but liable to become deposited by the kidneys, together with such other earthy salts as are taken in the foods, or water; therefore lemon-juice, or orange-juice, is a desirable addition to Lentils at table.
When in blossom the plant is a good source of honey for bees. To make Lentil soup, take half a pound of uncrushed Lentils, one carrot (chopped), three onions, one leek, two pounds of parsnips, an ounce of chopped parsley, pepper, salt, a dessertspoonful of brown sugar, and three large crusts of bread. Wash, and pick the Lentils, and soak them all night; then boil them (with a little soda) in a large saucepan for three hours, press them through a colander, heat up again, and serve. The soup concocted in this way is delicious. Mr. Gibson Ward, writing to The Times some years ago, spoke of Lentil soup as the best potage possible, the Lentils only needing to be washed, soaked, and boiled furiously for three or four hours; then, if put before the epicure, without remark, this would be eaten as a fine gravy soup. No condiments are required to flavour it.
Lentils contain of proteid food 25 per cent with 56 per cent of starch, and 2 per cent respectively of fatty, and mineral matters. In common with peas, they are the beef of the vegetable kingdom. Peas are richer in potash, and magnesia; Lentils are richer in soda, and iron. As for pease pudding. Sir Benjamin Richardson said, "it took two whole days to cook, and two whole weeks to get rid of." But digestive flours of both peas, and lentils are now skilfully manufactured, the latter being richer in phosphates. Concerning this leguminous pulse, writes Henry Ryecroft (1.90.3): "I hate with a bitter hatred the names of lentils, and haricots, those pretentious cheats of the appetite, those tabulated humbugs, those certificated crudities, calling themselves human food. An ounce of either is equivalent to, we are told, how many pounds (?) of the best rump steak. There are not many ounces of commonsense in the brain of him who proves it, or of him who believes it. Preach, and tabulate as you will, the English palate, which is the supreme judge, rejects this farinaceous makeshift.
What is the intellectual and moral state of that man who really believes that chemical analysis can be an equivalent for natural gusto? I will get more nourishment out of an inch of right Cambridge sausage, aye, out of a couple of ounces of honest tripe, than can be yielded me by half a hundredweight of the best lentils ever grown".