Lentils are one of those foods that crops up in a wide variety of cuisines, in one form or another. As one of the first crops domesticated, archaeological evidence in Greece shows they were eaten 13,000 to 9,500 years ago. Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian and European cooking all have a use for the lentil. The shape of the lentil suggested the name of double-convex pieces of glass used in magnification and early spectacles. The Latin name for lentil is lens, and is the name of the genus for this branch of the legumes.
Growing up in the American Southeast, however, I didn’t really have an introduction to lentils until college; black-eyed peas and pinto beans, yes, but no lentils. Mama was broader in her tastes than many of our neighbors, but when things were tight, we usually ended up going back to the traditional dishes. It’s trendy and called “locavorism” now, but back then, eating what was local was cheaper.