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Coming Back with Lentils: How to Use and Recipes

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I never thought I’d appreciate lentils as much as I did last week, when they reappeared on our menu after three weeks with zero grains or legumes whatsoever.

“Helloooooo, lentils! How are you today? It’s so wonderful to see you again!”

If you have never talked to your food, please don’t come to my house. You might not understand us. sprouted lentils

We chose lentils first only because they were the only legume in “phase one” of The Maker’s Diet. I’m not sure what makes lentils different than other legumes, but I’ll take his word on this one.

Lentils act differently than other legumes in the kitchen, because they only take 30 minutes to cook from a dry state, whereas other dry beans take 1-4 hours to get soft. Lentils also don’t need to be soaked, unless you soak everything anyway.

I decided that I wanted to sprout my lentils for maximum nutrition and minimal digestive stress. After about four days, they were even soft enough to eat raw, which turned out to be a delicious addition to my dinner salad. My two-year-old thinks they’re quite fun as well!

The first dish I made was my Hearty Lentil Stew (skipped the barley), which we always serve during Lent. It’s quite penitential without cheese, which was how I served it since my husband is still dairy-free. The dish was a welcome change, but not exactly four-star.

lentil stew (1) I remade it the following night into a sort of chicken burrito filling that we ate over salad by adding cooked, shredded chicken (I always have this frozen in 2-cup portions from making homemade chicken stock), extra red and green peppers, salsa, and lots of taco seasoning.

I used some more of the lentils to make a “spicy lentil” side dish next to our beef fajita salad. I threw this together as well, loosely following the directions for homemade refried beans, but without the mashing, lime juice, or cheese. I thoroughly enjoyed the spicy lentils, but my husband then informed me that he doesn’t really like lentils all that much. The novelty of a new food had worn off!

(Is it okay that we were singing “Halleluiah!”  when black and kidney beans entered the menu over the weekend? I can make dinners that don’t cost an arm and a leg again! Oh, how I love beans.)

How to Cook Lentils

Lentils are really so simple. This is what I do:

  1. Rinse.
  2. Cover with water.
  3. Soak overnight.
  4. Drain and cover with water again.
  5. Bring to a boil and cook 30 minutes or so until soft. Drain water.

I use whatever I need for one recipe and then freeze the rest. Lentils are a great stretcher food, meaning that they can sneak into things with ground beef when you don’t want to use a lot of ground beef because it’s expensive. There’s nothing unhealthy about good, grassfed red meat, but we need to balance our physical health with the health of our bank account.

I often mix cooked lentils in with taco meat, 1:1 ratio, and people don’t even notice (unless they’re sprouted, because the little tails kind of show up!). Just make sure you add enough extra seasoning as if you had doubled the meat. Wardeh does the same thing with Sloppy Joes – it’s a super frugal way to stretch your meat budget! I love that I can dump a bag of still-frozen lentils into the pan, and they thaw so quickly that they’re incorporated into the browned beef in no time.

They can also sneak into spaghetti sauce, meatballs, and any other Mexican style dish you make with ground beef. I’ve also used lentils for a meatless veggie burger, much like this one with black beans.

I have seen recipes for cold lentils, such as this French Lentil Salad, but I admit I haven’t tried them. I bet lentils would be a good grain-free alternative to the Cold Spelt Salad we like in the summer. (That recipe is upgraded to be one of the five “Lunchbox Ready Side Dishes” in my Healthy Snacks to Go eBook.)

I shared a new recipe today which is a huge staple in our regular rotation: Slow Cooker Lentil Brown Rice Casserole. I’ll be making it as soon as rice is allowed to reappear!

Here are some other recipes from my colleagues:

How do you use lentils?

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17 thoughts on “Coming Back with Lentils: How to Use and Recipes”

  1. Pingback: How to Grow Sprouts at Home | Green Your Way

  2. Do try the lentil salad recipes — they are especially nutritious with lightly cooked sprouted lentils. I particularly like salads made with the tiny dark green “French” or “puy” lentils because they retain texture better. Mash some roasted garlic into vinegar while the lentils cook. Drain then mix the hot lentils with the dressing. Let cool, then add other veggies, herbs, etc.

    (Sprouted) mung beans are another legume that is super easy to digest. They are quick cooking, just like lentils.

  3. I may have overlooked this, but when cooking the lentils, do you bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes? After trying to boil for 30 minutes, the lentils were going crazy and had soaked up a lot of the water only after 10 minutes!

    1. Amanda,
      Whoops! Yes, I’d simmer for 30 minutes, not a rolling boil the whole time. Sorry about that! 😉 Katie

  4. Our favorite lentil recipes are the basic, versatile Lentil Rice and Honey Baked Lentils. We’ve also made several times a red lentil soup with carrots and tomatoes and the key ingredient of diced dried apricots–after another round or two of experimentation, I’ll be ready to share that recipe, but we’re still learning about the carrot vs. tomato balance.

    Thanks for the new recipe ideas!!

  5. We eat a lot of lentil and rice soup in the winter months but I also like cold lentil salad. And I think I may have used them in patties.

  6. Wardeh @ GNOWFGLINS

    I love, love, love lentils! You’re right, they’re easy. Easy to incorporate whether soaked/cooked, sprouted/cooked or just sprouted! Mm…. Thanks for including links to some of my recipes, Katie.

    Its pretty funny how your husband decided he didn’t really like lentils after all those meals! Been there, done that. 😉

    I really like the sound your refried bean dish made over for lentils. Great round up!

  7. mach = mash and doe snot = does not (wow – I was excited to reply to you and did not check spelling well at all!) And how is the texture of lentils? Thank you again!

    1. Kim, the texture of lentils depends on which type you use.

      The brown or green ones are larger, about 1/4″ diameter, so they retain their shape unless you cook them for a really long time. The texture is like most beans, only smaller; you bite through the skin, and then the inside is mealy and will be sort of dry unless they’ve absorbed a lot of liquid. Some people like them cooked only to the point where they’re still slightly crunchy.

      Red lentils are very small and get very soft, almost like mashed potato consistency.

      All lentils have a mild bean flavor kind of similar to kidney or pinto beans, so they mostly taste like the seasonings you put on them!

  8. I have never tried Lentils. Can you give me an idea on the taste of them. Do they “absorb/taste” like what you are cooking them with/along side? And if you use them to stretch ground beef – do you mach them before adding them in? I am really trying to eat healthier but my husband is against foods that he doe snot know. I do not mind to “hide” foods in with staples he likes (I want all of us to eat healthier – including my 5 year old). Thank you for any info!

    1. Kim,
      They’re pretty bland; I can’t even think of anything to compare them to. In tacos, for real, I just dump them in (cooked) and season the heck out of them. You could probably mash, like a refried bean, but either way it works. I think they do absorb the flavor pretty well, at least with spicy taco seasoning. Best of luck to you!! 🙂 Katie

  9. Thanks for these great ideas. I’m a big fan of lentils. I make a lentil ragu that we can put over pasta or rice using the cheery tomatoes we can in the Summer (but any tomato would be fine), a dash of honey, some finely chopped carrots, a couple of minced olives bay leaf, red pepper flakes and some tomato paste. Cook the lentils first and then soften the carrots before adding everything together.

  10. Thanks! I’m collecting recipes for legumes right now. I’m on a similar detox/elimination diet and can have legumes in about a week. Beans and lentils never looked so good!

  11. Wendy (The Local Cook)

    I love lentils! Especially in curries. As winter approaches I plan to experiment a lot more with them.

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