Meat-Free Fridays: Lenten Lentils

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Each Friday during Lent, the dailySpark will feature a different meat-free main dish. Whether you observe Lent or not, we can all benefit from learning about alternate, affordable proteins.

Lentils are a cheap and versatile protein source--I buy lentils for about a dollar a pound in the bulk bins at my local supermarket. On nights when I'm pressed for time, I throw some lentils in a pot, along with a bit of onion and garlic. I add twice as much broth as lentils and let them simmer for about 15 minutes. I steam some broccoli or spinach, heat up some brown rice (I precook rice in batches and freeze it in single portions) and drizzle on a bit of curry or tomato sauce. Dinner's on the table in less than 20 minutes!
Most people limit lentils to lentil soup, but these legumes have a lengthy list of uses.

  • Mix cooked lentils into meatballs, meatloaf or burgers. Add a cup of lentils and a cup of water when browning ground beef or turkey.

  • Add pureed lentils to chili, soups or stews to thicken.

  • Toss cooled French or green lentils with vinaigrette and some chopped peppers and onions for a quick salad. Or add lentils to your favorite pasta salad.

  • Substitute lentils for half or all the ground beef in your favorite pasta dish. In meat sauce, lasagna or stuffed shells, the texture is the indistinguishable.

    A half-cup of lentils have 115 calories, less than half a gram of fat, and 366 mg potassium. They contain 9 g each of protein and fiber (about a third of your recommended amount of fiber), and 45% of your Daily Value of folic acid. Lentils are frequently included on lists of the world's healthiest foods.

    Find out more about this healthy, cheap and versatile legume!

    Varieties of lentils:

    French lentils (top in photo) are dark green and peppery in flavor. They hold their shape well after cooking but can take longer to cook than brown or orange lentils. These are the lentils to use in salads or dishes where you want the lentils to retain their shape.

    Red or pink lentils (middle) are a bright shade of salmon when they're dry, but they become mushy and yellow when cooked. They're quite tasty and cook in less than 10 minutes. They are milder and sweeter than other lentils, and because they lose their shape when cooked, they are easier to mix into soups, burgers and stews for added fiber and nutrition.

    Brown lentils (also called green lentils, German lentils, or Egyptian lentils, bottom) are the most common lentil seen in grocery stores. Khaki in color and mild in flavor, they also hold their shape after cooking--as long as they're not overcooked. Add a bit of oil to the cooking water and cook until just tender, about 15 minutes at a simmer.

    Black lentils are sometimes called beluga lentils because they shimmer after cooking and look like caviar.

    How to cook:
    Lentils need no pre-soaking and cook much more quickly than other dried legumes.

    Just place them in a strainer (use a mesh strainer rather than your pasta colander so they don't fall through the holes) and give them a rinse. Pick out any debris or shriveled or discolored lentils.

    Cook lentils with a 2:1 ratio of water or broth and simmer until soft.

    Depending on the variety, this can take 10 minutes up to an hour. Most varieties will take about 15-20 minutes.

    Do not add salt to the lentils, as that will cause them to toughen. Add salt to taste after the lentils are cooked.

    Find plenty of lentil recipes here.
    Do you eat lentils? How do you prefer to cook them?

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    Thanks for this article. I have never cooked Lentils so will give it a go.

    Sunny Report
    Love lentils and even have gotten my daughter to enjoythem. Thanks for the article. Report
    Love lentils in my chili. Report
    I love lentils. I make big batches of Kosheri and Mejadra and freeze single servings. MMMMM. Report
    We have eaten lentils for years
    First as a filler when I had to feed 3 teenagers, I added them to any beef mince recipe
    It made the dish cheaper.
    Now I use them for a different reason to keep the cholesterol within reasonable limits.
    Also it helps to keep the weight down by cuuting down on the amount of meat used. Report
    No I haven't eaten them. Report
    I love lentils; lentils are inexpensive and pack on protein.
    I cook them in my crock pot. My favorite lentil dish is lentils over brown rice with tomatoes and chiles topped with shredded cheese. Report
    Everyone at home loves lentil. Once a week I make lentil soup in the crock pot. When I have lentil soup and my homemade sourdough bread on the table for dinner, I never have to battle my fussy eaters. I use both red and brown lentils. The red ones go into the soup bowl and the green ones I use for sprouting. I saw some French lentil in the health food store just two days ago. Was very tempted to put some into my sprouter to see if they sprout well. Report
    I love lentils. All the benefits of eating beans but much less cooking time! Not having to soak them is great. I've even made some dishes where you cook lentils AND rice in the same pot. Works out great.

    I also love making lentil burgers. Alton Brown has an episode of Good Eats that focuses on lentils. He even makes lentil cookies. (Check Youtube for that. ;) ) Report
    Lentils are very yummy. I prefer them with the caramelized onions like the Lebanese dish. Report
    I love lentils. I will add chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and lots of curry powder, I love the flavor and there's so good for you. Report
    never tried them before will have to add them to my shopping list this week. Always game to try something new to keep me on track. Report
    Awesome ideas and I love lentils, I just forget about them. Will try to incorporate them in some "routine" dishes and see if anybody notices! Report
    After spending 2 months in Nepal and Tibet its hard to look at lentils again! Report
    Thanks for the ideas of adding lentils to ground turkey and chili. We eat lots of it. Report
    I need to try Lentils! Report
    I never knew about the postassium content. Good to know - great for recovery after a long run! Report
    I love lentils! Thanks for the tips! Report
    Thanks for the great ideas and tips on how to add them. Would have never thought to add them to sauces. Will make everything more nutritional and will not add to the salt or fat. Great Blog! Report
    I use red lentils to thicken and stretch Bolognese sauce - they add to the nutritional value, unlike flour or other starches. Report
    I love lentils but tend to always over cook them and then they're mushy! I like to buy the already cooked, just heat lentils at Trader Joes. Can't get any easier then that! Thanks for the cooking tips. Report
    Thanks for the info. Report
    I eat every few months. I'll start eating them more often. Though I do have beans every day. I think I'm going to alternate. Report
    I love lentils. We usually have lentils at least once every couple of weeks. I usually saute some bacon and onions and if I have a ham shank or ham steak, throw that in as well. They're great for lunch the next day too! And very inexpensive. Report
    We love lentils. They're great with a tiny amount of olive oil (in the water while cooking them), some pre-cooked and seasoned tomatoe sauce, add cumin and chili pepper to taste, chopped garlic and/or onions to taste and you have a quick, easy, nutritious meat-less meal. I love that these legumes do not need to be soaked! That means they can be made at the last minute. For those who really miss their meat - - lentils are delicious cooked with mild (or hot) Italian Sausages. Report
    I have plenty but flaugence prevents me from cooking them, would love to. Report
    Thanks for the info. I think I will give it a try! Report
    Hmmm........ Guess I'll give them a try! Report
    I'd forgotten about lentils - this reminded me to go to the store to purchase some - I'll be adding to my diet shortly! Report
    Thanks for the info!! I always want to try new protein sources but am afraid after a disaster with dried beans. I am putting lentils on my shopping list now. Report
    My husband is Indian so we eat various types of dahl. His mother taught me how to prepare them. I just scale back the amount of oil used to keep it healthy. Not quite as good as when it's loaded with ghee but still excellent. Check out your local Indian store for an even wider selection of lentils than listed here. Report
    Great article. I was looking for good sources of protein as I always seem to fall short in my goals in that area. Report
    Thank you for this! I'm working on exploring alternatives to meat for protein, so this is very timely!

    I just tried dal for the first time at a local Indian restaurant, and found it quite good, albeit spicy. Report
    I like to cook them with spinach and potatoes with a cumin flavor. Report
    I eat lentils regularly Report
    i love lentils need new ideas Report
    I don't eat a lot of meat today because it is so expensive. I have hypoglycemia and have to eat protein so I've found lentils, chick peas, 7 bean medley etc. I've found many ways to use them so not eating "meat" is not hard because I just can't afford it. Report
    In Provence, there is a Christmas tradition to plant lentils (French Lentils but here in the US I use Brown Lentils when I cannot find the green ones) on a wet bet of cotton (or soil if preferred) on December 4th. If the sprouts are high, dark green and healthy by Christmas that predicts "abundance" for the coming year. The greens are usually added to the Nativity Scene to decorate and as symbol of prosperity. Originally it was a Farmers' tradition and they were planting wheat seeds. Report
    I love my lentils in salad, just with shallots, parsely, olive oil, and vinegar. Mmmmh... :-P

    I always boil them and make more than needed for further use.

    My kids love to have lentils added to their rice or pasta because they look like spinkles! :-)) Report
    Loved this article! Lentils are so easy to cook, but never thought of adding them to meatloaf and meatballs. Maybe I can finally reach the minimum potassium in my diet. Thanks! Report
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