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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    -POOKIE- 2/3/2020
    You had the image hosted on photobucket, so it is now broken. Report
    My fav uses for lentils are stews in the slow cooker and as lentil loaf Report
    I make huge pots of dal and freeze in individual portions. Love lentils. Report
    Thanks for the great info! Report
    Never met a lentil I did not like!! Report
    I LOVE all kinds of lentils, all kinds of ways! My favorite recipe is "Baked, Stuffed Lentils" (JK, LOL!) Have a great day! Report
    Thanks for the great lentil info!
    I am one who uses them for soups and that is it - time to try another use for them!

    Are the top and bottom pics reversed in the article? The top pic looked like the brown ones, but perhaps I read it wrong.

    cj Report
    Great article & pic. Also I really enjoyed reading everyone else's comments,& suggestions for other ways to use them. Wish all the varieties were more readily available where I live; but I'm sure I can find them online Report
    I just love the picture with this post! Lentils are long time friends of mine. Report

    I have only eaten lentils in soups, this article has peaked my interest, this month's food project - research and use lentils.
    I sprout them and eat them as a snack. The red ones don't sprout well but any other kind from the grocery store will. They're a good substitute for bean sprouts in a stir fry, too. I sprinkle them on salads sprouted, too.

    I also make lentil burgers. Cook lentils fairly dry. Mash them up, add some cracker crumbs, ketchup or mustard and other seasonings. Make patties and bake or fry. Yum. Report
    I have really been wanting to incorporate more legumes into my nutrition! THANK YOU for this timely article! (I don't celebrate Lent.)

    Jocelyn Report
    Love lentils - great info. Thanks Report
    I've only had lentils in soup, but I like the idea of being able to mix them into stews, chili and even into things like burgers. I'm going to have to try some of these ideas! Thanks! Report
    Thanks for all the good ideas for lentils. I must admit that I have only had lentil soup. I am looking forward to expanding my horizons. Report
    I love lentils and I'm enchanted by the picture at the top of this article! Report
    I make brown or green lentils with red rice (my husband found red rice, I love it!), sweet potatoes, and a bit of granny smith apples. I use nearly every Indian spice on my rack so it is different each time. :) It is really great and I can eat it every day, and sometimes do! I make a batch, stick it in portion containers, and grab one and heat it up for lunch. You should try it! Report
    I love lentils, have a great recipe for lentil soup. Also have had them in lentil burgers and lentil loaf, mixed with rice and vegetables in a pilaf, added to salads, and as part of veggie stews and curries. YUM. Report
    I've cooked lentils before, but as you pointed out, I limited them to soups. I recently had a veggie burger that was made out of lentils and it was delicious! I want to try to make those on my own. Report
    I just discovered lentils this winter, and I love them. Nothing like a good, thick soup to warm you up on these cold days! Report
    What a great idea to substitute half of the ground meat in the recipe with lentils. I'm always looking for ways to add more hidden nutriton and it's gotten to the point I almost can't even eat a burger or meatball that doesn't have veggies in them. I guess my version of "garden burgers" simply aren't meatless. Report
    As a Catholic who doesn't eat meat on any Friday, I am always looking for good vegetarian recipes. I have started to incorporate more vegetable based proteins in my diet as well. I have only cooked Lentils a few times, but am looking forward to finding more recipes. Thank you very much for this section!! Report
    I like to make a concentrated beef lentil soup to keep in the freezer. It's nice to grab a carton when I come in from school late. I microwave the concentrate for a couple of minutes, then add a can of beef, chicken or other stock and have a delicious hot meal in just a few minutes. Report
    I am going to have to investigate lentils more. Thanks for getting me interested. Report
    Since starting SP I have learned to love lentils. Especially like them on top of my salad. Will use some of the ideas stated here. Report
    My absolute favorite way to eat lentils is to cook the red lentils with a little garlic sometimes I will add some tomatoes and sometimes I will add frozen spinach but cook it all till quite mushy and spread on toast! Yummy breakfast! Report
    Try Mojadra! It's a wonderful recipe of green lentils and brown rice with carmelized onions, fresh dill and Indian spices that can be found in the book Feeding the Whole Family. Report
    Thanks for this article - I am learning to incorporate lentils! I love Amy's Organic Kitchen lentil soup! It is a great quick lunch for me to take to the office when I don't have leftovers! I am trying some new crockpot recipes with lentils so I am looking forward to the lentil Fridays. Report
    Just recently, I have started to eat lentils regularly. Thanks for the ideas on how to cook them. Report
    I love lentils and rice cooked together and then some cheese and salsa added on a tortilla... it is WONDERFUL! Better than any refried beans!!! Report
    Thanks for the info, I think I could try it too
    I've been cooking diced veggies then adding cooked lentils to them, then adding stewed and chopped tomatoes and creating an awesome pasta sauce. Report
    I absolutely adore lentil soup. Report
    I haven't eaten lentils in quite a while so reading this has sparked my interest to cook lentils more often. Thank you for the reminder. Report
    I am not a fan of beans, and I always equated the texture of beans with the texture of lentils. I'm going to put in my Big Girl Panties and cook some for my family. I need to put this healthy food into my life! Thanks for the blog and the recipes. Report
    Our family has lentils at least once a week all year, sometimes 3-4X a week! They are versatile and healthy. There are also black lentils that are great in salads, they cook about the same as the french green lentils. Report
    I love lentils. Have tried patties, etc., but I find I like them best in soup. I start with a base of a little olive oil, plus garlic and onion (I like lots!), use vegetable broth, add carrots, sometimes celery, sometimes diced potato, definitely tomatoes. If I have some veggie bacon in the house, I'll dice it and add it with the garlic and onion and brown everything in the oil. Actually the only thing I won't brown with the oil is the tomatoes. It's wonderful, filling, and cheap! Report
    The only lentils I've seen around here are the brown ones. I tried a lentil soup once but didn't like what it reminded me of. Maybe I'll try the red or pink ones if I can locate some. Report
    Thank you for the multitude of ways to cook these magical legumes. Can't wait to expand beyond my lentil soup favorites. Report
    I love lentils of all kinds. I just made a Middle-Eastern-style red lentil soup with virtually no fat that was so satisfying at about 200 calories a pop. Isn't it terrific to find foods that are so tasty and versatile, plus lentils help with the day's fiber requirements. Report
    Lentil soup is my favorite. Add lemon, and it is even better. Yummy :-) Report
    Italians don't just make the common "pasta fagioli" ... we make pasta with every type of legume there is ... lentils, chic peas, every kind of bean there is, split peas, etc. Report
    I had 'em for lunch today. :) I am learning to like them and appreciate all the tips here. I love it when you all blog about beans and legumes. It always inspires me to eat even less meat! Report
    I cook them witha bit of diced carrot and onion when doe stir in baby greens and add plain yogurt when served YUMMY Report
    I could eat lentils once a year. I tried once a wonderful recipe which is lentils, tomatoes, onions and cheddar cheese on top. Report
    I eat lentils at least once weekly, but often more. Although I sometimes buy canned lentil soup (Trader Joe's is my favorite), the ones I cook myself taste best. I cook them with lots of onions and garlic. I will also throw in some tomatoes and a diced potato. Hmmm...Yum! Report
    As a vegetarian Lentils are a staple in my household. Learning to cook veggie is a challenge when you have been brought up on meat and potatoes all your life. I found lentils to be one of the easiest protein sources and main meal items out there. My kids seem to like them too. Report
    I remember my mom making lentils and I liked them. I don't know why I haven't made them myself. Thanks for the nutritional info! I can't wait to try out some lentil recipes and eat healthier. Report
    I love lentils! All types but my fav are the red because they cook so quickly. Tuna & lentils are my old stand bys during lent as I do observe the no meat on Fridays, as well as Ash Wednesday. I make a quick and yummy sweet potate and lentil soup with garam marsala and onions. I took a large batch to work this week which I shared with several co-workers. They became instant lentil fans. If I can't the red ones, I often substitute yellow splits as well. Report
    We eat tons of legumes at our house - lentils are one of my faves, not so popular w/ the kids, but we're working on it! Report