13 Ways to Use Lentils in Cooking for a Fast, Frugal and Fabulous Meal

by Tracy · 5 comments

Lentils are a staple food in many cuisines and for good reason:

  • A one cup serving of lentils contains just 230 calories
  • Lentils are rich in fiber, protein and iron as well as many trace nutrients that are important for our health.
  • Unlike most other dried legumes, lentils do not require a lengthy soak before cooking and are ready in 30 minutes or less.
  • Lentils are very affordable, most varieties are just $1-$2 per pound.

Lentil Basics

There are several variety of lentils, the kind most commonly sold in supermarkets are brown lentils, which are a great all purpose lentils.  You can also find tiny red and yellow lentils, deep green speckled French puy lentils, large green lentils, black lentils and several other speciality varieties. Some varieties are sold whole, while others are peeled and split.
Each lentil has a different cooking time and a different texture after cooked. Red lentils cook quickly and break down, making them ideal for soups such as spicy Indian dal. The puy lentils require more cooking time and keep their shape after cooking, making them desirable for salads. Brown supermarket lentils are somewhere in between, making them a versatile and highly affordable choice.
To cook lentils, rinse well, taking care to remove any pebbles or other debris that might have been left behind during harvesting. Cook on the stovetop in a large pot with a tight fitting lid, you’ll want a ratio of about three cups of water to one cup of lentils and salt and other seasonings to taste.  Bring the water and lentils to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and partially cover the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, testing for doneness starting after 10 minutes of cooking.

Ways to Use Lentils

Lentils have a mild, earthy taste that blends well with many kinds of seasonings and textures. You can eat them plain as a side dish, just like any bean, but don’t stop there. Other great ways to use lentils include:

  1. Mujaddara is an incredibly easy and delicious Middle Eastern dish. Simply layer cooked lentils over rice and top with rich, caramelized onions and tangy yogurt or sour cream. It’s cheap and filling and easy to eat – comfort food at it’s best.
  2. Lentils can also be baked in the oven like a casserole, as in this recipe for honey baked lentils.
  3. Lentils can replace ground beef in many recipes, especially saucy, loose dishes like taco filling and sloppy joes.
  4. Add eggs and a binder like oats or breadcrumbs and you can make a hearty lentil loaf or lentil burgers.
  5. Lentils are a staple in Indian cooking, try them in a curry or make a dal.
  6. There are as many recipes for lentil soup as their are grandmothers in the world, try a few and then combine the best to make up your own. It’s especially good with a little kale or chard added for taste, nutrition and a dash of color.
  7. Soft, skinned lentils, such as read lentils can be pureed to make a hearty, protein rich sauce for noodles.
  8. You’ll find lentil recipes from many cultures by doing a simple online search. While it’s fun to cook from new cuisines, ingredients can be pricey. Save on spices by buying just a bit from the bulk containers at your local health food store or co-op ( you can also get organic lentils from the bulk bins, too for cheap!)
  9. Lentil salads can be hot or cold and make an easy to pack brown bag lunch or picnic.
  10. Try using lentils to make a hummus like dip or spread.
  11. Lentils and rice are a natural pair, but try serving lentils with other grains such as barley, cracked wheat or quinoa.
  12. Use lentils in the filling for stuffed tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, squash and more.
  13. You can substitute lentils for beans in many recipes. They are an especially good stand in for split peas.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Devezin February 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Thanks for the useful savings

Gabrielle February 8, 2011 at 7:34 pm

#6. “as there are grandmothers”

jacqueline miller November 19, 2011 at 11:57 am

Of interest to dialysis patients: red lentils are low in potassium and may be eaten in soups etc.

Pete November 2, 2012 at 5:40 am

Lentils (and other pulses such as beans) served with a grain (rice, pasta, bread, bulgar, etc) makes a high-protein meal, and therefore a healthy, low-fat, and inexpensive substitute for meat.

Remember: lentils or beans + grains = high protein.

tribawan kaul November 23, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Some lentils like pigeon pea take just 20 minutes to cook using pressure cooker. Just an onion, a tomato and some spices to taste and a cupful of lentils and viola you have a nice simple and nutritious dish for the family. Keep it simple and eat with rice. It is one of the simplest and most satisfying meals. And cheap too!

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