The Amazing Potential of Lentils and How to Use Them

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Over the last couple of months I have discovered the amazing potential of lentils and how to use them. Not only can you add these protein-packed seeds to almost any dish, but, they are also dirt cheap, super filling, and have some amazing health benefits.

The ways you can cook lentils are literally endless. They are so versatile, and if cooked in just plain water, they don’t have a ton of flavor which allows them to be seasoned and suited for anything. The red one will boil in about 20 minutes, the green and brown may take about an extra 10 minutes.

What are lentils?

Lentils are considered edible seeds from the legume family. Many traditional dishes from Asia and North Africa contain lentils, but Canada has become one of the biggest producers of this tasty food.

There are 5 types of lentils, but the three most common you are likely to see are;

  • Brown Lentils
  • Green Lentils
  • Yellow or Red Lentils (these ones are my personal favorite and pictured to the left.)

Lentils are also a very affordable item. you can buy about 1 pound of dried lentils for $1.50.

So, what makes lentils so healthy?

Well, for every one cup (198g) of cooked lentils, you’re going to get 230 calories, 18g of protein, and less than 1 gram of fat (whereas 200g of cooked chicken thighs has 409 calories, 52g of protein, and 21g of fat, not to mention the fact that it costs more than 10 times the amount.)

Lentils are so much more than just protein though. They also contain 15g of fiber and are very nutrient-packed with things like Vitamin B6, Thiamine, Folate, B5/Pantothenic acid, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, and Zinc.

They are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, and some studies are showing that they may play a big role in balancing and lowering blood sugar levels. Not to mention, they can help improve heart health over time.

Now that you know the amazing potential of lentils, I will share some ways to use them.

Lentils and picky eaters

One of the reasons the red lentils are my favorite is because when you boil them, they lose a lot of their color. Now you might be thinking, why would that be a good thing? Well, my dear reader, it makes them easy to hide.

I know there are many picky kids out there, and it can be so difficult to feed them, make sure they get all their nutrients, while also sticking to a budget. My favorite trick, if you’ve got picky kids, but they love mashed potatoes, I add about a half cup of raw lentils for every 3-4 potatoes. It’s so simple. I just throw them in the same pot to boil at the same time as the potatoes (don’t worry about overcooking them, this just makes them mushier).

When you strain the water, make sure you use a finer strainer so you don’t lose the lentils, and season and mash as normal. Trust me, no one will notice, and it will be so much more filling and nutrient-packed.

Lentil walnut burgers

Okay, so you can ask my sister, I am OBSESSED with lentil walnut burgers. They are absolutely phenomenal and I literally cannot stop talking about them. Did I mention that they’re insanely easy to make?

What you need:

  • 1 1/2 cups raw green lentils (I recommend green as they hold their form better)
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (not necessary, but they add dimension)
  • 1 egg (or egg substitute)
  • 1 piece of toast or 1/4 bread crumbs
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Boil all your lentils on medium-high heat for about 25 min, or until soft. (make sure you use lots of water as they absorb a lot of water while cooking.) Strain out excess water.
  2. Take approximately 2/3 of the lentils and put them in a food processor with seasonings, bread crumbs, and egg (or egg substitute), blend until fairly smooth.
  3. Mix lentils from the blender and the rest of the lentils in a bowl, then form into burger shapes.
  4.  You can cook these numerous ways;
    1. Cook at 425*F for 25 minutes, flipping halfway through.
    2. Cook in a frying pan for about 12-15 minutes on medium heat.

How to spice up your lentil burger

Now the amazing thing, is this recipe is so insanely versatile. You can take the mix and instead of burgers, you could turn it into meatloaf, or meatballs. You can even replace the ground beef in your shepherd’s pie or sloppy joes with some of these simple cooked lentils.

I have also given the steps for a very simple and versatile recipe, but it is so customizable. Like I said previously, lentils don’t have much flavor on their own, so you can turn them into absolutely any meal or meat replacement just by changing your seasoning. Here are a few examples;

  • Tex-Mex: If you have a preferred taco seasoning you like, that makes it easy! Otherwise, here is mine: 1 tbsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. paprika, and a pinch of cayenne pepper if you like spicy. (This can also be replaced with Frank’s hot sauce.)
  • Italian: you can do this one of 2 ways depending on what you have. I recommend either 1.5 tbsp. of Italian seasoning or 2 tsp. of both basil and oregano, and 1 tsp. of garlic powder
  • Savory: Again, this can be done in a couple of different ways. If you have it, 1 tbsp. of poultry seasoning will do the trick. If not, add 1 tsp. of each of the following; garlic powder, sage, thyme, rosemary. (if there is one out of that list that you don’t like, no worries, just omit it! It’ll be good as long as you have three of them.)

Do you have a favorite or go to seasoning? Try adding that! These little disks will pick up anything you give them. Get creative with it and have fun!

More amazing ways to use lentils

There are so many ways you can use lentils to either replace the typical protein in a meal or just add protein to something that doesn’t typically have it. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Use cooked lentils as your source of protein in the ultimate casserole formula. (I actually did this last night for dinner with roasted red pepper sauce I had laying around, rice, cabbage, and some frozen peppers I’d stocked up on when they were dirt cheap)
  • Taco filling – super easy, just boil your green lentils for 25 minutes or until soft, strain, then mix in some chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and salt. Use it in any instance you would have used typical taco meat, so tacos, taco salad, taco omelets, enchiladas, the possibilities are endless.
  • With squash being in season, right now is the perfect time to try this lentil and butternut squash stew.
  • If curry is your thing, try this curried lentil dish which looks absolutely phenomenal.
  • Add some cooked lentils to any soup, chili, or salad.

How do you like your lentils?

Is there a certain way that you like to prepare your lentils that I haven’t thought of? Share below, because I’m always on the lookout for new recipes. Are you going to try adding more lentils to your diet?

The Amazing Potential of Lentils and How to Use Them
Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan

Chloe Morgan grew up living with a tight budget. In her late teens and early 20’s all the lessons she’d learned started to slip, like it does for many college age students on their own for the first time, and with their first credit card. As she’s gotten older, she’s started to deal with the repercussions and has taken on a frugal way of living, keeping her costs low, as she pays off debt and saves for her future.

8 thoughts on “The Amazing Potential of Lentils and How to Use Them”

  1. My go-to is soup. Lentil soup is extremely easy and can be varied in so many ways. I like it with beef broth and chopped broccoli rabe, or any kind of broth and bell pepper/celery/onion/carrot, or can add spinach or green beans. It freezes well and I often bring it to work for lunch.

  2. JDY Meat Stretching/Meatless/Vegetarian Chili

    I am not sure if this chili meets the technical definition of vegetarian as it uses a canned product which I could not confirm specific vegetarian status. In any case, the primary ingredient in my chili, ground beef, is not in this version, therefore it is either vegetarian or very close.

    I developed this recipe after several years of attempts for two reasons. One is that many people have told me they like my chili. Even those (like myself) that do not like chili with whole chili beans in it, but do not eat meat products.

    Since I puree the Ranch Style Brand canned chili beans, along with the tomatoes I use, there are no chunks of beans, just a thick, rich, flavorful, mouth-watering chili.

    I often took the chili to pot-luck dinners (back when we could do things like that), but, of course, the vegetarians could not eat it.

    Secondly, as I continued to put together my prepper pantry LTS food supplies I was always looking for ways to conserve meats, even though I stock them heavily as I am a meat-eater, for one, and believe that meat protein is a better protein source than any of the combinations used to substitute for meat.

    It finally dawned on me that vegans and vegetarians had already done all the hard work of coming up with flavorful, appetizing, balanced nutrition (for the most part) meals that did not contain meat. Many of them were recreations of meat dishes that people loved, but without the meat.

    I did not particularly like most of them, though there were some that I could eat my weight of at a single sitting, lol. I was eating a zucchini-based dish (I do not like zucchini much) that was pretty good. An epiphany hit me at that moment. Here was a meatless dish that tasted very good, made good use of products being produced, and had good, if far from perfect nutrition.

    The combination did provide for all the amino acids required by the human body. However, the amounts, the way each is digested, along with several other factors, reduced the availability of some of the amino acids to the body, where, if the protein source was one of a variety of meats, almost the entire nutritional load would be used.

    One of the advantages of meat over combo proteins is that it does not take all that much meat to equal the overall numbers that are required for good nutrition. A person needs to eat way more of most of the combinations than I want to, with some of them being such that I literally cannot eat that much.

    With that epiphany, to simply add some meat to the dish, the better nutrition, and in most cases for people that are not vegetarians, better taste, still conserves meat supplies significantly, but increases the other factors that make food more palatable to those whose diet has suddenly changed due to circumstances.

    And I have to tell you, I have been making the base chili for fifty years and love the stuff. If I close my eyes and take a bite of the lentil chili, it is hard for me to imagine that it is not my regular meat chili. Taste, certainly, but the texture is also very, very close, too.

    Anyway, that is the background for why and how I came up with the recipe, and why it is one of my primary group feeding dishes, along with my Prepper’s Ten-Tin Can vegetable beef soup.

    Here is the recipe:

    Ingredients:
    2 cups cooked lentils (cooked with fresh or dehydrated onion)
    1 15oz can Ranch Style brand beans
    1 15oz can whole peeled tomatoes or diced tomatoes
    Salt to taste
    Black pepper to taste (not much as lentils have a peppery taste)
    Mild Chili seasoning to taste

    Instructions:
    Cook the lentils, preferably with a fresh yellow onion. If the fresh onion is not available dehydrated onion is fine. The lentils need to be cooked done, but without excess liquid. This is easiest to accomplish by cooking a pound bag of lentils with enough water to prevent cooking them dry. Once the lentils are done, take out two cups with as little of the liquid as possible. Pour back a bit of the liquid if you want and use the remaining lentils for other dishes.

    Once you have the lentils ready you can put them in the final cooking container. Puree the can of Ranch Style brand beans and the can of whole peeled tomatoes (or diced tomatoes). It is easiest for me to add both cans to my food processor as doing the beans by themselves can be difficult. They do not have to be totally liquid, but they do need to be more or less unrecognizable as beans.

    As this is a recipe for preppers, and might need to be made in the field, I have been using my small, manual, food processor. It uses a pull cord, similar to a lawnmower or other small engine starter cord.

    It takes several slow firm pulls to get things broken up enough to then pull normally quite a few times to get the right consistency. It does work quite well, though.

    Add the pureed beans and tomatoes to the lentils in the pot.
    Add a bit of salt.
    If you use pepper, the way I do, to add a bit of heat (since I use a mild chili seasoning powder) be careful as lentils tend to have quite a peppery taste to start with.
    Add your chili power.

    As with most recipes, until you have done it enough to get the amount of seasonings right in one shot, go light on them and add more as you taste test the chili until you have it right for you. I like my chili with a good chili taste, but I cannot handle any hot spices.

    Stir and turn on the burner or place the pot on the fire at a point where it will come to a simmer. Let it simmer for several minutes, but since everything is already thoroughly cooked, all you need to do is let the seasonings cook into the vegetables, which does not take long.

    Serve with grated cheese and saltines (if you still have saltines that are not stale to the point of being inedible).

    To increase the quantities (I usually make either 2-quarts, 3-quarts, or 4-quarts of chili at a time, with the different crock pots and other cookers I have. It has been 1-pound of ground beef for each 1-can of Ranch Style brand beans, 1-can of whole peeled tomatoes, and 1-coarsely chopped medium yellow onion.) you can use the same ratio of 2-cups of cooked lentils to 1-can of Ranch Style brand beans, 1-can of whole peeled tomatoes, and one yellow onion (or the equivalent in dehydrated or freeze-dried onion).

    This is my own recipe so feel free to like or not like it, experiment with it, and make any changes you like to make it come out the way you want a meatless dish to come out.

    One of the things about this dish is that you can use a cup or two of cooked lentils in you regular ground meat chili to stretch it significantly if meat is short. Or, a small amount of cooked ground beef can be added to the vegetarian recipe to give it a slightly more traditional flavor. To be honest, however, other than a very slight difference in texture, this turns out almost exactly like my ground beef chili. Which was what I was trying to accomplish.

    Just my opinion.

    Jerry D Young

  3. Another great thing about lentils is when you learn your favorite texture, they are smaller, less gritty and may be more acceptable to people who don’t like the texture of larger beans. As Alice and Jerry said, lentils pick up the flavor of whatever you’re cooking. If you have high cholesterol, they’re full of tasty fiber. And much in their favor if you’re downsizing, lentils fit in a smaller space and are easier to store IMHO than larger beans. When you have to consider the weight of everything you buy, lentils for the win. The quick cooking is a huge factor for me as I adjust to one-burner meals. Lentils will cook up in a thermos with boiling water and whatever else you add and be tasty by noon, which doesnt always work well with dried beans! Thank you for bringing up such a useful addition to the pantry, and thanks for the ideas Jerry and Alice!

  4. I cook brown lentils with diced yellow onion and a handful of either diced or baby carrots. Told it was a traditional Egyptian soup. Season with salt to taste and cook till everything is tender. Makes an easy meal.
    I like it with whole wheat pita bread.

  5. There is a baked lentil and rice dish, from the Tightwad Gazette, that’s good. I’ll add sauteed onions, mushrooms and spinach to it. There is also an Indian flatbread made w/pureed red lentils that’s on my try list. My favorites are either lentil tacos or lentil soup w/their infinite variations.

    1. I saute some pancetta (ham) diced up with some rosemary and oil- then add cooked or canned lentils and cook a little longer- very yummy!

  6. I use lentils seasoned with chili, taco, 5 spice chinese , salsa or just S&P, with sprouts in a wrap for a hearty, filling but quick to make lunch.
    I also make chili using lentils instead of meat. It’s delicious and family loves it.

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