What are dried red lentils?
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These legumes cook to a creamy texture that enriches many dishes. --by Naomi Duguid, award-winning cookbook author
I love having a stash of red lentils (actually they are a gorgeous orange-pink color) in a glass jar in my pantry—they are just so beautiful. They are also a flexible go-to ingredient: They cook quickly in boiling water (about 20 minutes), provide protein and substance (especially valuable if cooking for vegetarians or vegans), and lend themselves to many dishes. And because they are dried, they keep almost indefinitely when stored in a dry, airtight container.
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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In India, red lentils are known as masoor dal and often boiled until soft (usually in a proportion of 3 cups water to 1 cup lentils), then flavored with fried minced onions and spices. This is traditionally eaten with rice and chapati (Indian flatbread), but you can also serve it as a soup course in a Western meal. I like to knead cooked mashed red lentils into a standard yeast dough to give more protein heft to the bread. It's delicious.
But one of the most interesting ways to prepare red lentils is to make meatless "burgers," spiced with onion and a little tomato paste, as well as a generous squeeze of lemon juice. You can make them ahead and serve them at room temperature as an appetizer or as a vegetarian main course, or instead you can shape them ahead, then pan-fry and serve them hot.
The classic version of these meatless burgers comes from Turkey, where cooked lentils are combined with fine bulgur to make the "meat" for the patties. I tend to have rice on hand more often, so I use that instead. Lightly wet your hands before shaping the patties; the water helps prevent the mixture from sticking to your skin. Serve cooked burgers on leaf lettuce if you wish, sprinkled with fresh herbs, and put out lemon wedges, a bowl of chopped cucumber, and a chile sauce or a creamy yogurt-based sauce as accompaniments. Cooked patties freeze well; reheat in the oven at 350° for 10 minutes or until heated.
1 cup dried small red lentils1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice3 tablespoons olive oil, divided3 tablespoons chopped green onions1 tablespoon tomato paste½ teaspoon ground red pepper¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice1¼ teaspoons kosher salt¾ cup diced English cucumber6 lemon wedges
1. Rinse and drain lentils; place lentils and rice in a large saucepan. Cover with water to 3 inches above lentil mixture; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until lentils and rice are tender. Drain.
2. Place lentil mixture in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Set aside (keep mixture in processor).
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add green onions to pan; cook 2 minutes or until softened. Stir in tomato paste and red pepper; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add green onion mixture, 2 tablespoons cilantro, lemon juice, and salt to food processor; process until combined.
4. Divide mixture into 12 equal portions, gently shaping each into a ½-inch-thick patty. Return skillet to medium-high heat. Add 6 patties to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove cooked patties from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 6 patties. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro. Serve patties with cucumber and lemon wedges.
SERVES 6 (serving size: 2 patties, 2 tablespoons cucumber, and 1 lemon wedge)CALORIES 249; FAT 7.6g (sat 1g, mono 5g, poly 0.8g); PROTEIN 10g; CARB 35g; FIBER 5g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 3mg; SODIUM 414mg; CALC 24mg
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There Are Four Main Types of Lentils
Lentils fall into four main categories: green, brown, specialty and red/yellow/orange. Green, brown and specialty all have their seed coat intact and cook in a similar manner in about 25 minutes. These lentils hold their shape well during cooking making them great additions to salads, side dishes or veggie burgers. Red/yellow/orange are decorticated, meaning the seed coat has been removed, and are sold split which allows the lentils to cook faster in about 5-10 minutes and lose their shape during cooking. They’re commonly used in dishes like daal, curries and purees.
A creamy, curried soup you can make on a weeknight, no sweat.
Cool yogurt, crunchy seeds, and avocado turn lentils into a lunch salad you’ll actually be excited to eat.
Recipes you want to make. Cooking advice that works. Restaurant recommendations you trust.
30 Recipes That Will Make You Love Lentils
Lentils may not be a particularly trendy or colorful ingredient, but there’s a lot to love about cooking with the humble legume—not least, the plethora of amazing lentil recipes there are to be discovered.
Lentils are easy to cook with, budget-friendly, and versatile, and they bring a satisfying combination of protein and fiber to any dish—and we’re not just talking about your basic lentil soup or salad here. You’ll see that lentils make a hearty base for a wide variety of stews and curries, as well as fillings for savory pastries or stuffed bell peppers. Lentils can also make a wonderful substitute for ground beef—hence the many clever lentil-based riffs on meatballs, shepherd’s pies, burgers, beef Wellingtons, sloppy joes, nachos, and meatloaves you’ll find below. Put that bag of lovely little lentils sitting in your pantry to work with one of these delicious lentil recipes.
Mexican Chicken Lentil Soup
Courtesy of Gimme Some Oven
It's time to stop making soup that only has meat it in. With chicken soups, you're only getting a salty broth with protein. Add lentils in there, and you're getting an extra dose of protein along with filling fiber. Top it all off with some avocados for some healthy fats and your soup just turned into a meal that will nourish you for hours.
Get the recipe from Gimme Some Oven.
How to Cook Lentils
Learn how to cook lentils perfectly every time! Tasty, nutritious, and easy to make, they're a fantastic way to add protein to salads, side dishes, and more.
If you’re interested in adding more plant-based meals to your diet, lentils are one of the first things you should turn to. These tiny legumes are protein and fiber powerhouses, they’re easy to cook, and they have a delicious earthy flavor that adds to all sorts of dishes. Read on to find my go-to method for how to cook lentils, along with information about different varieties and my favorite lentil recipes.
How to Cook Lentils
My method for how to cook lentils is easy! It comes down to 2 basic steps:
- Rinse. On occasion, you’ll find small rocks or debris mixed in with dried lentils. To avoid eating them, rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve and pick them over before you cook them. Discard any shriveled lentils in addition to debris.
- Then,simmer! Unlike when you’re cooking couscous or quinoa, you don’t need to use a specific lentil:cups of water ratio. Just fill a large pot halfway with water, bring it to a boil, and add the lentils. Simmer until they’re tender. The specific cook time will depend on what type of lentils you’re cooking.
Types of Lentils and How to Use Them
Not all varieties of lentils are interchangeable, and each works particularly well in different types of recipes. Here are the varieties you’ll most often see in stores, along with suggestions for how to use them:
Le Puy or French Green Lentils
My favorite type of lentils! These guys hold their shape as they cook, and they have a yummy firm texture. I like to use them in lentil salad and pasta sauce, and their hearty texture is also delicious in my curried lentil soup.
These black lentils are very similar to the French green variety. In fact, you could use them interchangeably in most lentil recipes! They cook in about 20 minutes, and they have a nice bite. I turn to them when I want to add lentils to a salad or serve them on their own as hearty side dish.
Regular Green or Brown Lentils
If you’re making a homey soup or stew, either regular green or brown lentils would be an excellent choice. Instead of holding their shape, they soften and become mushy as they cook. I like to add the dried lentils to a big pot of soup and let it simmer until they become tender, about 30 minutes.
Red (or yellow) lentils cook much more quickly than any other variety. They become soft and tender after simmering for just 15 minutes! As they cook, they melt and dissolve, creating a delicious creamy texture. Consequently, they’re a great choice for adding to thick curries, stews, or an Indian dal. I even blend them into a luscious, hummus-like dip!
Favorite Lentil Recipes
Below, you’ll find my go-to method for seasoning cooked French lentils. I toss them with lemon juice, Dijon mustard, fresh herbs, and red pepper flakes to make a nutritious side dish or base for plant-based bowls. They keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, so they’re one of my favorite proteins to meal prep and keep on hand in the fridge.
Beyond this simple preparation, there are endless ways to use them. Aside from the lentil recipes I mentioned above, these are a few of my favorites:
- Sauté cooked French green lentils with garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, and black pepper to use as a hearty filling for vegetarian tacos. You could also add a handful of chopped walnuts for crunch!
- Swap them for the chickpeas in my many-veggie soup, adding them to the pot at the same time as the broth.
- Toss them with a simple vegetable pasta for extra protein.
- Use them in a Morrocan-spiced salad, like the Roasted and Raw Carrot Salad on page 121 of Love and Lemons Every Day.
- Stuff them into veggies to make a protein-packed vegetarian main dish, like the Mediterranean Stuffed Eggplant on page 179 of Love and Lemons Every Day. Alternatively, pile them into a cozy baked sweet potato!
- Use them in homemade falafel! Find my red lentil falafel recipe on page 137 of Love and Lemons Every Day.
Do you have any favorite lentil recipes? Let me know in the comments!
More Plant-Based Cooking Basics
If you love this recipe, try one of these plant-based cooking components next:
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New to lentils but want to try as part of Mediterranean Diet. I see you recommend cooking in veggie broth. If cooking a meatloaf and subbing lentils for ground beef, would it make sense to cook the lentils in beef broth? Not trying for vegan, just eating less red meat. Thanks.
Yes! This would add a lot of flavor.
Hi! I see that this recipe is no longer using the same lentil-to-water ratio you have written about separately. Which is better?
Both work! For this recipe we don’t drain the excess liquid, so it’s just a little less water.
- 2 tablespoons corn, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon Fragrant Curry Powder (page 593) or any not-too-strong curry powder or garam masala (page 594)
- 3/4 cup dried red lentils
- 1 cup long-grain rice
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter, optional
- Put the oil in a large skillet or flameproof casserole with a lid over medium-high heat a minute later, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown on its edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder, then 3 cups water. Bring to a boil and add the lentils and rice. Bring back to a boil, then cover and adjust the heat so the mixture simmers steadily.
- Cook until the rice and lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and, if necessary, boil off excess water. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the butter if you’re using it. When it has been incorporated, turn off the heat and serve.
The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman. © 2005 by Mark Bittman. Published by Broadway Books. All Rights Reserved.
MARK BITTMAN is the author of the blockbuster The Best Recipes in the World (Broadway, 2005) and the classic bestseller How to Cook Everything, which has sold more than one million copies. He is also the coauthor, with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, of Simple to Spectacular and Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef. Mr. Bittman is a prolific writer, makes frequent appearances on radio and television, and is the host of The Best Recipes in the World, a 13-part series on public television. He lives in New York and Connecticut.