Get to know lentils, a versatile source of plant-based protein and other important nutrients eaten by people all over the world.
When people consider moving to a more plant-based diet – or even becoming vegetarian – they often worry about how to get enough protein to fuel their busy lives without eating meat. This is a valid concern, but happily there are many plant-based sources of protein out there from tofu to tree nuts.
What Are Lentils?
Pulses and legumes are among the best sources of plant-based protein that you can find. Legumes are a family of plants that contain peanuts, beans, peas, and more. Pulses are simply the edible seeds of a plant in the legume family. (And pulses are in fact seeds. If you rehydrate them, they will sprout!)
Lentils and other pulses, like chickpeas and fava beans, are staple foods for people all over the world because they are an important source of vegetable-based protein, are high in fiber, and contain key vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, and folate. They are also low in fat and calories.
Lentils in particular are beloved staples for people around the globe because they grow well even in poor soil, can be stored for long periods of time, and are very versatile. Indeed, you can use lentils in all kinds of dishes, including soups and salads, but also as a stand-in for meat in sauces, tacos, casseroles, and sandwiches!
What Are The Different Kinds Of Lentils?
There are many varieties of lentils from the familiar red and brown lentils to the more exotic black Beluga lentils or the exquisite green Puy lentils, which originally came from France. Each variety behaves a little different so it is important that you choose the right lentil for your recipe.
Red lentils tend to break down in cooking and become mushy, making them perfect for soups or porridges, like Indian dal. Brown, black, and French green lentils will hold their shape once cooked, so they are often used in salads or to mimic the texture of ground meat in sauces and patties. Any kind of lentil, once cooked, can easily be pureed and added to baked goods, energy bites, or smoothies for a boost of protein! No one will even know that they are there.
Shopping For And Storing Lentils
Another reason that people all over the world eat lentils is because they last for a long time in storage. Indeed, dried lentils will keep for up to a year in your pantry, making these healthy pulses something you should have on hand at all times for quick, vegetarian meals.
You will typically find several types of dried lentils at the grocery store as well canned lentils. What is the difference? Dried lentils have not been cooked whereas canned lentils are ready to go right out of the can. Canned lentils are convenient, but dried lentils are usually more economical and by cooking the lentils yourself, you can add a lot more flavor. However, if you are rushed for time, canned lentils are a good option. Just make sure to rinse and drain your canned lentils prior to using to remove some of the excess sodium that is used to preserve them.
Preparing And Serving Lentils
Happily even dried lentils cook relatively quickly. Unlike many of their cousins in the legume family – such as beans – lentils do not need to be soaked prior to cooking. This makes lentils far more convenient to prepare than some other sources of plant-based protein, especially beans. I’ll be sharing various cooking methods with you soon.
As I mentioned, lentils are commonly used for soups, salads, and porridge, such as Indian dal. ln the Middle East, lentils are often combined with rice for a beloved dish known as mujadara. Lentils are also a wonderful substitute for meat in all kinds of dishes, including tacos, Sloppy Joe’s, chili, and even casseroles like Shepherd’s Pie. The texture of brown and green lentils in particular resembles ground meat and, of course, lentils can replace the protein otherwise found in meat. Try it in vegan dishes like this Lentil Bolognese.
There you have it! Now that you know all about lentils and why they are so beloved throughout the world, you are ready to start incorporating these healthy and versatile pulses into your own diet. I can’t wait to share my recipes with you.
This post originally appeared in January 2022 and was revised and republished in September 2023.