What’s For Dinner? Delicious and Versatile Lentils

Turn to lentils for speedy weeknight meals.

Baked Lentil and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Baked Lentil and Spinach Stuffed Shells opens in a new tab

I love lentils. There’s something luxurious and a bit exotic about them that makes it hard to believe they’re so economical and so easy to cook. Their rich flavor belies the fact that they contain just about no fat, and their wonderful nuttiness comes through terrifically served hot or cold, teamed up with assertive flavors or left pretty much on their own.  

When it comes to speedy dinners, lentils are a pantry workhorse: They cook in anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes depending on the variety, and they don’t require soaking like dried beans or other dried legumes. Plus, they are rich in fiber, manganese and folate, a good source of iron and packed with plant protein. They are also low on the glycemic index, which means they don’t cause a spike in blood sugar after eating.

Here’s an ingenious recipe that’s likely to move lentils into your regular weeknight rotation: Easy Red Lentil Mac and Cheese opens in a new tab. It’s a comfort favorite taken to a new level of healthy deliciousness, and it’s ready in about 15 minutes. Red lentils are the stars here, a variety that cooks in no time flat, and breaks down to form a creamy, delicious sauce. The beauty is that they cook right in the same pot with the pasta, so you’ve got practically no cleanup to manage. Intrigued? Watch the video, opens in a new tab then read on for tips and more delicious recipes with this versatile legume.

Lentil Basics

  • Before cooking them, spread lentils out on a light-colored plate or sheet pan and pick through them to remove any small stones or debris that might have gotten into your batch. Given them a rinse in a strainer, and they’re ready to cook.

  • Different colored lentils require slightly different cooking times and have slightly different qualities. Red lentils cook the quickest, in 10 to 15 minutes, and break down for form a rich sauce. Green and brown lentils hold their shape better and cook in 20 to 30 minutes; keep them al dente for use in salads. And finally, the small black lentils and French lentils both hold their shape very well and cook in about 20 minutes.

  • Taste lentils several times during cooking to find the consistency you want; they go from crunchy to mushy fast, so be vigilant.

  • Lentils love flavor, so don’t hold back! Even if you want a fairly plain finished dish you can add garlic cloves, chopped onion, bay leaves and more to the cooking water. Salting the water can toughen the outer shell of lentils, increasing the cooking time, so it’s best to add salt last. 

Lentil and Couscous Salad with Arugula

Lentil and Couscous Salad with Arugula opens in a new tab

More Great Recipes

Lentils make terrific meatless patties. Try brown lentils in flavorful Lentil Walnut Burgers opens in a new tab, or colorful red lentils in Red Lentil Burgers opens in a new tab; both are super-tasty vegan treats. 

A big pot of healthy Lentil Chili opens in a new tab is great for feeding a crowd, or you can refrigerate or freeze it for meals later on. It’s treat served with brown rice or quinoa.

Lentils are a favorite in salads. You can toss them into almost any combination of veggies for an easy main course, or try this popular Lentil and Couscous Salad with Arugula opens in a new tab.

And for an easy baked pasta, you can’t beat Baked Lentil and Spinach Stuffed Shells opens in a new tab. You can even use canned lentils in this recipe, or just cook 3/4 cup of your favorite dried variety to equal the 1 1/2 cups called for in the recipe.

Got a favorite lentil dish? Let us hear about it!

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