Take the Lentil Challenge!

Lentils are a food I never considered adding to my pantry. The truth is, I really didn’t know what lentils were. It was my college-age son on a tight food budget that clued me in to the wonders of lentils. These legumes are protein-packed, easy on the food budget, and make a great addition to your emergency food pantry.

In this article, I am sharing my son’s personal experiments cooking with lentils. Get ready, you will be amazed at the foods you can make!

First of all, let’s address one of the most important benefits of adding lentils to your pantry. Lentils can save you BIG on your grocery budget (all you have to do is find some awesome recipes that include lentils – I’ve got you covered!). Lentils are by far the cheapest source of protein when compared to meat. In addition, lentils make you feel full longer.

If you’re looking to stretch your food budget and avoid hungry family members, lentils are for you!

The challenge of making lentils tasty

Ever think of adding lentils to your pizza? My son did! Here are tortilla pizzas, a family favorite. Although we often compile sauce, toppings and cheese and then broil it in the oven, my son likes to cook his in an iron fry pan.

This is his double-decker pizza, with lentils, and chickpeas, or as he fondly calls it “chickpeazza.”

Lentils can be used to replace the protein toppings on a pizza, or used in addition to other favorite meat toppings (fyi, the lentils must be cooked first).

Pizza with lentils.

As a lentil “outsider” I have to be honest and say that some lentil dishes present an unattractive appearance. At first sight, even adults may turn their noses. Soft lentils lend themselves to soup and stews – “brown” soup at that. It would take a lot of convincing to get critics to welcome lentils onto their dinner plate.

Let’s see if I can change your view of lentils, but first let’s answer basic lentil questions to get you started.

Common lentil questions

Are lentils good for you? According to the Mayo Clinic, “Lentils are high in protein and fiber and low in fat, which makes them a healthy substitute for meat. They’re also packed with folate, iron, phosphorus, potassium and fiber.”

Are lentils good tasting? Overall, lentils have a bland taste that makes them a neutral food, allowing the cook to season any dish with a seasoning of choice. Different lentil varieties have slightly different tastes.

Oatmeal with peanut butter and lentils - cheap and high protein!

Oatmeal with peanut butter and lentils – cheap and high protein!

Chocolate "Oaties" with lentils, 2 parts oatmeal, 1 part lentils.

Chocolate “Oaties” with lentils, 2 parts oatmeal, 1 part lentils.

Lentils are a very flexible food. They can be added to soups, casseroles, salads and even dessert! In the picture above, lentils add bulk and protein to a dessert recipe.

How do you make lentils not taste like dirt? Experiment with using seasonings with lentils to achieve a more favorable taste. In addition, pair the lentils with other ingredients that have a more dominating flavor, such as onions. Try different varieties of lentils that have slightly different flavors, or use sprouted lentils for a fresh salad taste.

Do colored lentils taste different? Dried brown lentils you see in stores have an earthy taste. Green lentils have a stronger taste, almost peppery. Red lentils are sweeter.

Do lentils only come in a dried form? Lentils come in both canned and dried form.

Do you have to soak lentils before cooking them? Dried lentils have to be soaked before cooking them to remove the lectin. Lectin is a type of protein that is difficult to digest and cause symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea.

The good news is that cooking time in water counts towards soaking time. You can pre-soak the lentils before cooking if you want to, it will shorten the cooking time. The important thing is to never eat a raw lentil (this includes the dried form, it’s not a snack to munch on – except the sprouted version!). Canned lentils offer the convenience of speedier meal prep because the soaking step has already been done for you.

How long do lentils take to cook? Lentils take 20-30 minute to cook. The simmering time does not include bringing the water to a boil first.

Dried lentil package with foreign material warning and cooking instructions.

Dried lentil package with foreign material warning and cooking instructions.

Why are there rocks in lentils? It is not possible to remove all foreign matter when harvesting lentils, despite the use of modern cleaning equipment. Every package of lentils and other legumes carry a disclaimer and encourages the consumer to carefully sort and rinse the legumes before cooking.

My son reports that he doesn’t have time for sorting through lentils and takes his chances. At the least, every user should quickly stir through the lentils prior to soaking or cooking to remove any obvious foreign matter, such as rocks. This is likely rare. My son eats lentils frequently and has never run into a problem.

How do you sprout lentils? Lentils can be sprouted by placing dried lentils in an unsealed jar and adding water overnight. The water will need to be drained off the next day and rinsed periodically over the next couple of days.

Can sprouted lentils be eaten raw? Sprouted lentils can be eaten without cooking because they have gone through the soaking process, which neutralizes the acid and removes the lectin. In this form, they are easily digestible. Sprouted lentils are crunchy and can be added to salads, sandwiches, or eaten by themselves as a healthy snack.

Lorraine from Sow the Land, demonstrates how to sprout lentils in the video below. Stick around until the end, she shows how to make her family’s favorite lentil recipe. In addition to the increased nutritional value of sprouting, how fun it would be as a food experiment for the kids in your house. I’m definitely going to try it!

Lentil dishes for beginners

If you are serious about saving money or just want to expand your palate, start your lentil journey with easy and fun recipes. Later, you can try out the more advanced recipes. Note that in this suggested food list, lentils are either cooked or sprouted first).

 Best lentil dishes for beginners:

  • smoothies
  • food wraps
  • sprinkled on salads
  • added to meat (meatballs)
  • buddha (protein) bowls
  • side vegetable dishes
  • desserts

Lentils can be added to almost anything, no recipe needed. In this dish, lentils join other legumes (split peas and pigeon peas). Rice adds some bulk to the recipe and Cajun seasoning adds a delightful kick.

Lentils also match up well with potatoes, especially in skillet meals.

It’s worth pointing out that the green variety of lentils does not get mushy after cooking, and makes them better suited for salads. Tip: green varieties do need to be cooked longer than other varieties.

Soft lentils are the perfect ingredient to dishes such as soups, and stews.

Lentils, split peas, and pigeon peas with rice an Cajun seasoning.

Lentils, split peas, and pigeon peas with rice an Cajun seasoning.

More Lentil FAQs

Is a lentil a vegetable? According to MyPlate.gov, “Beans, peas, and lentils belong to a group of vegetables called “pulses.” This group includes all beans, peas, and lentils cooked from dry, canned, or frozen, such as: kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, pink beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, pigeon peas, mung beans, and lentils.”

Are lentils a good source of protein? According to lentils.org, a ½ cup serving of cooked lentils provides about 12 grams of protein. When combined with a whole grain, lentils provide the same quality protein as meat!

By themselves, lentils are an incomplete protein. According to Food Science 7 Nutrition, in a 2017 review, lentils are low in methionine and cysteine. The Cleveland Clinic reports that plant based proteins can be made complete by “Including a wide variety of plant foods such as legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains on a daily basis.”

Are lentils good for your skin? According to TheList.com, “the fiber in legumes is amazing for skin. It helps trap toxins in the digestive system, removing them from your body before they can be absorbed and affect the appearance of your skin.” FYI, lentils made their list of “Foods That Prevent Wrinkles.”

How much lentils should you eat a day? A cup of lentils contains 8 grams of fiber. Balance this against the daily recommended source of fiber of  25 to 30 grams per day (the USDA’s recommendation). Also consider your personal tolerance of digestion sensitivity, and the inclusion of other sources of protein in the diet.

Do lentils make you poop? Lentils are a source of fiber and therefore are conducive to the passage of stool through the colon.

Do lentils cause gas? Lentils can cause digestive issues, but less than other legumes. This is due to the fiber in the lentils. Rinsing the beans prior to cooking helps, eating small portion sizes, and introducing lentils slowly into your diet if you have not eaten them before.

Products such as Beano can help reduce the discomfort of gas. Overall, most people do not have issues with stomach bloating and gas, unless they have eaten too great a quantity of lentils.

Are you ready for the lentil challenge?

I encourage you to buy a bag or can of lentils for your pantry. Lentils make great emergency food because they they come in dried or canned form and are a source of protein that doesn’t need refrigeration until after you cook it.

Lentils stretch your food dollar and the meal recipes are endless. Give lentils a try!

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