Lentils are growing in popularity, perhaps because they cook quickly and are an excellent protein source for vegetarian and vegan diets. There are many different varieties on the market that work well for salads and soups. Try these healthy lentil recipes for your weight loss plan.
The word lentil derives from the Latin, lenticula, or lens. Shaped like the lenses in our eyes, all lentils are legumes, with the same basic nutritional benefits- more or less-depending on the variety. You’ll find them an excellent source of
- high protein
- high fiber
- and significant iron and potassium.
The 4-1-1 on lentils
People have been growing and eating lentils for thousands of years, as evidence of their ancient consumption can be found in Western Asia and the Middle East. Grown and consumed around the globe, lentils are mentioned in the Bible, and recipes are found in Greek and Roman writing. Reportedly, hundreds of varieties exist, but the more widely available types of lentils include:
- Brown (sometimes called green). The most commonly available lentils. Larger in size, the brown type cooks quickly but doesn’t hold its shape so well. Best used for soups or casseroles where a firm lentil isn’t required.
- Red/Yellow (not to be confused with yellow split peas). Popular in Indian cooking, especially for traditional dal soups. They tend to break down and lose their shape, but that makes them great for dal’s creamy consistency.
- Black (Beluga). Beluga lentils hold their distinctive round shape when cooked. They take a bit longer to cook but stay intact well and are great for salads and hot casseroles. Find them in specialty food stores if your local grocery doesn’t carry them.
- French (du Puy). Known for their very deep green, almost black, color, French lentils also take longer to cook and hold their shape. Use in soups when you want a less mushy texture, or use in salads or casseroles.
The standard serving size listed on packages of dry lentils is 1/4 cup dry, which cooks up to 3/4 to 1 cup cooked, depending on how much water you use. Basically, bring 3-4 cups of water to a boil for every cup of dry lentils. Add the lentils, cover and simmer 20-30 minutes, depending on the tenderness you want for your recipe.
Lentils add high-protein value to vegan and vegetarian diets. As a bonus, they cook quickly compared to other dried legumes, and the flavors work well with lots of different cuisine styles. Check out these recipes for creative ways to cook lentils.
3 Healthy lentil recipes for your weight loss-friendly and vegetarian collection
Black Lentil Salad
Beluga lentils may be more difficult to find, but are worth the effort. I found a recipe for a salad using them and adapted it for easier preparation. Enjoy this flavorful vegetarian dish for a summer evening meal. Accompany with a tossed green salad and warm pita bread.
- 1 cup black/Beluga lentils
- 3 tbsp olive oil or canola oil
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- pinch of dried tarragon
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
- 3-4 scallions, sliced thin, about 1/4 cup
- 1 cup chopped fresh tomato or substitute sweet red pepper or 1/4 cup minced sun-dried tomatoes
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
1. Cook the lentils in 2-3 cups water for 30-40 minutes until done. Add more water as necessary. They should be firm and hold their shape, but not too hard to eat. Drain off any excess water.
2. Set aside to cool.
3. Whisk the oil, mustard, garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and tarragon in a small bowl. Mix into the cooled lentils.
4. Add the chopped vegetables and combine gently.
5. Garnish the salad with the sliced egg and serve.
Per serving: 274 calories, 13 g fat, 31 g carb, 15 g protein, 400 mg sodium, 8 grams fiber
Red Lentil Soup or Dal
Dal is a traditional Indian soup that has probably as many different recipes as cooks. You need to know these basic concepts: first off, use red lentils cooked in lots of water until creamy. They fall apart easily, so you won’t need to puree them at all. Second, use spices like cumin, ginger, and lime. Fresh cilantro serves as a traditional garnish.
Many traditional Indian recipes list a dozen or more spices, some more exotic like asafetida (or hing), a ground tree resin with an aroma similar to garlic. This simplified recipe substitutes minced garlic.
Makes 6 servings
- 4 cups vegetable broth, or plain water
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 3 tbsp peanut oil
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 1/2 tsp minced jalapeno or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- juice of 1/2 lime (or more to taste)
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1. Bring the broth or water to a boil, add the lentils and turmeric and simmer 1 to 1-1/2 hours until lentils are very soft. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. The broth will cook down a bit, and you can add more water if it gets too thick.
2. Heat the peanut oil in a small pan over moderate heat. Add the garlic, jalapeno pepper, and spices and stir to cook briefly. Be careful not to burn! Add the hot spices, salt, and lime juice to the dal. Taste and adjust seasonings to suit your preferences. Add cilantro just before serving.
3. For a complete meal, add naan (flatbread) or a rice dish and a vegetable curry dish.
Per serving: 169 calories, 7 grams fat, 19 grams carb, 8 grams protein, 480 mg sodium, 2 grams fiber. This nutrition information is for the dal only. You need to add any flatbread, rice, or vegetable curry if eaten.
Spiced French Lentils (du Puy lentils)
Du Puy lentils have a somewhat earthy flavor, perhaps because they’re traditionally grown on volcanic soil. In fact, the name “du Puy” refers only to lentils grown in a specific region of France with that type of soil. Grown anywhere else, they are just French lentils. Whatever you call them, they do hold their shape better than brown lentils.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced, about 1/2 to 3/4 cup
- 1 cup du Puy (or other French) lentils
- 3 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp capers, drained
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
- 1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 cup minced fresh flat- leaf parsley
1. Saute the onion and carrots in the olive oil in a saucepan that has a lid.
2. Add the water and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Add the lentils, reduce heat, and simmer about 40 minutes. Lentils should hold their shape but still be tender enough to eat.
3. After lentils are cooked, drain off excess water.
4. Add the capers, lemon juice and zest, salt, and seasonings. Mix gently.
5. Adjust salt to taste.
6. Accompany with a grain-based dish for a meatless meal, or use as a side to grilled chicken or fish.
7. Garnish with parsley before serving.
Per serving: 243 calories, 7 grams fat, 33 grams carb, 12 grams protein, 657 mg sodium, 16 grams fiber