One evening back when I was in college, I remember getting ready to cook dinner with a friend. We had to run to the store to get some lentils, something I’d never cooked with and barely heard of. When I asked my friend what they were, he said: “You know, lentils. They’re little beans.” Fast forward 20 years and I still refer to lentils as “little beans”. But are they really?
Turns out, lentils are, in fact, part of the legume family—plants grown for their edible seeds—which also includes peas, beans, and chickpeas. Lentils come in many colors, from red to brown to green to yellow to black. Lentils are a healthy addition to any diet, packing carbs, protein, fiber, iron, and B vitamins. They are also naturally gluten-free!
Two things to remember when cooking with lentils: First, each color lentil cooks differently, so pay attention to which type of lentil your need in your recipe. If it just says “lentil”, go with the green variety, as that tends to be the easiest to find in the grocery store. Second, lentils need seasoning! You can throw all kinds of hefty seasoning on these guys and they will take it and ask for more.
Ready to try your hand at cooking with lentils? Here are a few of our favorite lentil recipes.
Smitten Kitchen’s Burrata with Lentils and Basil Vinaigrette
I made this recipe for the first time a few months ago, and dreamed of it for weeks afterwards. The creaminess of the burrata mixed with warm lentils and flavorful vinaigrette was delightful.
Alton Brown’s Lentil Soup
Your basic lentil soup recipe, but with spices that bring it to the next level. I like my lentil soup half pureed, but you can modify this recipe to your own tastes.
Minimalist Baker’s Vegan Shepherd’s Pie
Shepherd’s Pie is a winter staple in my house; this lighter version swaps ground meat for lentils, which makes it perfect for a raw, rainy summer evening meal. Fast, easy and delicious!