What are lentils? Lentils are small legumes that are rich with protein and fiber. Cooking lentils to add to soups and salads make for satisfying meatless meals. Here’s a breakdown on types of lentils and how to incorporate them into your diet along with lentil recipes for you to make at home.

jars of dried lentils

If you’re wanting to add more meatless meals to your diet, lentils is a great place to start.  They’re quick and easy to cook and there’s so many ways you can serve them. 

jars of types of lentils for meatless meals

Plant based diets are becoming more popular these days. It’s said that eating less meat is not only better for our health, but better for the planet. (1)

A plant based diet emphasizes consuming  a diet rich with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, and reduces or eliminates the amount of animal products we consume. When you’re wanting to add more meatless meals to your diet, it helps to have handful of good plant based recipes to get you started.

What Are Lentils?

They’re included in the legume family with beans, chickpeas, split peas and peanuts. They’re also referred to as “pulses” which are the dry edible seeds of the legume plant. They’re low if fat and they’re an excellent source of fiber, vitamin B and plant protein. They’re a great substitute for meat as a source of protein, making them popular in vegetarian and vegan diets. There are several types of lentils to choose from, all are pretty inexpensive to buy and they can be stored for up to a year. There are a number of health benefits of legumes, including helping to reduce cholesterol and lower blood sugar levels.

Types of Lentils

I usually keep a variety of them in my pantry so I can whip up a soup or salad on a whim. They make a healthy, filling and inexpensive meatless meals to serve. Certain lentils work best with different types of plant based recipes. Some are best used for soups, while other might work better in a salad. 

  • Brown Lentils. This is a common type to cook with. They hold their shape pretty well (unless overcooked, then they turn a little mushy). These are great for soups, stews, vegan chili, vegan bolognese, vegan taco meat. 
  • Green Lentils. The texture stays slightly firm when cooked. They’re also great for soups, stews, vegan chili, vegan bolognese, vegan taco meat. 
  • French Green/Puy. These maintain a more firm texture when cooked, and they need a little extra cooking time. They’re good to use for salads and sides.  
  • Red Lentils. These cook quickly and become very soft losing their texture when cooked. They’re perfect for soups.
  • Black/Beluga. These remain slightly firm when cooked, requiring a little longer cooking time. They’re also good to use for soups and salads.

small legumes for plant based diet

Where to Buy Them

You can purchase dried lentils at the market in the section where you’ll usually find bags of dried beans.  Some stores sell them in bulk bins where you scoop them into a bag and weigh them. You should be able to find the brown, green and red variety at most markets. Health food stores often carry a larger variety of them including the French Green (LePuy) and Black (Beluga) variety.

How to Store Them

Dried lentils can be stored in the sealed bags they come in or airtight containers for up to one year. Store them in a pantry away from light, moisture and heat.

types of lentils for meatless meals

Cooking Lentils

Unlike other legumes, cooking lentils is quick and easy because they don’t require soaking first. They’re great to add to soups and salads or use them to make vegan taco meat, bolognese sauce and vegan meatloaf.  

  • Rinse. It’s always good to pick through them as you rinse them under water, removing any shriveled lentils, stones and debris before cooking.
  • Combine ingredients.  Flavor them with garlic and a bay leaf and some fresh basil if you have it on hand. Then add everything to a large pot and cover with enough water to cover by 1-1/2 inches or so.
  • Simmer.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low, cover with lid, and simmer for 20-40 minutes or until they are just tender, depending on the type of lentils you use.
  • Drain.  After they’ve finished cooking, drain and season with salt and pepper.  Now they’re good to serve as a side (with a drizzle of olive oil), use as a meat replacement in recipes or toss in salads.

How to Serve Them

Adding more plant based meals to your diet that look good and taste great is easier than you might think. Here are some ways to make satisfying meals out of the small but mighty lentil.

  • Toss them in salads
  • Use them for soups and stews and casseroles
  • Stuff inside taco shells to make vegan tacos
  • Make lentil meat for vegan burgers and meatloaf
  • Cook with red sauce for a vegan bolognese sauce
  • Blend to make dips (like hummus)
  • Make a vegan shepherd’s pie
  • Add them to protein bowls with veggies and rice or quinoa

Are Lentils Good For You?

Yes! They  have a lot of nutritional value to offer.  They’re low in fat, high in protein, they’re a good source of iron, fiber, folic acid and magnesium.  They’re also rich with polyphenols.  Polyphenols are compounds found in plant foods (such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, dark chocolate, wine and tea),and they act like antioxidants neutralizing free radicals and help to reduce inflammation which is linked to chronic disease.  (2) (3)

  • Low-fat
  • Nutrient dense
  • High in fiber
  • Good source of iron
  • High in protein
  • Good source of folic acid
  • High in magnesium

legumes for plant based recipes

Easy Lentil Recipes for Your Next Meal

Check out these easy lentil recipes for healthy cooking inspiration.

Lentil Salad

This Mediterranean Lentil Salad is one of my favorites! It’s  made with cucumbers, onion, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and kalamata olives all tossed in a light Italian vinaigrette, and it makes a perfect vegetarian side or main. 

Bowl of tossed lentil salad

Lentil Soup

This family-friendly Mexican Lentil Soup (Sopa de Lentejas) is a vegetarian soup that’s quick and easy to make. It’s made with Ortega chilis, onion, garlic, vegetables and it’s perfectly seasoned with cumin and oregano. I love to garnish this Sopa de Lentejas with a few nachos, avocado and fresh cilantro.  

bowl of lentil soup

Also try: 

  • Italian Lentil Soup – This crowd-pleasing soup is quick and easy to make any night of the week!  It’s made with healthy ingredients and seasoned with classic Italian seasoning. This is the best lentil soup recipe to make when you’re craving a rich and hearty bowl of goodness. 
  • Vegan Mulligatawny – This Vegan Mulligatawny Soup is a rich and hearty coconut curry soup made with quinoa and canned chickpeas.
  • Red Lentil Soup – This thick and nutritious soup is pure comfort in a bowl!  It’s  made with red lentils (red split lentils), fresh vegetables, canned tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. It’s a quick and easy recipe to pull together and  your whole family will love it!
  • French Lentil Soup – This soup has all the flavors we love about French onion soup with added lentils for a more substantially filling and protein rich vegetarian soup. 
  • Vegan Lentil Soup – This is a cozy curry flavored soup made with  a delicious exotic combination of flavors.

Lentil Stew

This Hearty Lentil Stew is a richly flavored vegan stew that’s loaded with chunks of fresh vegetables.  It’s one of my favorite meatless meals to make!

Lentil Bolognese Sauce

You will not miss the beef in this richly flavored, stick-to-your-ribs, vegetarian, Lentil Bolognese Sauce.  

This Lentil Bolognese Sauce is quick and easy and makes a perfect vegan meal to make any night of the week

More Resources

  • Black Beans vs Pinto Beans – Learn about black beans and pinto beans and which is healthier, plus recipes.
  • Is Avocado A Fruit – Learn all about avocados, how to choose them, use them, store them, plus recipes.
  • Spinach – Learn all about spinach, how to store it, cook with it, recipes and more.
  • Plum Tomatoes – Learn all about plum tomatoes and how they differ from other tomatoes.
  • Shallots vs Green Onions – Learn about shallots and how they differ from green onions.
  • Mandarin Oranges – Learn about the different types of mandarin oranges, plus recipes.
  • English Cucumber – Learn all about the different types of cucumbers, how to serve them, plus recipes.
  • Is Sparkling Water Healthy – Learn about sparkling water vs seltzer water, is it healthy and is it hydrating.
  • Arugula – Learn about arugula, the benefits, how to serve it, plus recipes
  • Quinoa – Learn everything you need to know about quinoa, how to cook it, plus recipes
pot of cooked lentils
Yield: 4 servings

Lentils

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Here's an easy recipe for cooking lentils to add to soups and salads make for satisfying meatless meals.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup green or brown lentils
  • 1 pot of water

Instructions

  1. Place lentils in a fine mesh colander and pick through removing any little stones and debris. Rinse under cold water.
  2. Combine dried lentils and water in a saucepan filled 3/4 with water and bring to a boil. Cover with lid and reduce heat to a simmer.
  3. Simmer on low for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are just fork tender, yet still slightly firm.
  4. Remove from heat and drain lentils in a colander and set aside to cool.
  5. Add cooked lentils to soups, salads or drizzle with olive oil or toss lightly with Italian vinaigrette.

Notes

How to Use Cooked Lentils

  • Toss them in salads
  • Use them for soups and stews and casseroles
  • Stuff inside taco shells to make vegan tacos
  • Make lentil meat for vegan burgers and meatloaf
  • Cook with red sauce for a vegan bolognese sauce
  • Blend to make dips (like hummus)
  • Make a vegan shepherd’s pie
  • Add them to protein bowls with veggies and rice or quinoa

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 57Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 3mgCarbohydrates: 10gFiber: 4gSugar: 1gProtein: 4g

theharvestkitchen.com attempts to provide accurate information, however, this nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate only. The nutritional information provided comes from online sources and calculations.