The time has come to cook, often three meals a day, for the family members quarantined together. We are all trying to figure out what to make and how to stretch the food we have on hand. I bought cans of chickpeas and bags of rice, kasha, split peas, and lentils along with boxes of pasta. I was focusing on food that was healthy and filling and wouldn’t require hours to prepare them.
While I’m making lots of rice in myriad ways, time and time again I have found myself thinking about lentils — which is a good thing since I am presently the proud owner of pounds of them. They answer many of my food quandaries: They’re inexpensive, bags of them don’t take up much space in our kitchen, they cook up quickly, and they’re a good source of protein and fiber. They’re actually even prettier than you may think since lentils come in a rainbow of colors — orange, brown, green, and black. And finally, best for last, they’re tasty. No wonder that our biblical forbears, Jacob and Esau, fought over a lentil stew thousands of years ago. I mean, I almost tackled a woman in the supermarket when I saw her throwing the last dozen bags of lentils into her shopping cart.
If you can get your hands on a bag or more, buy them. As opposed to beans, which need to be soaked overnight, lentils cook up fast. A one-pound bag feeds many. And they’re great in soup, tossed into salads, added to stews, or even serve as the base for a veggie burger.
Here are a few delicious ways to have fun with lentils.
Red Lentil Soup
You can buy red lentils in your local supermarket. They cook faster than the brown ones that are more widely available. If you have chicken or vegetable stock in the cupboard or in your freezer, a fabulous soup, orange in color, flavored with lemon and cumin, is less than an hour away. Here’s my favorite version from The New York Times or try this Syrian Lentil Soup which is simple and satisfying.
You don’t need much for this dish: Basic brown lentils, white or brown rice, some vegetable oil, and onions. Mujaderra has been around the Middle Eastern culinary world forever. Time to make it your own.
Warm lentil salad
Leave it to Ina Garten to come up with a warm lentil salad that tastes rich and luxurious. Her lentils are flavored with cloves, turnip, and Dijon mustard.
Spiced black lentils
Do you want to feel fancy? Try this recipe from Bon Appetit for black beluga lentils, so named because these small legumes look like beluga caviar. The dish is flavored with a variety of seeds — cumin, coriander, and mustard — and topped with a contrasting layer of yogurt, olive oil, and mint leaves.
Tri-colored lentil soup
If you want to mix things up, here’s a soup from Food52 that combines red and green lentils with yellow split peas. Cook the colorful combo with swiss chard, lemon zest, and lemon juice for a soup that is light and bright.
We couldn’t have a list of lentils without the requisite veggie burger recipe. This recipe from Bon Appetit uses the pedestrian brown variety — they are easy to mash and mix with the mushrooms and miso that give this recipe its special kick. Or try this version with homemade mango chutney on top.
If you want to make like the aforementioned Biblical forbears, this lentil stew is for you. In this version, combine lentils with squash or sweet potato for a hearty, filling, and colorful main dish.