Friday, March 5, 2010

Lentil Appreciation Week

In honor of Lentil Appreciation Week*, I offer the following two lentil recipes. As I've mentioned before, I have great enthusiasm for lentils. I started cooking with lentils as a way to reduce our meat consumption, but now I just love them for their legume-y selves - they have a unique flavor and texture, they're very quick and easy to cook, and they're an excellent source of protein and iron. As an added bonus, they're ridiculously cheap. Bottom line - if lentils were in possession of any more positive qualities, they could probably figure out a way to get health care reform passed.

*In the interest of full disclosure, I have no idea if such a thing exists, and if it does, when it takes place. For the sake of argument, let's assume it does indeed exist and it's being observed now.

Lentil Soup with Chorizo and Ham

3/4 cup red lentils
3/4 cup green or brown lentils
2 chorizo sausages, cooked and diced
1/2 cup ham, cooked and diced - optional
16 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
32 ounce carton chicken broth
1 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp black pepper
about 2 tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

In a large stockpot, gently heat olive oil and add minced garlic and onion. Saute on low heat while chopping celery and carrots. Toss the celery and carrots in the pot and continue to cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add in the oregano, thyme, black pepper, lentils, tomatoes, broth, chorizo, and ham. Turn the heat up to medium high and allow to simmer until the brown lentils are tender. The red lentils will break down during cooking and make this soup nice and thick. Keep an eye on the soup during the cooking process and add water to achieve the desired consistency - the lentils absorb a ton of liquid. Once the green/brown lentils are tender, they will stop absorbing liquid.

This soup takes about 45 minutes to make, start to finish. It's a very filling soup and freezes well. If you're serving it as the main dish, you'll probably get 6-8 servings, depending on portion size and whether you've made a thicker or thinner soup.

Vegetarian Lentil Chili Bake

I must admit that I struggled with this recipe. Not the recipe itself, but what to call it. I have issues with any recipe that uses the term "bake" in this way - tuna bake, chicken bake, etc. It brings to mind dishes that involve Ritz crackers and cans of cream of mushroom soup, and while these foods certainly have their place in the world, that place does not tend to be inside me. (It's the food snobbery again. Sometimes even I can't stand myself.) Nonetheless, "bake" seems to have a place in this recipe, as it accurately describes what you do with the dish once you've made it.

1 cup red lentils
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
(1) 16 ounce can dark red kidney beans - drained and rinsed
(2) 16 ounce cans black beans - drained and rinsed
(1) 8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 or 2 packages cornbread mix, plus whatever the package indicates you need to make it - I use Jiffy and it calls for milk and an egg.*

In a large pot, heat olive oil over low heat and add minced garlic and chopped onion. Cook for a few minutes, then add lentils, tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans, and jalapeno. Turn the heat up a bit to get things simmering, and add chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook until the lentils are softened and the chili has a nice thick consistency. Keep an eye on things because you might need to add some water or broth. Stir frequently to keep the chili from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

While the chili is cooking, mix up the cornbread and preheat the oven according to the package instructions. When the chili is done, pour it into a casserole dish and put spoonfuls of the cornbread mix on top. Make sure to leave some space between the spoonfuls; otherwise the bottom of the cornbread topping won't cook through. Bake according to the package instructions.

*When I make this recipe, I usually put half the chili in the freezer. Half the recipe will fill an 8x8 inch casserole dish and uses 1 package of cornbread mix. If you want to make it all at once, you'll need an 11x13 inch casserole dish and two packages of cornbread mix to cover the top. A half recipe makes about 4 servings, a whole recipe will make about 8.


  1. I am a lentil novice. Do you have to soak the lentils overnight or anything? About how long do you cook them for in the "bake" recipe? Sounds delicious!

  2. Stacia, there's no need to soak lentils. That's what I love about them! In the chili bake recipe, the lentils should be fully cooked on the stove before the chili goes into the oven - it probably takes 20 minutes or so for them to cook on the stove. When fully cooked, red lentils kind of break down and look mushy. Enjoy!