Lentils are more than just for soups — there, we said it. While lentil soup is, no doubt, delicious, we think it’s also great to experiment with all the possibilities these little legumes have to offer. Lentils are a fabulous choice for when you’re eating on a budget and for when you need to cook something fast because, unlike beans, you don’t need to soak lentils before cooking them. They are also generally higher in protein and high in fiber so they keep you fuller longer. Not only that, because of their hearty texture, lentils make a wonderful substitute for meat in recipes of all kinds. You can use them to make meat sauces like this Hearty Lentil Broccoli Bolognese or this Lentil and Mushroom Ragu or meaty burgers like this Foolproof Mega Lentil Burger.
Just as there are lentils of all kinds, there are different uses for different types of lentils. Red lentils get mushy when cooked, so they’re good for soups, stews, and chilis. Brown, French, and black or beluga lentils hold their shape when cooked so they’re good in veggie meatballs, burgers, or any other recipe where you want a chunky texture.
Ready for recipes? We’re right there with you. Try these 15 awesome recipes where lentils are the perfect stand-in for meat.
1. Lentil, Walnut, and Millet Meatballs
If you’ve ever had meatballs made from seitan, textured vegetable protein, or even tofu, you know that it’s possible to make delicious meatless meatballs. But did you know, you can make meaty and hearty meatballs from legumes, grains, and nuts? It’s true! These Lentil, Walnut, and Millet Meatballs are combined with onions, tomato paste, and spices and herbs for flavor, and then baked until brown and crispy. Toss these meatballs on a blanket of spinach leaves and brown rice pasta, add some cashew cheese if your heart desires it, and dig in.
2. Hearty Lentil and Brown Rice Burgers
The challenge that most run into when it comes to making homemade veggie burger patties is that they tend to quickly fall apart. The great thing about these Hearty Lentil and Brown Rice Burgers is that they hold together surprisingly well. They are hearty, flavorful, and go well with barbecue sauce or any of your other favorite burger toppings. If you don’t own a barbecue, they can be cooked in a pan on the stove-top for an easy weeknight meal.
3. Cranberry Lentil Loaf With Maple Glaze
This gluten-free Cranberry Lentil Loaf With Maple Glaze is definitely is so delicious, yet it’s super easy to make. Black lentils create a meaty, hearty base speckled with chia seeds, vegetables, and bright red cranberries that provide a burst of flavor. It’s finished off with a sweet maple-mustard glaze that’s like icing on the cake … err, loaf.
4. Harira Soup With Hummus Pitas
This Harira Soup With Hummus Pitas is so hearty, it’s pretty much a stew — and unlike the original Moroccan recipe, this one doesn’t need meat to taste meaty! Lentils, rice, and chickpeas get the job done. If you want some extra spice, feel free to throw in cayenne pepper or a minced chili pepper, then serve with the pitas and hummus to make it a complete meal.
5. Lentil Apricot Tapenade With Curry Aioli
Traditional tapenade calls for anchovies, but this Lentil Apricot Tapenade With Curry Aioli swaps them out with lentils and still keeps all the flavor. Hearty Beluga lentils are stirred together with chopped almonds and apricots and then combined with a creamy curried aioli sauce. The punch of onion and the sweetness of the apricot, plus the crunch of almonds, dresses up this versatile legume beautifully.
6. Cheesy Lentil Lasagna
This Cheesy Lentil Lasagna has layers of hearty lentil Bolognese, creamy cashew cheese, and pasta. And if you make a few key ingredients ahead of time, like the lentils and the nut cheese, you can assemble this dish in mere minutes. Yum!
7. Black Lentil Chili With Pico de Gallo and Shoestring Fries
This Black Lentil Chili With Pico de Gallo and Shoestring Fries is the epitome of comfort food and is packed with a whole lot of roasted pepper and tomato goodness. It’s perfect on its own or you can dress it up with yummy crispy shoestring fries and an incredible, crunchy, and colorful veggie Pico de Gallo that really adds a fresh quality to the mix. You can eat this chili with chips or add it to quesadillas, burritos, tacos, and salads. Yum!
8. BBQ Lentil Muffins
Whether you’re serving them for lunch or at as a game day appetizer, these savory BBQ Lentil Muffins are a guaranteed hit. They are easy to make, gluten-free, nut-free, low in fat, and full of protein since they’re made from lentils, millet flour, and flax meal. Chopped veggies and corn add color and flavor a rich barbecue sauce stirred into the batter makes each bite taste like a mini meatloaf — without the meat.
9. Lentil Enchilada Pasta
This Lentil Enchilada Pasta has all the comfort of enchiladas and a pasta dish with a light and fresh touch from the greens and avocados. Tomatoes, hot spices, and lentils are combined in a sauce that’s “meaty” and savory. This inventive take on pasta is perfect to take with you to potlucks, where it’ll be the first dish to disappear.
10. Lentil and Bell Pepper Sloppy Joes
These Lentil and Bell Pepper Sloppy Joes are healthier than the originals yet still fill you with all of the comforts of childhood. Lentils pack enough meaty flavor to make these sloppy joes taste like the real thing, bell peppers add another layer of texture, and the thick tomato paste makes it deliciously saucy. Use organic ketchup to avoid excess corn syrup and sugar and then dig in!
11. Scotch ‘Egg’
A Scotch egg usually consists of a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs and baked or deep-fried. This recipe has taken the spirit of the Scotch Egg and made it vegan. It is a delicious powerhouse for your body. Not only are these treats oil free but you also get a lot of protein from the lentils. This dish tastes like comfort food but in actuality is good for you.
12. Lentil and Mushroom Stuffed Onions
These Lentil and Mushroom Stuffed Onions are so simple, but so flavorful, and so delicious. Instead of ground meat, these white onions are stuffed with a savory mixture of lentils, chickpeas, red onion, and mushrooms that is puréed until crumbly. Then, they are baked until the onion halves are crispy around the edges and pleasantly sweet, savory, and a little tangy. These may be a side dish, but guests will be scrambling for them like they’re the main course.
13. Homestyle Meaty Tomato Sauce With Lentils and Walnuts
14. American Chop Suey
American Chop Suey is an Italian-influenced pasta dish that got its start in the Northeast U.S. The original recipe for calls for ground beef, but this recipe uses red lentils cooked in vegetable broth with plenty of seasoning to make it savory. Quick, easy, and comforting, it’s easy to make a big batch of this and eat it throughout the week.