Ever heard the critic that plant-based diets are too expensive and devoid of protein? We certainly haven’t (cue the eye rolls). While we agree that some specialty items such as fancy vegan cheeses and bacon imitations might tip the scale towards the pricy range, whole plant-foods form the basis of some of the least expensive but nutrition packed meals out there. That’s especially the case of one of our favorite protein-source — lentils.
Not only do these tiny legumes come in so many different varieties that it’s impossible to not find one we like but they are also incredibly versatile. They go well in soups, salads, and stews and you can also use them to form delicious meat-like patties or meatloaf. They cook faster than their bean counterparts and they’re easier to digest as well. Honestly, what’s not to like?
Sadly, lentils’ health benefits and their many uses remain somewhat unknown to most people, vegans or not. Did you know, by example, that one cup of lentils covers 36 percent of our iron needs for a day?
Interested in learning more about this inexpensive whole-food staple? Here are a few of the main varieties of lentils out there along with their amazing nutritional and health benefits:
Perhaps the most well-known type of lentils there is, red lentils actually range from golden to deep orange in color. When cooked, these lentils break apart and have a mushy texture which means they’re perfect in soups and stews such as this Red Lentil Tikka Masala (pictured above) and this Red Lentil Soup With Fresh Cilantro and Lemon. Since red lentils cook in about thirty minutes or less and have a pleasant soft texture, you can also use them to make burger patties for a quick tasty dinner. We recommend trying these Red Lentil and Amaranth Protein Patties With Spicy Avocado Mayo and these Red Lentil Burgers With Kale Pesto.
Want more delicious recipes featuring red lentils? Check out this Red Lentil Curry With Black Tahini and Roasted Cashews, this Sweet Potato, Quinoa, and Red Lentil Stew, and this Indian-Spiced Red Lentil Patty Sandwich.
This variety of lentil is perfect for those who like hearty and filling meals. Contrary to red lentils, green lentils hold their shape through the cooking process which makes them a great addition to salads and other dishes who require some bite and texture. You can recognize green lentils by their pale green to brownish color and once prepared they have a pleasant firmness and robust flavor. They do take a bit longer to cook so be aware of this when you get to meal prep.
Not sure how to make green lentils stand out in recipes? We suggest giving this French Onion, Fennel, and Green Lentil Soup (pictured above), this Maple-Glazed Mushroom and Lentil Loaf, this Miso Soup With Garlicky Lentils, Kale, and Mushrooms, and these Chili Lime Lentil Tacos With Spicy Grilled Pineapple Salsa a try.
Along with red lentils, brown lentils are one of the most commonly found type. Like green lentils, they hold their form and lend well to dishes that need substance and a mild meaty flavor like this Portobello Lentil Shepherd’s Pie (pictured above) and this Brown Lentil Pizza Crust. Typically, brown lentils are somewhat khaki in color but they can also have a black hue. Since their cooking time is on the shorter side (around 20 minutes), brown lentils are an ideal ingredient for your quick recipe needs.
4. Puy Lentils
If you’ve never heard of Puy lentils, you can think of them as green lentil’s fancier cousin. Puy lentils who originate from Le Puy region in France, have a unique blueish tint and a pleasant peppery flavor. Like their green counterparts, Puy lentils hold their shape once they’re cooked. Smaller than original green lentils, they are great in salads and side dishes but they also make a great addition to soups.
Not sure how best to use up these special lentils? Try out this Sweet Potato Chili With Skillet Cornbread, this Puy Lentil and Red Pepper Hummus Bowl, and this Golden French Lentil Soup. You can also check out these French Lentil and Mushroom Burgers and this Beet and Lentil Salad With Beet Greens.
Beluga lentils, otherwise known as black lentils, are ironically the smallest of all varieties of lentils. These tiny legumes resemble caviar in appearance once they’re cooked but they have a rich and earthy taste. Since they hold their shape well through cooking and pair well with any vegetable you can use them in cold salads, soups, or alongside rice or pasta dishes.
Want to try out this delicate and flavorful lentil? Check out this Black Lentil Chili With Pico de Gallo and Shoestring Fries (pictured above), this Beluga Lentils With Butternut Squash, Mushrooms, and Plums Salad, this Golden Raisin and Beluga Lentil Salad With Cumin Caramelized Vegetables, and this Black Lentil Charred Broccoli Shepherd’s Pie. You also won’t regret making these Mini Pot Pies With Black Lentil, Fennel, and Thyme and this Black Lentil Dosa.
As you have seen, lentils have a lot going for them — they’re filling, comforting, versatile, and damn tasty! However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. In terms of macronutrients, lentils are a true powerhouse. Not only do they provide our bodies with healthy slow burning carbohydrates but they are a great source of protein as well with around 18 grams per cup. Naturally low in fat and high in fiber, lentils are considered a low glycemic index food which means that they help keep our blood sugar levels stable and prevent diabetes.
Other than fueling us with plenty of energy without any crash, these tiny legumes are also packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that keep our immune system strong, our metabolic functions optimal, and by proxy prevent a whole host of diseases.
Lentils are especially rich in iron with 36 percent of our RDA in only one cup. This mineral plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and is responsible for aiding our metabolism regulate cellular functioning and hormone synthesis. Lentils are also a great source of vitamin B6 and folate, two important types of B-vitamins who form the building blocks in the synthesis of serotonin in our brain, a neurotransmitter involved in stabilizing our mood and relieving stress.
Last but not least, phenolic compounds called tannins found in lentils confer powerful inflammation-fighting properties. Namely, these type of antioxidants have been found to help prevent cancers, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases.
Who knew that such a tiny legume could be so mighty? And mighty tasty too!
Do you have a favorite kind of lentil? Let us know in the comments!
Want to find out more about protein-packed vegan staples and what recipes you can make with them? Here are a few articles that might interest you:
- These 14 Foods Made With Lentils Prove That There is More to This Protein-Packed Legume Than Soup
- 21 Protein-Packed Vegan Recipes for Lentil Lovers
- 10 Delicious Ways to Eat Lentils
- 15 Protein-Packed Recipes Where Lentils Stand In For Meat
- Protein-Packed Lentils Are More Than Just For Soup — Here’s How to Use Them Best
- 10 Frugal Vegan Meals You Can Make Out of Pantry Goods
- Ever Wonder What to Do With Mung Beans? Here are 6 Ideas!
If you’re looking for more delicious recipes featuring inexpensive pantry staples, as well as cooking tips, then we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Chamille White