When I was a child, I refused to eat lentils when my mother made lentil soup. Now as an adult, I can’t get enough of them. Since lentils are an ancient food that dates back to about 13,000 years ago, it sure took me long enough to get with the program. Lentils are legumes and they come in a wide variety of types, each with distinct flavors, textures and colors. Lentils can be green, brown, black, red, orange, yellow or gold. But lentils offer more than just a pretty face – they are a rich source of protein, fiber, iron and folate. Out of all the beans and legumes, they are one of the easiest to digest. Lentils are also affordable and easy to store.

Unlike many beans, lentils don’t have to be soaked before cooking them. They cook up quickly in about 20 minutes. Lentils are highly versatile, can be eaten hot or cold and will satisfy even the heartiest appetite. No wonder they have been around so long. Lentil soup is delicious but there are so many more ways to enjoy this ancient wonder.

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Here is a bunch of amazing ways to enjoy them.

1. How to Cook Lentils 101Moong-Dal_650

The different types of lentils have different cooking times and uses. Brown lentils are the most common type of lentil and are probably the one people are most familiar with. They have a rich, earthy flavor and hold their shape well, though they are easily mashed. They cook in 20-30 minutes. Green lentils or French lentils have a more robust flavor. They have a firm texture even after cooking. Green lentils take about 45 minutes to cook. Red lentils can actually be red, orange, yellow or gold. They take about 30 minutes to cook and get mushy with a sweeter taste. They are often used in Indian dishes.

Before cooking, pick through the lentils to remove any pebbles or debris. Rinse the lentils under running water. Transfer the lentils to a saucepan and add water. Lentils generally have a 2:1 water to lentil ratio but it’s a good idea to use a little more water, especially for the lentils that need more than 30 minutes to cook. Add any seasonings such as garlic or a bay leaf. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes (40-45 minutes for green lentils) until tender. Add water, if needed, to keep the lentils just submerged. When the lentils are tender, strain them and return them to the pan. Add salt to taste. Use them in your recipes or eat them on their own.

2. Delicious Dals

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So many amazing lentil dishes are found in Indian cuisine. Dals are basically thick, hearty stews, though the term also refers to the legumes used to make them. Most dals are made from lentils, but they can be made from other legumes or split peas. Dals are easy to make – cook lentils in water or broth with onions, tomatoes and Indian spices such as turmeric, cumin, curry, ginger, mustard seeds, coriander and garam masala. They are usually served with rice or roti.

Masoor dal is made with red lentils. This Masoor dal is from Northern India and has a vibrant flavor from curry or try this Simple Lentil Dal, perfect for a satisfying meal.

In Southern India, Tamilian meals are traditionally composed of thick lentil and coconut stews with lots of vegetables. This South Indian Lentil Stew has eggplant, potato, cabbage, and lentils. The Sophie Dal uses green lentils and broccoli to make a delicious, healthy dish. Tuvar Dal or Pigeon Pea lentils are used to make this Indian Tangy Lentils With Curry Leaves and Red Chilis.

3. Superb SaladsLentil-Fennel Dijon Salad With Avocado (Plus, How To Cook Perfect Lentils!) [Vegan, Gluten-Free]

Lentils, especially the green and red ones that hold their shape, are wonderful in salads. They can be added to any salad or they can be the main ingredient. Lentil salads can be served warm or cold. My favorite lentil salad is my Warm Red Lentil Salad. To make it: Combine 1 ½ cups dried red lentils and 3 cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Drain and transfer the lentils to a bowl. In a skillet, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil over medium-high heat and add one chopped red onion. Cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add 4 chopped roasted red peppers to the skillet and saute for 3 minutes or until heated through. Transfer the sauteed onions and peppers to the bowl with the lentils and toss. Mix in 4 cups fresh baby spinach and toss until the spinach wilts from the warm vegetables. Make the dressing by combining ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. agave nectar, 2 grated garlic cloves, ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil and kosher salt and black pepper to taste in a blender. Blend until smooth. Toss the salad with the dressing. Serve hot or cold.

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Other lentil salads include this Spicy Lentil Salad with tomatoes, jalapenos and sprouted lentils, this Green Lentil Salad with hot peppers, this Lentil Fennel Dijon Salad, this Superstar Lentil Taco Salad, and this beautiful Sprouted Green Lentils and Peanuts Salad with citrus dressing.

4. Meatless “Meaty” Dishesmoroccanburgers

Lentils are very popular as a replacement for ground beef because of their rich, meaty taste. I use lentils to make my Vegan Bolognese Sauce that I serve over pasta. Sometimes I make it thicker for Italian Sloppy Joes or try this recipe for Sloppy Josephs. Lentils can also replace the ground meat in taco recipes like these Lentil TacosDouble Decker Lentil Tacos and these Lentil Taco Lettuce Wraps and in dishes like this Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie.

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Everyone should know How to Make Lentil Meatballs so they can make this BBQ Lentil Meatball Sandwich with Sweet Miso Coleslaw and Greek Meatball Soup. Lentil burgers are hearty and delicious. Try this Red Lentil Burger with Kale Pesto, Hearty Lentil and Brown Rice Burger, and Moroccan Spiced Lentil Butternut Squash Burgers. Other “meaty” lentil dishes are this Lentil Loaf, Red Lentil Loaf, Lentil Loaf with Tomato Glaze, Lentil Meat Loaf with Red Paprika Glaze, BBQ Lentil Muffins, and BBQ Lentil Baozi.

5. Energizing Entrees

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People may think of legumes as a side dish but when you add lentils to the usual sides like rice or veggies, it becomes a filling, satisfying entrée. I made a lentil dish recently that I instantly fell in love with. Mujaddara or Rice and Lentils with Crispy Onions and Lemon-Yogurt Sauce is a Lebanese dish that no one will ever mistake for a side dish. Here’s how to make it: first, make the sauce by combining 1 cup plain, non-dairy yogurt, 2 Tbs. lemon juice, 1 minced garlic clove and ½ tsp. salt. Mix well. Taste for any seasoning adjustments. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Second, make the crispy onions. Slice 3 large onions into half-moons and put the onion slices in a colander and sprinkle with 2 tsp. salt. Let them sit about 10 minutes while they release water. Rinse the onions with cold water and pat them dry with a towel until they are completely dry. Toss the onions in 2 Tbs. arrowroot powder. Heat an inch of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the onions to the skillet and fry them until they are browned and crisp. Use 2 forks to pull them apart if they start to stick. Transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with the second half of the onions. Try not to munch on too many because you really want these in the dish. Reserve the oil for cooking the rice.

To make the rice and lentils: Heat 2 Tbs. of the reserved onion oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 4 minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp. each cumin and coriander, ½ tsp. each cinnamon and allspice, ¼ tsp. black pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper. Mix the spices into the oil. Add 2 cups brown rice and toss to coat in the oil and spices. Cook for 2 minutes and then add 3 ½ cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, stir the rice, cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Cook the rice for 30 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Shut the heat and let the rice sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Rinse the lentils in a colander and pick out any pebbles or debris. Add 2 cups brown lentils to a large saucepan. Mix in 1 tsp. each kosher salt, cumin and coriander, ½ tsp. each cinnamon and allspice, ¼ tsp. black pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper. Add 4 ½ cups of water to the pot, stir the lentils and bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and let the lentils simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes until they are tender but not mushy. Drain the lentils and add them to the pot of brown rice. Stir together the lentils and the brown rice in one pot over medium heat. Add in 1 cup green peas and ½ of the crispy onions. Cook just until the peas have heated through and then shut the heat. Stir in fresh chopped cilantro or parsley and reserve some for garnish. Serve the rice and lentil mixture in bowls. Top with more crispy onions and garnish with the remaining cilantro or parsley. Drizzle the lemon-yogurt sauce on top.

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Other lentil entrees include this Lentil-Kale Vegan Risotto that is made with pearled barley instead of rice and this Turnips with Caramelized Onions and Toasted Lentils dish which is a trifecta of health and taste with its fresh turnips, turnip greens and yellow lentils.

6. Surprising SwapsPitas with Lentil Hummus

Lentils can be used in place of other ingredients in ways you may have never thought of. Use lentils instead of black beans to make my Red Lentil Chocolate Brownies. Process dried lentils into a flour and use them as a healthy and gluten-free alternative to other flours in baking and in savory dishes like this Ayurvedic Lentil-Crusted Tofu. Swap red lentils for oatmeal to make a sweet and satisfying porridge. Lentils can stand in for other beans when making vegan sausage. Swap out the chickpeas and make hummus with lentils or enjoy this Pureed Lentil Dip with Caramelized Leeks with pita crisps for a savory spectacular spread. Lentils can even be roasted like chickpeas for a healthy, crispy snack. Find out how in 10 Delicious Ways to Eat Lentils.

7. Soothing SoupsSoup (1)

Of course, lentils do make delicious soups. We just wanted to show you how many other things you can make with lentils. Try my Lentil Vegetable Soup, this Hearty Two-Lentil Soup with Mushrooms and this Curried Lentil Soup.

Lentils are definitely good for so much more than just soup (though lentil soup is amazing). Lentils are one of the most versatile foods around. Try some of these recipes and find out why this ancient food is still so popular today.

BONUS Recommendation: Download the Food Monster AppCuban Lentil Soup With Baked Plantains

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Lead Image Source: Lentil Meat Loaf with Red Paprika Glaze