Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Lentil Challenge

The day of our wedding reception dawned clear and warm, with a big Autumn sun that would wax fat and turn the world golden under an azure sky.  Tent, caterer, bands, photographers, parking, toilets; everything was organized.  Even our seedy neighbors who blighted the pastoral paradise with their yelling and their trash-filled yard had gone away for the weekend (which never happened, until that most amazing and unreal day when, right before my first baby was born, they abandoned the trailer and it was torn down).  And then the septic tank overflowed, and how could it not?  Light doesn't make much sense without the dark.    
Here we are, forgetting our lines.
And just for fun and memories, here's the trailer.  I think the free fridge in the front yard really makes the picture.
Perhaps that is a petty example, when considering the magnitude of the world's troubles.  On the other hand, it would be pretentious and a bit insensitive to philosophize on the virtues of miseries that are not my own, and there is little in my life that would qualify as miserable (although whatever was wrong with my digestive system during my first round of chemo comes pretty close).  I feel like I have new knowledge daily of how good my life is, and how good I can feel, because I have received the gift of feeling bad.  Occasionally little things feel hard, but then they are clearly so little.

Lentils are also little and hard.  How, you might ask, are lentils a logical component of this post?  Well, one of the little things that sometimes feels challenging is the food budget.  By American standards, we just make it.  We have shelter and food, the provisioning of which requires most of our resources.  Having shelter and food, however, makes us beyond wealthy.  Leaving aside the ideal of noble poverty, there is a very good case to be made for the real virtues of focusing on a comfortable subsistence without excess.  When I can bring my attention to problem of survival, without panic, I am present.  Furthermore, composing meals to my standards (food must have vitality, nutrition and aesthetic appeal, which generally means it must be organic in essence, alive, and varied) with limited financial means requires a lot of energy and creativity.

One easy way to enhance my kitchen creativity is to exploit the creativity of others, hence the lentil challenge.  I buy French lentils in 25# bags and store them in a five gallon pail with a screw-on Gamma lid.  I pay a couple bucks a pound for the lentils.  In addition to all the fabulous ways one can cook lentils, they make a terrific sprouted salad - just soak them overnight and then rinse them and drain them regularly until they sprout.  Add lemon juice, celery, olive oil and salt and pepper.  Done.  I would like to share some of my favorite lentil recipes, as well as a few I have picked up from others.  The challenge is, can you add to this collection?  Please share your recipes or links!

With these and all soup recipes, I make double or triple the quantity and freeze the leftovers:

From New Vegetarian by Celia Brooks Brown

Lentil, Coconut and Wilted Spinach Soup

  • 2/3 C French Lentils
  • 4 C stock
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 C coconut milk (I substitute 1 C organic unsweetened flaked coconut, as I prefer the texture and taste, and to avoid the gums that are typically added to canned coconut milk)
  • 2 T dark soy sauce (this really depends on the saltiness of your stock base - I have definitely over-salted this soup before by using a salty base and 3T of soy)
  • 4 handfuls of baby spinach, about 2 C
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Rinse the lentils (soak overnight in water with apple cider vinegar for maximum nutrition), then put in large saucepan with stock.  Add one C water if using flaked, rather than canned, coconut.  Boil for 10 minutes, then add remaining ingredients, except for spinach.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until lentils are tender. Put small handful of spinach in each bowl, and add soup.  The soup wilts the spinach.

This one cooks with lemon, which adds a nice lightness to a winter soup.

From Williams-Sonoma Soup, by Diane Rossen Worthington

Lentil Soup
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped fine
  • 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced (peeled if not organic)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1 C canned diced tomatoes, with juice.  (If you are concerned with BPA in canned tomatoes, as I am, there are some alternatives.  One option is the tetra-pak types in the cardboard boxes; Pomi makes them and so does Trader Joe's.  If you have frozen or canned of your own, great.  I use a mix of Bonaturae tomato paste, which comes in glass jars, and reconstituted sundried tomatoes, chopped.)
  • 1 1/2 C French lentils
  • 6 C stock
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 C coarsely chopped fresh spinach, kale, or other hearty green.
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Rinse the lentils and soak overnight in water with apple cider vinegar for maximum nutrition. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil.  Add the onion, celery, carrot and bay and saute in softened, about five minutes.  Add garlic and curry powder and stir until fragrant, about one minute more. Add tomatoes, lentils, stock and lemon slices.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat, cover partially (I do this by propping the lid open with a chop-stick) and cook, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.  Discard the lemon slices and bay leaf. Just before serving, add the greens and stir in to wilt.  Serve immediately.

This one is from At Home With Ann
She got it from Oh She Glows   
Protein Power Goddess Bowl
  • 2 cups uncooked brown rice (or however much you want to make)
  • 1.5-2 cups uncooked lentils (you need 4 cups cooked lentils)
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
  • 1 red/yellow/orange pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup Tahini lemon garlic dressing
  • 8-10 sundried tomatoes, sliced (optional)
  • 2 large handfuls of mixed greens (or spinach)
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • Lemon wedges and olives, for garnish (optional)
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste (I think I used about 1/4-1/2 tsp kosher salt in the sauté)
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil for sautéing
Directions: Cook lentils and rice according to package directions, rinse with cold water, strain, and set aside. (Soak them overnight in water with some apple cider vinegar to get maximum nutrition from them) In a large skillet, add in the oil and heat to low-medium temperature. Now add in the onion, garlic, red pepper, salt, pepper, and optional sundried tomatoes. Sauté for about 5 minutes over low-medium heat. Now add in the cooked, drained, and rinsed 4 cups of lentils and stir well. Cook for another few minutes. Add in 1 cup of tahini lemon garlic dressing and stir well. Cook until it starts to bubble and then remove from heat. Add in 2 large handfuls of greens and parsley and stir well again. Portion cooked brown rice into the bowl(s) and then scoop the sauté lentil mixture overtop of the rice. Garnish with olives and a lemon wedge if preferred. Makes about 6 large portions. Dressing: Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Directions: In a food processor, process all ingredients until smooth. Makes about 1.5 cups.

Here is another one, from Buckwheat Blossom: Bengali Lentil Soup from Hope's Edge by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe; serves 6 1 cup red lentils 4 cups water 1/2 tsp. turmeric 1 cup canned tomatoes 1 1/2 tsp. salt 2 T. vegetable oil 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds 1/2 tsp. yellow or black mustard seeds 2 tsp. jalapeno pepper (1/2 small), seeded 4 cups onions (2 large), finely sliced 5 tsp. garlic (3 to 4 cloves), sliced 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (I don't have these handy in the winter, so I added a bit of coriander instead with great results) Add lentils to water in a large saucepan. Add turmeric and stir. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes until the lentils are soft. Add tomatoes and salt, and cook for a few minutes longer. Reduce heat. Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds and saute until fragrant, for just a few minutes. Cook at a low heat and be careful not to burn the seeds. Add jalapeno, onions, and garlic, and cook until golden brown (about 10 minutes). Add onion mixture to lentils and cook for a few minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Add fresh cilantro leaves to the lentil soup and cover to steep for a minute. Serve while hot. For a final touch, scoop a dollop of fresh yogurt on top.


  1. This uses red instead of green lentils.

    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    2 cups chopped onions
    3 garlic cloves, minced

    3 cups water
    1 cup dried red lentils*
    3/4 teaspoon turmeric
    3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

    1 cup basmati rice,* cooked according to package directions
    2 plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
    1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    1 jalapeño chili, seeded, chopped


    Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 cup onion and 1 minced garlic clove and sauté until tender and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside. Combine 3 cups water, lentils, remaining 1 cup onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, turmeric, cumin and ginger in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer half of lentil mixture to processor; purée until smooth. Return purée to same saucepan. Mix in sautéed onion mixture. Simmer 5 minutes to blend flavors. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
    Spoon rice into bowls. Spoon dal over. Top with tomatoes, greek yogurt, cilantro and chili.

  2. Yes, I love dal! And it is an excellent excuse to eat chutney, of course!

  3. Angela at Oh She Glows has several lentil recipes. This one look especially good:

  4. We too use lentils and other beans to stretch our food budget. Thanks so much for the recipes. Will try them out. peace and blessings

  5. Sarah, your blog is amazing. You're a gifted writer and your perspective on the world is refreshing and smart. I feel lucky to know you! Thanks for the great recipes! Sam has always loved lentils...this is my go to recipe. It is so easy and freezes beautifully.

    From Top 100 Baby Purees by Annabel Karmel

    1/2 c. finely chopped onion
    2 med. carrots, peeled and chopped
    2 Tbs chopped celery
    1 Tbs vegetable/canola oil
    1/4 c. split red lentils
    1 med. sweet potato, peeled and chopped
    1 3/4 c. water

    Saute the onion, carrots, and celery in the oil for about 5 minutes or until softened. Add the lentils and sweet potato and pour in the water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Puree to desired consistency.


  6. I made this spicy squash salad with lentils using a recipe from smitten kitchen (adapted from Bon Appetit). I used a combination of butternut squash and sugar pumpkin because I had both on hand, and included the arugula.


    I haven't actually made these lentil sloppy joes yet, but word on the street is they are very good. And you can feed them to people who think they don't want to eat vegan. Also, Mama Pea has adorable children with their hair in topknots, so it's worth the read just for that.

  8. A friend emailed me this one, from "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" - Deborah Madison

    Red Lentil Soup with Lime

    2 C split red lentils, picked over and rinsed
    1 T turmeric
    4 T butter
    1 large onion, finely diced
    2 t ground cumin
    1 1/2 t mustard seeds or 1 t ground mustard
    1 bunch chopped cilantro, about 1 C
    juice of 3 limes
    1 large bunch of spinach leaves, chopped into small pieces
    1 C cooked rice
    4-6 T yogurt

    Put the lentils in a soup pot with 7-8 C water, 1 T butter, 1 T salt. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer, covered, until lentils are soft and falling apart, about 20 minutes. Puree.

    While the lentils are cooking, prepare the onion flavoring. In a medium skillet over low heat, cook the onion in 2 T of butter with the cumin and mustard, stirring occasionally. WHen soft, about the time the lentils are cooked or after 15 minutes, add the cilantro and cook for another minute. Add the onion mixture to the soup, then add the juice of 2 limes. Taste and adjust; should be a little sour.

    Just before serving, add 1 T butter to a wide skillet. When foamy, add the spinach, sprinkle with salt, and wilt. If the rice is warm, place a spoonful in each bowl. If it's cold, add it to the soup to heat up for a minute. Serve the soup, divide the spinach among the bowls, and add a dollop of yogurt.