Want to save money and eat more nutritious foods? Give lentils a try. Lentils are a delicious, low-cost substitute for meat; they cook quickly and can be used in a wide variety of dishes.
Lentils are a nutritious choice
- Lentils are high in fibre and protein. They are a good source of folate, potassium and iron. They are also naturally low in fat and sodium (salt).
- Lentils are considered a plant-based protein. Canada’s Food Guide recommends choosing more plant-based proteins to help prevent diseases like heart disease and cancer.
- Dried lentils have no sodium (salt) but canned lentils often do. Reduce the sodium by draining and rinsing canned lentils under cold, running water or buying canned lentils with no added salt.
Try something new
Lentils come in different sizes, colours, and shapes. They may be whole, split into halves, dried or canned. Lentils may also be called dahl. Experiment with different types of lentils in your favourite dishes. Which of these lentils do you want to try?
- Red lentils
- French lentils (grayish-brown)
- Yellow lentils
- Beluga lentils (black)
How to buy lentils
Dried lentils often cost less than canned ones. However, canned lentils are still a good buy and can save you a lot of time. Just open the can, rinse for a few minutes and add them to your dish.
Compare brand name, no name and bulk store prices. If you have room to store them, buy extra canned or dried lentils when they are on sale
Tips for storing lentils
- Store dried lentils in an airtight container in the cupboard or in a cool dry place for up to one year.
- Cover and refrigerate within two hours of cooking.
- Dried lentils that have been cooked can be kept covered in the fridge for 5-7 days or frozen for up to 6 months. Label with the date and store an airtight container made for freezing food. Having lentils in the freezer makes them easy to add to any meal.
- Buy cans that are not dented, leaking, cracked or have bulging lids.
- Unopened canned lentils will keep in the cupboard or cool, dry place for up to one year.
- After opening and rinsing canned lentils, store in a covered glass or airtight container in the fridge, not in the opened can. They will keep for 3-4 days.
- Freeze cooked lentils for 1-2 months. Label with a date and store in an airtight container made for freezing food. Canned lentils that are frozen will be quite soft once defrosted. Add them to cooked dishes.
Tips for cooking lentils
- Canned lentils are already cooked. Just rinse well and they are ready to use.
- For dried lentils, lay flat on a cookie sheet and pick out any stones. Then rinse and simmer in low-sodium broth or water for 20-30 minutes, until tender.
- Dried lentils can double in size when cooking, so be sure to use a large pot or pan. Add 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of oil to prevent foam from forming.
- When cooked, green and French (brown) lentils keep their shape. The other varieties, such as red and yellow lentils, and split lentils, will become soft, like a puree. These are great for soups, dips or even baby food.
- Seasoning ideas: cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, and vegetables such as onions, carrots and celery. Don't add tomatoes, vinegar or other acids to the dish until the lentils are cooked. Acidic foods slow down the cooking process.
- Try lentils as a side dish (puréed, whole or combined with vegetables) or in salads, soups and stews.
- 1 cup (250 mL) of dried lentils will produce 2.5 cups (625 mL) of cooked whole lentils or 2 cups (500 mL) of cooked split lentils.
5 things to do with lentils
1. Basic lentil side dish
New to cooking lentils? Give this a try. Use French (brown) or whole green lentils because they keep their shape after they are cooked.
- Remove any stones from dried lentils, then rinse and drain.
- In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon (15 mL) oil. Sauté one of each: diced onion, garlic clove, carrot and stalk of celery.
- Add dried lentils and water or broth to pot. For every 1 cup (250 mL) of lentils, add 4 cups (1 L) of water or broth.
- Cook over high heat until lentils come to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until lentils are tender but not falling apart. Add extra water or broth as needed. Enjoy!
- If you are using canned lentils, simply rinse and add to sautéed vegetables until the dish is hot.
- Dahl is another name for lentils as well as a type of pureed lentil stew and is a classic South Asian side dish (also spelled daal, dal, daahl).
- There are many types of dahl. It is often made into a purée with lentils, onions, tomatoes, and seasoning (such as curry powder, turmeric, coriander powder, red chili powder or Garam masala). Give this dahl recipe a try!
- Try it with curry dishes, roti, chapatti or naan bread.
3. Make meat go farther
Add fibre and save money by replacing some of the meat in recipes (like in meatloaf or meat sauce) with puréed lentils. Use them to thicken soups and stews as well. Here's how:
- In a medium sized pot, over medium heat, combine 1 1/3 cups (375 mL) of lentils and 4 cups (1 L) of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, then simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Remove from heat and purée in a blender. Makes 3 cups (750 mL) cooked lentils.
- Store purée in fridge for 5-7 days. If using canned lentils, store for 3-4 days.
- Freeze extra purée in ice cube trays. Once frozen, transfer cubes to freezer bags, which makes it easier to defrost only the amount you need. Freeze for up to 3 months.
4. Quick lentil lunches
- For a satisfying meal, add canned lentils to homemade soups and low-sodium canned vegetable soups
- Make a lentil salad with leftover rice, pasta, quinoa, bulgur or couscous. Add fresh, frozen or leftover veggies. Season with your favourite salad dressing. Or try brown rice, lentils, frozen edamame or corn, chopped bell pepper, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
- Add canned lentils to prepared pasta sauce. Toss into cooked pasta with frozen mixed veggies.
Try this: Quinoa and lentil pilaf
5. Tasty lentil and veggie tostados
A tostado is a tortilla with toppings (beans, meats, cheese) that is broiled until crispy (like an open-faced sandwich). They are simple to make and kids can help too.
- Lay small corn tortillas (25 cm or 8 inch) on a baking sheet.
- Spread cooked and mashed red lentils over tortillas.
- Top with diced veggies and a sprinkle of shredded cheese.
- Baked until cheese melts. Serve hot.
Lentil recipes to try:
Broccoli, Kale and Lentil Soup
Satisfying Red Lentil and Mushroom Soup
Curried Lentils, Sweet Potato and Cauliflower
Quinoa and lentil pilaf
Baked Eggs with Lentils, Peppers and Tomatoe
How can a dietitian help?
A dietitian can suggest ways to incorporate more lentils and plant-based proteins into your diet. They can work with you to make sure you are getting enough protein to meet your unique needs and goals. Dietitians consider your lifestyle, culture, health conditions, food skills, budget and preferences to give you a personalized plan. Most employee benefit plans cover dietitian services. Connect with a dietitian today!
Lentils are a versatile plant-based protein that can be added to many dishes. They are high in protein, fibre and other important nutrients like iron and potassium. They are also inexpensive, which is an added bonus! Plan your next meal featuring lentils.
You may also be interested in:
All about legumes
What are the benefits of eating more plant-based foods?
A DASH of healthy eating can help control blood pressure
Top 5 Reasons to See a Dietitian
This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada.
Last Update – May 6, 2022