Okay, so maybe it’s a little dramatic to call red lentils my secret weapon. Especially considering I have a lot of secret weapons, like coconut oil, tinted BB cream, Penzey’s Spices…
Apparently, I just like using the term “secret weapon.” So let me clarify – red lentils are my secret weapon when I need to add some protein to a dish without it becoming an overwhelming ingredient.
Dinner can sometimes be a challenge around here. My toddler will happily eat just about anything, and her daddy is a solid carnivore. Then there’s me. While not vegetarian, I have a strong preference for not eating meat. When I have the time and presence of mind, I’ll make a “normal” dinner for the rest of the family and then make a quinoa salad, rice and beans, or another similar dish that the others are welcome to eat as a side, but has enough protein that I won’t be digging through the refrigerator in 10 minutes. When I’m short on time or presence of mind, I’ll just add cheese to my sides. No shame here, I live for cheese.
One of my staples is red lentils. They are smaller and milder in flavor than their dark green cousins, and melt beautifully into other ingredients. A favorite trick of mine is to make a hearty vegetable soup with tomato, garlic and herbs to flavor the broth, and then throw in a handful or two of red lentils as it simmers. They melt away, indistinguishable from anything else in the soup. The broth thickens ever so slightly, the protein content goes up, and you’d never know they were there.
Sometimes I cook brown rice, which of course, takes about 45 minutes as compared to the nearly instant cook time of white rice (which is in this house only for making heating pads, not for consumption). It was recently pointed out to me by a friend that quinoa and red lentils can be cooked in the same pot as brown rice for a one-two punch of protein and fiber in a single pot. It gets a little sticky as compared to straight rice, but mixed with some herbs and diced sauteed vegetables, it makes a very nice side dish.
Last week, I lost track of time in the afternoon. Somewhere between Little Miss’ nap, trying to get work done on my laptop, tidying up the living room and Netflix, I realized I never took anything out for dinner! So pasta it was. Don’t get me wrong, I love pasta. I don’t even care if we have a total carb fest now and again.
This is an actual excerpt from a text conversation that afternoon…
Husband: What’s for dinner, honey?
Me: Pasta. I need to build my fat layer in order to survive the coming winter’s hibernation.
Seriously, I am unabashed carb lover. Nonetheless, I can’t serve pasta with sauce and expect this to suffice for anyone. So while the pasta water boiled, I sauteed a diced onion and zucchini with some crushed garlic and olive oil, then dumped in the remainder of an open jar of my homemade tomato sauce that had been in the fridge, with an extra fresh tomato diced up for good measure…and a handful of red lentils. Into the sauce, just like that, and in maybe 20 minutes total cook time, they had simmered away into nothing. The sauce had a nice consistency, and all the other flavors covered any possible lentil flavor. My husband had no idea they were in there until I pointed it out.
Another thing about red lentils I can’t argue with is the price point. $2-3 for an entire bag in the supermarket will last me months, and unlike other dried beans which I feel the need to soak and pre-cook, these are good to go. I keep them on the kitchen counter in a glass jar next to my pink sea salt so if I need them, they’re there. They’re pretty and so handy to throw into dishes when I feel like I need just a little extra something.
Are you a fan of red lentils? What’s your favorite use for them?