Red lentils make plant-based protein a breeze

Some lentils get all the attention. Don’t get us wrong. We love brown lentils, and the lentil soup, lentil soup, and lentil soup that are pretty much the only places most people encounter them.

But brown lentils aren’t the only legumes on the block. Red lentils, their less-famous cousins, are worth getting to know.


Their main claim to fame: speed. Reds cook up—simmered in three times as much water or broth as lentils—in as little as 10 minutes. Cook them for 15 to 20 minutes and they turn to a stick-to-the-ribs coarse purée. (Brown lentils typically take 30 minutes or more.)

Then the fun begins. Add some curry powder, garlic, onion, fresh ginger, and fresh cilantro, and you’ve got a dish that would be at home in New Delhi. Make it garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, and crushed tomato, and you’re in Rome. Athens? No sweat. Mix in sautéed green pepper, dill, oregano, and sliced scallions.

Wait. There’s more. Looking to pump up your protein or fiber? Add some unseasoned cooked red lentils to your spaghetti sauce or chili or stew, to your puréed sweet potato, butternut squash, or carrots.

Each ¼ cup of dry red lentils (which makes ¾ cup when cooked) packs 9 grams of fiber and 13 grams of protein, plus roughly 25 percent of a day’s folate, 15 percent of a day’s iron, 14 percent of a day’s zinc, 9 percent of a day’s magnesium, and 6 percent of a day’s potassium. Not bad for 180 calories, zero sodium, and around 25 cents per serving.

We’re calling this one a win for the underdog.

Red Lentil Curry

Try tossing a bag of baby spinach into the pot just before serving. Then top each bowl with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Time: 30 minutes

1 cup red lentils
½ tsp. turmeric powder, optional
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 Tbs. canola oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 inch piece ginger
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 15 oz. can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup cilantro leaves

  1. In a medium pot, combine the lentils and turmeric with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender, 15-20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Sauté the onion until browned, about 10 minutes.
  3. Cut half of the ginger into fine matchsticks for garnish and grate the rest.
  4. Stir the grated ginger and the chili powder into the onions. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer until the lentils are done.
  5. Stir the lentils into the skillet and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with up to ½ tsp. of salt and garnish with the ginger matchsticks and cilantro leaves.

Serves 4.

Per serving (1 cup):

  • Calories: 270
  • Total fat: 8 g
  • Sat fat: 2 g
  • Carbs: 38 g
  • Fiber: 9 g
  • Total sugar:  6 g
  • Added sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 15 g
  • Sodium: 300 mg

Enjoy this recipe? Salad Days!—the latest cookbook from Nutrition Action’s Healthy Cook, Kate Sherwood—will help you expand your repertoire with imaginative combinations of greens, vegetables, herbs, whole grains, and proteins. You’ll find healthy variations on classics like Chicken Caesar and Cobb, as well as more adventurous combos like Black Beans & Red Rice with Smoked Paprika Dressing and Sesame Shrimp with Caramelized Shallot Citrus Dressing.

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