Red lentils are a buttery-rich, high-protein, high-fiber, low fat treat. They are a superb source of protein, soluble fiber (great for keeping your blood sugar levels stable), folic acid, iron, and zinc. They are flatter in shape than the more common brown ones, so they cook up ultra-fast. They also change color as they cook.

1/2 cup of cooked lentils (47 grams or 1/4 cup measured raw) contain 170 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 28 g carbs, 7 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 13 g protein, 2% DV for calcium, and 15% DV for iron.

Traditionally used in Indian cooking, mild-tasting red lentils have limitless applications in any kitchen. Here are 5 things you can try. Mix and match seasonings to your taste.

1. EZ Red Lentil Soup

Boil 1 cup red lentils in 4 cups water in a saucepan. As it’s heating up, throw in 1 tsp ground ginger (or 1 tbsp fresh grated or jarred), 1 tsp garlic powder (or 2 cloves minced or 1 tbsp jarred) 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp turmeric, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. After it boils, turn to a low simmer and cook for a half hour to 40 minutes, stirring often. Season with juice of 1/2 lemon (2 tbsp bottled) and salt to taste. This is fab on its own or as a “gravy” for steamed greens. 

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving:

180 calories

1.5 g fat

0 g saturated fat

0 mg cholesterol

5 mg sodium

30 g carbs

8 g fiber

1 g sugar

13 g protein

4% DV for calcium

20% DV for iron 

2. Red Lentil Hummus

Gently boil 1 cup of red lentils in 2 cups of water and boil for 20 or more minutes. Stir frequently to ensure that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. You may need to reduce heat over time. When it’s done, the water will be completely absorbed and the mixture will resemble thick baby food. Meanwhile, get all this going: 4 tbsp tahini (sesame paste), 1 chopped clove of garlic, 2 tbsp olive oil, juice of 1/2-1 lemon (1/8-1/4 cup depending on your taste), 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2-1 tsp sea salt. I also add liquid smoke and cayenne, but that’s up to you. Throw all in food processor or blender and blend til smooth. Add water if necessary. Adjust to taste, then spoon into a bowl and sprinkle with a little fresh chopped parsley and a pinch of paprika. Use as a dip with toasted whole grain pita and raw vegetables. Or as a sandwich spread. Or thin out with a little water and use as a salad dressing.

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving:

160 calories

8 g fat

1 g saturated fat

0 mg cholesterol

150 mg sodium

16 g carbs

4 g fiber

1 g sugar

8 g protein

2% DV for calcium

10% DV for iron 

3. Golden Coconut Curry

Chop up 1 onion and sauté in 2 tbsp canola oil in a big pot over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add 1 tbsp fresh minced ginger (or 1 tsp ground), 2 cloves chopped garlic (or 1 tsp powder), and 1 tsp each cumin, coriander, turmeric, and salt. Cook another 2 minutes. If you like your food spicy, now is the time to add a chopped up fresh jalapeño pepper, or you can omit that. Stir it up and add 2 cups water, 1-1/2 cups red lentils, and one 13.5 oz can coconut milk. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, dice up a total of 3 cups of veggies of your choice, including sweet potato, carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, tomato, and bell peppers. Add them to the curry and simmer until everything is tender. For a super protein rich meal, add 1/2 pound cubed firm tofu toward the end of cooking.

Makes 6 servings.

Per serving (WITH TOFU):

400 calories

21 g fat

13 g saturated fat

0 mg cholesterol

420 mg sodium

39 g carbs

9 g fiber

4 g sugar

19 g protein

15% DV for calcium

35% DV for iron

4. Red Lentil “Neat”Balls

Unfortunately for those avoiding gluten, veggie “Neat”balls usually contain wheat — flour, breadcrumbs, or both. Not these gems, which are gluten free, vegan, sugar free, high in protein and fiber, have a low glycemic load, and have no added oil. The sauce is on the sweet side, but of course you can omit or use any sauce you want. To make the “neat”balls: Gently boil one cup of red lentils in 2 cups of water and boil for 20 or more minutes. Stir frequently to ensure that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. You may need to reduce heat over time. When it’s done, the water will be completely absorbed and the mixture will resemble thick baby food. Add to the pot 1/2 cup almond meal, 1/2 cup gluten free flour, and 1 tsp each garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, salt, and red pepper flakes. Mix well, best with your hands. Roll into 30 balls and either pan fry in a little canola oil until crispy on the outside or, to keep it added-fat free, bake on a pan spread with nonstick cooking spray in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes or until they become golden brown. Serve with your favorite marinara sauce, or other sauce. I enjoy these in a good quality jarred BBQ sauce mixed with Sriracha sauce. Spaghetti optional!

Makes about 30 NeatBalls (Serving size = 5 NeatBalls).

Makes 6 servings.

Per serving (no oil, no sauce)

220 calories

6 g fat

0 g saturated fat

0 mg cholesterol

400 mg sodium

33 g carbs

7 g fiber

1 g sugar

12 g protein

4% DV for calcium

25% DV for iron

5. Red Lentil Fudge

Yes, a rich dessert you can feel great about! Cool-off time is needed for this recipe so start in advance. Gently boil one cup of red lentils in 2 cups of water and cook for 30 or more minutes. Stir frequently to ensure that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. You may need to reduce heat over time. When it’s done, the water will be completely absorbed and the mixture will be extremely dry. Once cooled (about 20 minutes), puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor. Add 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut, 1/3 cup agave nectar (or sweetener of your choice), 1/4 cup good quality coconut oil, and pinch or two of salt. Stir until well combined. Spread on a parchment-lined 9x13” pan (about 1/2 inch thick) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until solid enough to cut into 12 squares.

Makes 12 servings.

Per serving:

150 calories

8 g fat

6 g saturated fat

0 mg cholesterol

15 mg sodium

19 g carbs

4 g fiber

8 g sugar

5 g protein

0% DV for calcium

8% DV for iron

by Dina Aronson, MS, RDN

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