One of my favorite discoveries on my journey to healthier eating habits has to be lentils. They are now one of my go-to foods, when a year or two ago I definitely would not have been able to tell you what they were. Lentils are part of the legume family and come in a variety of colors (my personal favorite right now is red lentils). Lentils are a great vegetarian source of protein and are also an excellent source of fiber and iron – all important nutrients for proper health! 🙂
Although I love cooking lentils in dishes on their own (see my Indian-Spiced Vegetable and Lentil Stew), another great use for lentils is as a meat substitute. I’m not a vegetarian by any means, but I do try to take a “meat on the side” approach to eating in which vegetables are the focus. I haven’t entirely replaced meat with lentils in a recipe, but I do use lentils to supplement the meat in many of my favorite dishes. Here’s the general rule:
Cook the lentils according to their package directions. For my particular brand, this involves boiling them for about 30 minutes. Drain and add to whatever meat you’re using. One cup of dry lentils makes approximately 2 to 2 ½ cups of cooked lentils. For example, when browning meat for tacos, or meat sauce I add the lentils at the point that the meat is browned – just before I add in other ingredients and spices. For dishes such as meatballs, burgers, or meatloaf – add the cooked lentils to the raw meat with your other ingredients before shaping into the final product. Usually I use lentils in a big batch of a recipe as half of the meat component. For example, the Bolognese recipe I use calls for two pounds of ground meat. I substitute one cup of cooked lentils for one pound of meat. This lightens up the final product, without affecting the flavor or texture of the finished dish. I promise you can sneak some lentils into your next lasagna without anyone noticing! 🙂 Some of the recipes that I’ve tried using lentils in so far are: burritos, tacos, Bolognese (meat) sauce, lasagna, and meatballs.
Last night, I decided to make one of my other favorite lentils-enhanced dishes – burritos! I picked up some ground chicken at the store and was once again shocked at how expensive organic meat is. I really should pay better attention and try to stock up when it’s on sale because this pound of ground chicken was $6.50. Phew! And a pound of ground meat just doesn’t go as far as it should, even in my household of one. But that pound of ground meat mixed with cooked lentils…now that’s a feast! I love that the lentils can really stretch the meat portion of your meal, while adding some great health benefits.
Check out how much the lentils bulk up this meal! Here’s a picture of just the ground meat:
And then the meat with the lentils added:
What a difference!
Chicken, Lentil and Bean Burrito Filling
Makes enough filling for approximately 10 burritos.
– 1 pound ground chicken
– 1 cup dry lentils, cooked (approximately 2 ½ cups cooked)
– 3 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning
– 1 cup chopped onion
– 3 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1 can pinto beans
Brown the meat with the onions and garlic in a few tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the cooked lentils and seasoning to the browned meat and cook for 10 minutes. Add the pinto beans and stir to combine. Allow the beans to heat through (approximately 5 minutes).
Serve in tortillas with your favorite toppings – I went with cheese, a dollop of Greek yogurt and some sliced avocado!
As usual, this recipe made a ton of food so I froze half of the filling mixture in a freezer bag for a later date. This mixture freezes really well and makes having a healthy dinner option on hand a snap! 🙂