High protein lentils for easy meatless meals

LentilsAn inexpensive protein powerhouse.

If you’d like to add more plant-based proteins to your diet, look no further than lentils.  They’re legumes like kidney beans, black beans and garbanzo beans, which are all high protein plant foods.  But there’s one key difference: lentils cook much more quickly than the larger legumes, in about 20-30 minutes.  That makes them a convenient choice for quick meatless meals.

Nutritionally lentils are very similar to all legumes.  1 cup cooked has:

  • 230 calories
  • 18 grams protein
  • less than a gram of fat
  • 15 grams of fiber

In addition they are are high in iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins.  On a per-calorie basis, lentils are similar to beef for protein, but vastly lower in fat and higher in fiber, iron, potassium and magnesium.  Another bonus: like all cooked legumes, lentils are filling, which helps curb appetite.

Lentils are part of many cuisines, especially Indian and Middle Eastern.  They come in a wide variety of colors and flavors.  The hearty brown variety commonly found in US grocery stores are good for soup, but tend to lose their shape with cooking.  Red and yellow lentils are ideal for curries.  Green and darker green French lentils hold their shape better and would be more useful for salads or casseroles.

Lentils instead of meat

Because they’re high protein, lentils can be the main focus of meatless meals.  Serve a lentil soup, tossed green salad and crusty artisanal bread for a simple dinner.  Check out this recipe for Red Lentil Soup, which comes highly recommended, and doesn’t use hard-to-find ingredients.  Another good idea is to use them in a hearty main dish salad, such as this one, which also uses feta cheese.  For a meatless meal, I’d hack this recipe for slow-cooker curried lentils by leaving out the chicken.  The combination of yellow lentils with potatoes and Indian spices is a winner.  Pre-cooked lentils that aren’t mushy can be used in wraps or burritos in place of meat.  Another trick: use cooked lentils in marinara sauce instead of ground beef.  They will blend right into the rich marinara flavor without overwhelming it, while also boosting protein.

You can find plenty of other lentil recipes online.  To boost the protein quality of meatless meals, partner a lentil dish with a dish that contains grains, such as rice, barley, pasta or a hearty whole grain bread.

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