Red Lentils, How do I Love Thee?

I love to introduce people to red lentils. I love most beans and pulses, but red lentils are probably my favorite to prepare and one of my favorites to eat. Quick cooking, delicious, amenable to many flavor profiles, good for you, and economical to boot, red lentils are a perfect solution for a weeknight dinner.

These little salmon pink orbs can be prepared so many ways -- with roasted carrots, as a dal, in a Turkish style soup. Perhaps my favorite lately has been as an Italian style ragu, just sort of mimicking a Bolognese. I have served this dish to my family any number of times, and prepared it with many private clients and group classes. Even my middle school group loved this! 

I love this dish mostly because it tastes great, but also because it’s a terrific dish without any animal protein that still has a meaty feel for meat eaters and a familiar flavor for skeptics. It’s delicious served over pasta, brown rice, mashed potatoes or other root vegetables, even roasted spaghetti squash, topped with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, nutritional yeast, or faux parmesan. This recipe makes a lot, so freeze some for another meal! 

Red Lentil Ragu

By Wendy Nevett Bazil

(Serves 8 - 10)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 carrots, washed and diced (peeled if you like as well)

2 garlic cloves, minced

¼ - ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I like Aleppo or Maras)

1 Tablespoon double concentrated tomato paste (or two Tablespoons regular)

2 cups red lentils

28 ounce can, or equivalent, low or no sodium whole San Marzano style tomatoes, crushed

4 cups water

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon each, dried oregano and thyme

Salt and pepper to taste – start with 2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper

1 bag baby spinach, washed or half a bag of frozen chopped spinach (optional)

Good quality aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, nutritional yeast or faux Parmesan

1. In a large, heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat, add the olive oil and the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. Salt lightly and cook until the vegetables soften a little and the onions become translucent (about ten minutes or so).

2. Add the hot pepper flakes and tomato paste, mix well and let brown for a minute or two. Then add the lentils, the tomatoes, the water, the bay leaf, and the dried oregano and thyme. Add another pinch or two of salt, a few grinds of pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower to simmer for about 30 – 40 minutes, stirring occasionally so the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pot, and adding more water if the mixture starts to dry out. Taste for salt and pepper and spices, and add to your taste.

3. Remove the bay leaves. If you’d like to make a one pot meal, mix in a bag of washed baby spinach at this point. It will wilt in just a few minutes. If using frozen, let cook long enough for the spinach to cook in the sauce.

4. Serve over pasta, brown rice, mashed potatoes, or over roasted spaghetti squash. Top with some grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, nutritional yeast, or faux Parmesan.


Here, served over whole wheat rotini

Here, served over whole wheat rotini