In my senior year of high school, I flirted with vegetarianism and a boy named Mark I'd met at summer camp.
Neither was quite right for me, as it turned out, and I went off to college, omnivorous and boyfriend-free.
In my senior year of college, my friends and I all lived in off-campus apartments. We weren't vegetarians but we eschewed red meat, because we couldn't afford it but also because it was the politically correct thing to do. We shopped at the local health food store, where we counted our pennies and scooped budget-friendly lentils from a large bin.
And then, with our limited cooking skills, we turned those wonderful lentils into tasteless hippie-dippie mush.
Fast forward a few decades. I'm more hippy than hippie now, and some days I am vegetarian, but most days I'm not. However, I've finally learned to cook lentils properly, and thanks to a better-traveled palate, I've added green, white, black and pink lentils to the basic brown ones in my pantry.
What are lentils?
The dried seeds of the lentil plant. One of the world's healthiest foods, rich in dietary fiber, iron, potassium and more, lentils are legumes with a meaty flavor.
How/where to store them:
In a cool, dark part of the cupboard, in a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid. Though it seems they should last forever, lentils will get stale, so use within one year or toss them in your compost pile and buy fresh ones.
More facts about lentils, and ingredient photos, on The Perfect Pantry:
Lentils (Recipe: One-of-everything lentil soup)
Vegan barley and lentil pilaf with mushrooms and spinach
Healthy, hearty, and vegan, with enough umami that meat-eaters won't know it's meat-free, this dish requires two minutes of prep and a slow cooker (crockpot) to bring it together. To make it on the stovetop, increase the amount of stock to 6 cups, and reduce the cooking time to 1-1/2 hours (and stir frequently, to keep it from sticking). Serves 8; leftovers can be frozen or turned into soup.
1 cup pearl barley
1 cup brown lentils
1 medium onion, diced
1 quart vegetable stock, or your favorite homemade stock
1/2 cup dried mushrooms (porcini or wild mushrooms)
1 cup water
3 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp thyme leaf
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
8 oz cremini mushrooms, dirt brushed off, stems removed, quartered
5 oz baby spinach leaves
Place the barley, lentils, onion and vegetable stock in a 4-quart slow cooker. Set the cooker on HIGH.
Put the dried mushrooms and 1 cup of water in a glass measuring cup. Microwave for 1-1/2 minutes. Remove from the microwave and set aside to cool for 30 minutes. Gently scoop the mushrooms out of the measuring cup, being careful not to disturb the sediment at the bottom. Finely chop the mushrooms, and add to the slow cooker with the tomato paste, thyme, one teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and the fresh mushrooms. Pour in the mushroom soaking liquid, being careful not to include the sediment.
After the cooker has been on for 4 hours, the lentils and barley should be done. Turn off the cooker, and stir in the spinach; the heat of the pilaf will soften the spinach. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed (and you will definitely need it). Serve hot.
Other recipes that use lentils:
Mexican red lentil stew with lime and cilantro, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Eggplant lentil stew with pomegranate molasses, from Simply Recipes
Julia Child's lentil salad, from A Veggie Venture
White lentil soup with chorizo and paprika cream, from La Tartine Gourmande
Safiha lentil pizzas, from Arabic Bites
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