« Parsley (Recipe: tzatziki) {vegetarian} | Main | Rice paper wrappers (Recipe: salmon and Asian pesto potstickers) »

Lentils (Recipe: spiced lentils with squash and raisins) {vegetarian, gluten-free}


What's brown, and green, and black and yellow and pink?

What's high in fiber, protein, potassium and folate?

What has the same antioxidants found in tea, fruits, red wine and cocoa beans?

What's low on the glycemic index?

What's fast and cheap, and available absolutely everywhere?

Lentils, of course.

Shaped like a lens, which is the origin of the name, lentils are a legume, perhaps one of the oldest known agricultural products. Lentils were found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 2400 BC, and perhaps were grown in the gardens of Babylon around 800 BC. In modern times, the primary producers are India and Canada, with additional production in the Mideast and the Palouse region of the northwest United States.

Apart from their unquestioned status as a "superfood", lentils offer one great advantage to cooks. They do not need a pre-soak. Just rinse them, pick through to remove any little stones, and start cooking your favorite lentil soup, stew, salad, pasta, and burgers.

Lentils will keep forever in a sealed bag or jar. The color does fade over time, but the flavor holds. As with all pulses, the older they are, the longer they take to cook.

By the way, thirty-plus years ago, Robert McCloskey, author of Make Way for Ducklings, wrote a book called Lentil. It's about a little boy who learns to play the harmonica -- and not a legume in sight.

Spiced lentils with squash and raisins

Turn any leftovers into a wonderful soup with the addition of chicken stock or water. This is one of the few instances when either lemon zest or minced preserved lemon rind can be used to enhance the flavor of the dish; most often, you really can’t substitute for preserved lemons. Serves 6-8, with couscous.


1-1/4 cups brown lentils
3/4 cup canned chopped tomato
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cups water (plus more if needed)

3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp harissa, or more to taste (or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper)
1 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, or more to taste

1  lb butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup raisins
1/2 preserved lemon, pith removed, rind chopped OR grated zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon, as needed
Honey or agave nectar, as needed
4 tsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley


Rinse the lentils in a sieve. Place in a Dutch oven with tomatoes, onion, and 3 cups water. Cover and bring to a simmer over low heat, and cook for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, in a small nonstick frying pan, heat the oil over low heat. Add garlic, sauté for 15 seconds, then add cumin, turmeric, harissa, paprika, tomato paste and sugar, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes until it forms a dark, aromatic paste. Add mixture to the lentils, along with salt and pepper.

After the lentils have cooked for 15 minutes total, add the squash and raisins, plus an additional cup of water. Continue cooking for 15 minutes. Add the preserved lemon and half of the parsley. Cook until lentils and squash are done. Taste and adjust seasoning with fresh lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with remaining parsley, and serve over couscous.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Lentils with spinach and preserved lemons
One-of-everything lentil soup
Punjab five jewels
Lentils and brown rice

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


my grandmother always used to say that she understood Esau very well, she´d have given away anything for a bowl of lentils. I used to think she was insane, but now I see her point completely.

I love lentils - all colors. The biggest conundrum I have all summer is too many fresh vegetables so no place for lentils - I should be whipped with a wet noodle for complaining....

This recipe has such a complex mix of flavors...I can imagine how wonderful it will taste! Those tiny lentils in the picture look *gorgeous*...

I love to eat lentils, especially when it's cold. Lentils and raisins? Hmmm... Never had that combination before. Gotta try your recipe.


I'm always looking for new ways to eat lentils, as they're one of my very favorite foods. This is definitely one I'll be trying!

I love lentils too!!! Sometimes in this time (spring) I make too, for me, because I love to eat, with cheese, yummy! Gloria

I haven't had lentils in ages! And I love them so much.
Here in Brazil, it's tradition to eat lentils in New Year's Eve to have good luck on the following year.

Lobster, I'd trade my birthright for a bar of chocolate, but I do love lentils, too!

Katie, I really think of lentils as cold-weather food, though lentil salads, especially with the lovely French puy lentils, are delicious.

Nupur, I love the combination of flavors in this dish -- the sweetness of the squash and raisins, the heat of harissa, and the earthiness of the lentils. I think you'll like it, too.

Paz, this one is an easy recipe and makes a big batch. You can freeze the leftovers, or make soup. Hope you give it a try.

Becky, this is very Moroccan in inspiration. The seasonings will make you happy.

Gloria, lentils with cheese sounds interesting!

Patricia, I love that tradition. Here in the US, one of the New Year's traditions is to eat black-eyed peas.

Here, here!!! They are almost the perfect food. So yummy, cheap, and good for you...... And they look so pretty. Great recipe, I must try it.

I have not made anything with lentils in it for so long... really interesting about the lens link to the name.

I hardly have lentils. When I do, it's always in Indian cuisine.

i just found your blog and definitely want to give this recipe a try! yum.

Lentils . . . I think they might be good with all other foods. Easy and fast to cook.
Yipee! Lentils and preserved lemons. This really looks great!

Sher, lentils are perfect because they go with so many flavors. This version is a bit sweet and a bit hot.

Kelly-Jane, now that the weather is getting cooler, maybe you'll give lentils another try!

Tigerfish, lentils in Indian food are wonderful. This is more Moroccan, and I hope you like it.

Kickpleat, welcome to The Perfect Pantry!

MyKitchen, I know you're a fan of preserved lemons, too, so I hope you'll get a chance to try this recipe.

I'm pretty sure lentils epitomize fall, at least for me. They just seem to warm you from inside. Great recipe!

i'll give this recipe a try this week. thanks.

ooh. ooh. ooh. I can't wait to try this one. tomorrow night. indeed. thanks! (also, an unrelated question...did you ever come to terms with rice/water ratios for brown rice in your cooker?)

Hillary, same here. You'll like this recipe.

Sabina, hope you enjoy it.

Patti, I haven't worked out the brown rice/rice cooker compatibility yet. Thanks for reminding me.

In my first marriage, my mother-in-law used to make a thick paste of lentils and serve it with flat bread, tomatoes and cucumbers, it was very earthy and tasty to boot. These days, I'm never without Puy lentils, it's great the way they hold together.

Lydia, I think lentils are one of Mother Nature's most outstanding gifts! And so nutritious too. I love eating lentils in soups, stews, and salads, particularly those tiny French lentils.

Neil, that sounds very middle eastern, a treatment of lentils that I've not seen before. So interesting -- I'll have to try it.

TW, yes, the French (puy) lentils are delicious. Is it my imagination, or do they actually have more flavor? No matter -- I stock up whenever I see them.

Ooooooooooh, that's a great recipe Lydia. I'll have to hand it over to the Boy so he can cook it for me. He's the soupmaster in the house.

Thanks for sharing such a delicious recipe with us Lydia. I've always loved lentils, & have never thought that they looked like lens!!!
And I love the spices you used.:)

I just love learning new trivia about pantry items from you. Like now I know where lentils got their name.

Ann, how lucky you are to have a resident soupmaster!

Valentina, the hot-sweet thing going on in this recipe is lovely. I hope you'll try it.

Veron, I believe I am turning into the pantry trivia queen! And there's so much more to learn....

This sounds delicious. I always make dal whenever I fancy lentils, so it'll be great to have a different lentil dish to try out.

What a great recipe with an economical ingredient! Sounds good.

Mallika, it's a wonderful dish -- I hope you like it.

Kelly, my friend Bob makes this on a camp stove, so it's definitely something that can be made without a kitchen!

Wonderful post as usual. My favorite recipe from childhood was "Porc aux lentilles", a cured piece of pork with other pork cuts braised with lentils. Lentils are always so re-energizing.

Tartelette, that dish does sound very French, and very delicious. I do love lentils!

Just wanted to let you know that you've been chosen for the Smile Award. See my Oct. 17 post for the citation: http://oakrisecottage.blogspot.com
All the best with your great pantry articles!

Hi Lydia,
Your making lots of recipes that I can easily adapt lately. Lentils are a favotite. Had for lunch today...have to try your recipe. Thanks!

Meg, glad to hear that these recipes are working for you.

Bookmarked in 2007, prepared in 2014! In that time my appreciation for heat has bloomed so that 2t of harissa wasn't enough. I'll wait for tomorrow before I add more to the pot. I added more vegetables - yellow peppers and a potato - even more goodness. One pot of pleasure!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.