« Fish sauce (Recipe: spicy edamame salad) | Main | Other People's Pantries #111 »

Lentils (Recipe: vegan barley and lentil pilaf with mushrooms and spinach)

Barley and lentil pilaf, packed with mushrooms and spinach, is a hearty cool-weather #vegan main dish.

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)

A cool weather favorite, barley and lentil pilaf can be a side dish with holiday turkey, or a #vegan entree.

Barley and lentil pilaf with mushrooms and spinach {vegan}

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.

More lentils:

Spiced lentils with squash and raisins, from The Perfect Pantry
Lentils with spinach and preserved lemon, from The Perfect Pantry
Mexican red lentil stew with lime and cilantro, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Eggplant lentil stew with pomegranate molasses, from Simply Recipes

Barley and lentil pilaf, with mushrooms and spinach, makes a perfect side dish or #vegan main course.

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.


I really enjoy using legumes too. They may be plain by themselves, but they will happily soak up the flavours of whatever other ingredients you decide to throw in, which makes them a super versatile and indeed one of the world's healthiest foods.

This recipe seems really delicious, getting a nice blend of flavours from using different kinds of mushrooms, I'll definitely want to try it with lentils and other legumes!

i love lentils and i love barley - often make a risotto with barley - this one with lentils and mushrooms is just my kind of food!

I love lentils of every color and I love this idea of combining them with barley, spinach, and mushrooms.

Mmmm. Lentils.. I used to love them, but only recently rediscovered them -- red, green, french, whatever.

I do love lentils.. now. I was raised on that hippie dippie mush! Now I can cook for myself and add actual flavour to the dishes. ;-)
Looks great! Love the mushrooms and spinach.

Great opening line! Whenever I eat lentils, I feel as though my muscles are about to spring out of my shirt, like Popeye's. I appreciate not just their nutritional value, but their taste as well. And when paired with mushrooms and spinach...well, I am a happy hippie.

Yum. I love mushrooms to boost the earthy, "meaty" flavor of these - definitely want to make the ASAP, sans barley. Just have to wait until I get more dried mushrooms - I'm out!

I'm more hippy than hippie too ;) and have a love-hate relationship with lentils: love the thought of them (and their health benefits), hate the majority of recipes I've tried them in. But I trust your judgment (and recipes) and will give this a go. Now that we're back to experiencing winter again (after a brief taste of spring), I find the warmth and heartiness of this dish appealing.

Love the story at the beginning and love lentils!!

My first wife's mother used to cook a kind of lentil paste that we ate with tomatoes and cucumber, scooped up in flat bread, it was absolutely delicious, filling and satisfying.

Stephanie, dried mushrooms are one of my secret ingredients. I grind them up and add to stew and to many vegetable dishes, to deepen the flavor.

Meeta, barley risotto is delicious!

Kalyn, in my little village market brown lentils are the only choice, but when I get to a larger market or specialty store, I stock up on all colors of lentils, too.

Julia, it took me a long time to get over the memory of the awful lentils I cooked in college. When I tried them again about ten years ago, though, I fell in love all over again.

Natashya, I'm definitely not proud of cooking that mush -- but I'm glad I know better now.

Cookin' Canuck, funny, lentils make me feel healthy, too. Must be all of those nutrients!

Alta, the dried mushrooms are the key here. You won't need much in the way of fresh, but the dried mushrooms are essential.

Sandie, I hope this recipe gets you over the lentil hump. A lot of dishes I've had are underseasoned, so use plenty of salt and especially black pepper in this one.

Noble Pig, thanks. I wonder what ever became of that guy....

Neil, the lentil paste sounds interesting. I'm guessing it was lentils just cooked way down until they fell apart?

Delicious dish, I never knew vegetarian could be so tasty, thanks for posting!

I adore lentils!In fact, this recipe has all foods I adore...barley, 'shrooms, spinach. COuld this be better for you? :) Love it!

I have never heard of or seen dried mushrooms. I'm not much of a cook though. Anyway, what type of mushroom are they? Can I buy fresh of the same variety and dry my own? I have a food dehydrator.

Leigh, you can dry mushrooms in your food dehydrator (follow the manufacturer's instructions). And you can buy dried mushrooms either in the grocery store (check the Italian food section if they're not in the produce department), or in an Asian grocery store. The ones I use are either mixed wild mushrooms, or cepes. They will last almost forever in your pantry.

Is the slow cooker supposed to be on high through the whole 4 hours?

Hana, yes it is. But if you know your slow cooker cooks "fast", lift the lid (it's fine to do that), and check it after 3-1/2 hours.

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.