I didn’t pull together a Weekly Vegetarian Meal Plan for this week, but I’ll be back at the end of the week with a new line up for you for next week. We live in the mountains where skiing is a big deal in the winter. And life suddenly slid sideways for me last Monday when one ski stuck fast on a mogul, and the other continued executing the turn I’d intended. A Ski Patrol guy zipped me down the mountain to the resort clinic on a sled, making me thankful that I still had my goggles. And now I wait, somewhat impatiently, for my MRI appointment for a suspected ACL tear.
Obviously, my Meal Plan for the week was no longer realistic since it involved standing. Instead, Carnivorous Maximus and I suffered take-out from the grocery store, dined on leftovers and made scrambled eggs. But one night a close friend and her husband appeared at our door, in the middle of a snow storm, with a cozy dinner for us all to enjoy together – lentil soup, salad, a hunk of crusty bread and wine. We lit the fireplace with the push of a button on the wall, set the table, and feasted on the culinary height of my week.
The following day, I still craved lentil soup, and ransacked the pantry closet for dried lentils. I came up with 2 bags of Black Beluga Lentils, a partial bag of French Green Lentils, and an unopened bag of Red Lentils. What I didn’t have, was a bag of Brown Lentils, which is what I usually use. I wasn’t sure which was the best bag to go with.
A Tutorial on the Types of Lentils + What To Do With Them
For vegetarians, even wimpy vegetarians like me, dried lentils are a pantry staple. They’re loaded with fiber, protein, cook up super fast without pre-soaking, and are budget minded. But they come in different colors, have varying cooking requirements, and should not be used interchangeably in dishes. Here’s a tutorial to help figure out which lentils to use in different dishes.
Note: Most recipes for cooking lentils call for 2 cups water. I use 3 cups to make extra sure I don’t run out of water, and combine any leftover bean broth with my vegetable broths.
- Most common type of lentil found in the US.
- Tend to split and slightly fall apart when fully cooked, and have an earthy taste.
- Use in soups, veggie burgers, dips, and sauces – as in this recipe for Vegan Sloppy Joes.
- Don’t use in salads, as they can be a little too soft, unless that’s what you want.
- To cook: combine 1 cup of lentils with 3 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and either a bay leaf, dried pepper, or 2 cloves of garlic. Simmer for 20 – 30 minutes, and strain. Remove the bay leaf, pepper, and/or garlic.
Green, French and Puy Lentils:
- Also a very common type of lentil in the US; smaller than Brown Lentils.
- Hold their shape very well when fully cooked, and have a slightly peppery – earthy taste.
- Use in salads, tossed with grains or vegetables, such as this Vegan Asparagus, Potato and Lentil Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette, or sauces where you want the lentil shape to be easily discernible.
- Don’t use in soup as a thickener.
- To cook: combine 1 cup of lentils with 3 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and either a bay leaf, dried pepper, or 2 cloves of garlic. Simmer for 45 minutes. Strain and remove the bay leaf, pepper, and/or garlic.
- Small lentils resembling beluga caviar, sometimes referred to as Black Beluga Lentils.
- Hold their shape well, but tend to fall apart if cooked beyond doneness. They have a deep earthy flavor, and considered the most flavorful and most nutritious of all the lentils.
- Use as you would Green Lentils.
- Don’t use in a puree, as they may not get as soft enough.
- To cook: combine 1 cup lentils with 3 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and either a bay leaf, dried pepper, or 2 cloves of garlic. Simmer for 25-30 minutes, and no longer. Strain and remove the bay leaf, pepper, and/or garlic.
Red, Orange and Yellow Lentils:
- Typically split, and brightly colored.
- Because they’re split, they cook up quickly and have a soft texture when cooked. Mild earthy flavor that’s a little sweet and nutty.
- Use in soups, stews, and purees. These lentils are particularly popular in Indian dishes, and to a slightly lesser extent in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes.
- Don’t use in salads, or tossed with vegetables or grains.
- To cook: cook them as part of the soup or sauce they will be incorporated into to thicken. Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.
Since I had a full bag of Red Lentils on hand, I decided to head in an Indian or Middle Eastern direction. After a quick Google search, I landed on this Ottolenghi recipe on Epicurious that looked amazing. I made a few changes, but not many. After all, Ottolenghi is pretty dialed in to flavor.
- I made this soup in my Instant Pot, but the original recipe is cooked on the stovetop. Pick whichever cooking path you want.
- Garam Masala is a spice mix commonly used in many Indian dishes. It’s commonly made up of black and white peppers, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves and cumin, but there are many variations. You can make your own, or purchase it in the spice aisle at your market like I do. It’s also available online (affiliate link). Click on the photo to get more information.
- I often use Better Than Bouillon for broth, and keep their Vegetable, No Chicken, and No Beef bouillons on hand. They last a long time, and are packed with flavor. If you use this product, however, eliminate the kosher salt as you will not need any additional salt. I recommend no more than 2 teaspoons of Better Than Bouillion added to the soup. If your markets don’t have this product (mine doesn’t), just order it online like I do. Below are the 3 products I use regularly. Just click on the photos for more information (affiliate links).
Instant Pot Curried Lentil Soup
- 2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil, or olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste, or finely chopped garlic
- 1 tablespoon ginger paste, or 2 1/2-inch piece of ginger, finely grated
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala spice mix, (see Notes)
- 1/2 teaspoon red curry paste
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup red lentils
- 1 14.5-oz can chopped tomatoes, along with the sauce
- 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth, or Better Than Bouillion (see Notes)
- 1 13.5-oz can unsweetened coconut milk
- Lime wedges, for serving
- 1/4 cup chopped scallions, for garnish
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, for garnish
- Select the Sauté function on your Instant Pot. In the inner cooking pot, melt the coconut oil. Add the onions and sauté until softened and translucent, about 7 - 8 minutes. Be sure to stir fairly often so they don't burn.
- Add the garlic, ginger, curry, garam masala, red curry paste, salt, red pepper flakes and pepper. Stir and sauté for about 3 minutes, until very fragrant.
- Stir in the lentils and tomato sauce, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the broth. Reserve 1/4 cup of the coconut milk, set aside, and add the remaining coconut milk to the pot. Stir to combine. If the coconut milk has separated in the can, pour it into a large bowl and whisk until re-combined.
- Lock the lid into place, making sure that the vent on top of the Instant Pot is in the closed position. Select Manual and set the cooking time for 15 minutes.
- When the cooking is complete, Quick Release the vent to release the pressure.
- Serve with the served coconut milk to drizzle on top, scallions and lime wedges. The finishing with lime makes a huge difference to sharpening the flavors.