Maven Moment: Lentils, a Frugal and Tasty Meat Substitute P

Lentils were always a staple in our house, especially during the cooler months of the year. My favorite is Mom’s lentil soup. She made it with diced carrot and onion and served it with tiny pasta like orzo or ditalini. It made a warm, filling meal on a cold day and a great dish for a meat-free Friday.

I still make my lentil soup the way that Mom did. I soak the lentils overnight to make them cook more quickly, then I add carrots and onions (and sometimes spinach). By doubling the recipe — which I do with most soups and stews — I have plenty to bring to work for lunch.

Another way that I really enjoy lentils in an Indian-style dal. I add chopped onions, curry powder, and a little butter (you can use ghee if you want) and enjoy the dal with roti or naan (Indian flatbread). What a tasty meal!

My friend Jacinthe makes a shepherd’s pie using cooked lentils in place of meat for her vegan husband. To make it, first, cook all of the ingredients (lentils, veggies like carrots and peas, and potatoes) separately. Next, drain the excess water. Then layer the ingredients in an oven-safe casserole dish: lentils first, veggies next, and top with mashed potatoes. Heat the pie through (about 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven) and you’re done!

Vegan shepherd’s pie can be made with a variety of ingredients. Along with the lentils, you can layer in spinach, sweet potatoes, succotash, pumpkin, or anything else that you like that’s in season. I like to put baked potato skins on the bottom of my pie (be sure to grease the inside of the pan). They form a bit of a crust, absorb excess moisture, and taste so good!

As we get closer to the end of the year, I’m reminded of the Italian tradition of eating lentils to celebrate the New Year. The coin-shaped lentils represent luck and prosperity in the coming year.

And that might not be so far off! Eating lentils is a really frugal and tasty way to go meat-free, and eating less meat is better for us and the earth.


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