Recipes: Why lentils are the heroes in your pantry

Lyla Lila’s Crispy Flounder with Lentils, Leeks and Blood Orange pairs green lentils with citrus. Styling by chef Craig Richards / Chris Hunt for the AJC
Caption
Lyla Lila’s Crispy Flounder with Lentils, Leeks and Blood Orange pairs green lentils with citrus. Styling by chef Craig Richards / Chris Hunt for the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

From seafood to soup, these legumes add nutritional boost

Lentils, like beans and chickpeas, are versatile, comforting and nutritious. They’re an ideal pantry staple because, unlike their legume cousins, they don’t require pre-soaking and they cook quickly. So quickly that almost any lentil can go from dried to done in less than 30 minutes.

Julia Kesler Imerman of Atlanta-based Stop Think Chew can rattle off a dozen ways to enjoy lentils. Her business is built around encouraging her clients to enjoy locally sourced, nourishing food whether they’re eating one of her Brekkie Bowls or other prepared dishes, ordering from her weekly meal prep service, hiring her as a private chef or learning about healthy cooking through one of her courses.

Kesler Imerman was born in South Africa, and her food memories are divided between her grandmother’s South African kitchen and her father’s kitchen in Atlanta. Her sensibility about food was formed early while spending time with her grandmother, Annette Kesler, a food writer who still works with the young chefs of Capetown. “Every time I am in South Africa, I really notice the freshness and the vibrancy of the food. I began to realize that it was because the food was sourced locally. When food doesn’t travel so far, it tastes much better.”

ExploreLearn to make the stewed lentils from The General Muir
Stop Think Chew’s Julia Kesler Imerman knows plenty of ways to enjoy lentils. Courtesy of Kate Blohm
Caption
Stop Think Chew’s Julia Kesler Imerman knows plenty of ways to enjoy lentils. Courtesy of Kate Blohm

Credit: Kate Blohm

Credit: Kate Blohm

She didn’t train to be a chef. Working professionally in nonprofits, she found herself drawn to the work in restaurant and catering kitchens. In 2017, she made the leap from employee to entrepreneur. She started Stop Think Chew, became an educational chef for the Community Farmers Markets and worked as a private chef. In 2020, with the pandemic in full force, she pivoted into prepared foods and a weekly holistic meal prep service. Her signature dish is her Brekkie Bowl, “brekkie” being South African slang for “breakfast.”

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Her savory lentil Brekkie Bowl is one of her most popular and was her first offering for Clarkston-based Fresh Harvest. The bowl is a combination of lentils, roasted beets and basmati rice flavored with herbs and golden raisins. The sweetness of the beets, raisins and balsamic vinegar brings out the sweetness of the lentils and brightens their earthy flavor. The hawaij spice, with its mix of cumin, pepper, turmeric, coriander, cardamom and cloves, tips the flavors toward the Mediterranean.

ExploreKitchen Curious: Have you cooked with hawaij?

She also has fond memories of the lentil dishes her father, Steve Kesler, would prepare. “My dad was eating organic and healthy way before it became trendy. ... I remember his lentil vegetable soup and he often used lentils in sloppy Joes. Lentils are a good substitute for animal protein. They are a really high nutrient food, full of fiber, too. They’re exactly the kind of ingredient we like to use when creating our bowls and our dishes because we serve so many vegans. They bring a meaty quality to our meals.”

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Jai Ho’s Mulligatawny Recipe gives you a rich, traditional Indian soup. It's styled here with dried yellow lentils. Styling by Anish Nair / Chris Hunt for the AJC
Caption
Jai Ho’s Mulligatawny Recipe gives you a rich, traditional Indian soup. It's styled here with dried yellow lentils. Styling by Anish Nair / Chris Hunt for the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

A quick primer on lentil types:

Brown lentils are widely available at your local grocery. They’ll cook in about 30 minutes and retain their shape unless they’re cooked to the point of breaking down.

Green lentils look very similar in size and shape to brown lentils, just a slightly different color. They are used in the same way as brown lentils and cook in about the same amount of time.

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French lentils are a dark slate green, smaller and harder to locate. Also known as Puy lentils, they come from a particular region in France and cook in about 20 minutes. They hold their shape and will retain a little bite even when completely cooked.

ExplorePetite Auberge’s Lentil Soup is family recipe

Black beluga lentils look just like their name: little black pearls of caviar. As with French lentils, they may take a little searching. These are the smallest lentils and cook in about 25 minutes, completely holding their shape and glossy appearance.

Finally, red and yellow lentils are sold split and cook very quickly, to the point of making a puree with no effort on your part. They are widely used in soups and stews where they also serve as a thickener. They cook in about 15 minutes.

ExploreRecipe: Mediterranean Grill's Lentil Soup

RECIPES

Lentils are a nutritional powerhouse, well worth space in your pantry (or freezer for longer storage). Lentils are chameleons, working with all kinds of spices and in everything from soups to sides to the featured attraction in a healthy salad.

Mulligatawny Soup, from Jai Ho, is shown with the soup's ingredients and served sides. Styling by Anish Nair / Chris Hunt for the AJC
Caption
Mulligatawny Soup, from Jai Ho, is shown with the soup's ingredients and served sides. Styling by Anish Nair / Chris Hunt for the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Jai Ho’s Mulligatawny Recipe

This rich, traditional Indian soup is a mainstay of Jai Ho’s menu and is served for lunch and dinner at both the Dutch Valley and Krog Street Market locations (it’s called “Lentil Soup” on the menu at Krog). This particular version is the creation of Jai Ho’s executive chef and co-owner Anish Nair.

Yellow lentils are also called toor dal and available at Indian groceries and often in the bulk food department at your local natural foods store or Whole Foods Market. Red lentils are more widely available and may be found in the international aisle of your grocery store. Curry leaves are sold at the Buford Highway Farmers Market and other stores carrying East Asian groceries.

Jai Ho’s Mulligatawny Recipe
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 pound split yellow lentils
  • 1/4 cup red lentils
  • Pinch turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable puree (see note)
  • 4 curry leaves
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • Lemon wedges
  • Cooked rice, to serve with soup
  • Cilantro sprigs and chopped carrot, for garnish
  • In a large saucepan, combine water with yellow lentils, red lentils and turmeric. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until lentils are completely soft, 20 to 30 minutes.
  • While lentils are cooking, in a medium skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and ginger and saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable puree and curry leaves and saute 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. When ready to use, discard curry leaves.
  • Once lentils have cooked, add onion mixture and coconut milk to the saucepan. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Alternatively, transfer the lentils, onion mixture and coconut milk to the jar of a blender and puree. Taste for seasoning and serve with lemon wedges and cooked rice, garnished with cilantro and chopped carrot, if desired.
  • Note: The vegetable puree Jai Ho uses in this soup is a mix of carrots, cauliflower and green peas, cooked in water until tender enough to mash with your fingers. For the small quantity you need for this recipe, we tested the recipe with a puree of carrots and cauliflower, simmered until very tender. Makes 4 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per cup: 320 calories (percent of calories from fat, 21), 18 grams protein, 48 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fiber, 8 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 10 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from a recipe by Jai Ho Indian Kitchen & Bar.

Lyla Lila's Crispy Flounder with Lentils, Leeks and Blood Orange is made with green lentils. Styling by chef Craig Richards / Chris Hunt for the AJC
Caption
Lyla Lila's Crispy Flounder with Lentils, Leeks and Blood Orange is made with green lentils. Styling by chef Craig Richards / Chris Hunt for the AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Lyla Lila’s Crispy Flounder with Lentils, Leeks and Blood Orange

Craig Richards, chef-owner of Lyla Lila, sent these notes when he shared this recipe. “Green lentils, or the prized Italian lentils from Castelluccio in Umbria, have a smoky and slightly sweet flavor when they’re cooked almost to the point of breaking down. I’ve found that these flavors, smoky and slightly sweet, along with something acidic, like citrus, is a delicious pairing with seafood.”

Serves 4.

Adapted from a recipe by Craig Richards of Lyla Lila.

Lyla Lila’s Crispy Flounder with Lentils, Leeks and Blood Orange
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup thinly sliced leeks, white and light green part only, extra for garnish if desired
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 1/4 cups dried green lentils
  • 4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 2 blood oranges, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 (6- to 7-ounce) flounder or sole fillets
  • Fried leeks, for garnish, if desired
  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leeks, carrot and celery and saute until charred, about 8 minutes. Add lentils and stir 1 minute. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until lentils are just tender, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes. Cut segments from one orange and add segments plus any juice from that orange to the warm lentils. Season to taste. Keep warm.
  • Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until it begins to smoke, then saute the fillets, turning over once, until golden and just cooked through, about 4 minutes total.
  • For serving, spoon lentils on warm plates, then top with the flounder. Cut the remaining orange into wedges and serve on the side to squeeze onto fish. If desired, fry strips of leek and orange wedges in same skillet as flounder was cooked before using as garnish. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 513 calories (percent of calories from fat, 27), 42 grams protein, 54 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams fiber, 16 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 77 milligrams cholesterol, 609 milligrams sodium.
In Stop Think Chew’s Eat Me Up Lentil Bowl, the sweetness of the beets, raisins and balsamic vinegar brings out the sweetness of the lentils and brightens their earthy flavor. Courtesy of Kate Blohm
Caption
In Stop Think Chew’s Eat Me Up Lentil Bowl, the sweetness of the beets, raisins and balsamic vinegar brings out the sweetness of the lentils and brightens their earthy flavor. Courtesy of Kate Blohm

Credit: Kate Blohm

Credit: Kate Blohm

Stop Think Chew’s Eat Me Up Lentil Bowl

When prepping for this bowl, Julia Kesler Imerman suggests reserving the leek tops for your next pot of vegetable stock. The recipe calls for red beets, but a combination of red and golden beets, as in the photo, is striking.

Adapted from a recipe by Julia Kesler Imerman of Stop Think Chew.

Stop Think Chew’s Eat Me Up Lentil Bowl
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 6 cups water, divided, plus more for rinsing rice
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins, dried cranberries or currants
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, divided
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 3 medium red beets, cooked until tender
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups green French lentils
  • 1/2 cup chopped leeks, white part only
  • 1 tablespoon Hawaij Spice (see recipe)
  • 1 cup fresh greens
  • Dressing (see recipe)
  • In a medium bowl, cover rice with water and let sit 15 minutes. Swish rice and drain. Add more water, swish and drain again. Repeat until rinse water is mostly clear.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine rinsed rice with 2 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. When tender, drain rice and rinse with cold water. When rice is cool, transfer to a medium bowl and add parsley, dill, raisins and 1 tablespoon mint. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and set aside.
  • Peel beets and cut into 1/4-inch dice. Put in a medium bowl and add balsamic vinegar and remaining 1 tablespoon mint. Stir well and set aside.
  • In a medium saucepan, cover lentils with remaining 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and cook 10 to 12 minutes or until lentils are tender. Drain. In a large skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks and remaining teaspoon salt. Saute until leeks are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in cooked lentils and Hawaij Spice. Taste for seasoning.
  • Assemble bowls: Divide the lentil mix, rice, beets and greens among 4 serving bowls. Drizzle with dressing. Serves 4.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving (entire recipe): 557 calories (percent of calories from fat, 32), 17 grams protein, 80 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams fiber, 20 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 793 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from a recipe by Julia Kesler Imerman of Stop Think Chew.

Dressing
  • 1 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup water, more if needed
  • 1/4 cup tamari
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley, packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, packed
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt
  • In the jar of a blender, combine tahini, water, tamari and lemon juice. Process until smooth. Add parsley, cilantro, green onions and cumin. Process until smooth again and taste for seasoning. For a thinner dressing, add more water. Makes 2 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per tablespoon: 52 calories (percent of calories from fat, 67), 2 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 4 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 136 milligrams sodium.

Hawaij Spice

2 tablespoons cumin seeds or ground cumin

2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns or ground pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons turmeric

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds or ground coriander

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Warm a small skillet over low heat. Add cumin, peppercorns, turmeric, coriander, cardamom and cloves. Let toast 10 minutes or until fragrant, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. If using whole spices, grind in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Makes 6 tablespoons.

Hawaij Spice
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds or ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns or ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds or ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Warm a small skillet over low heat. Add cumin, peppercorns, turmeric, coriander, cardamom and cloves. Let toast 10 minutes or until fragrant, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. If using whole spices, grind in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Makes 6 tablespoons.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per teaspoon: 9 calories (percent of calories from fat, 22), trace protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium.

Adapted from a recipe by Julia Kesler Imerman of Stop Think Chew.

TYPES OF LENTILS

There are several different types of lentils available. The cooking times vary.

Brown: 30 minutes

Green: 30 minutes

French: 20 minutes

Black beluga: 25 minutes

Red and yellow: 15 minutes

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