Category Archives: Lentils

Greek-style Lentils and Rice, plus excuses for why I haven’t been posting lately

Ohai culinary blogsphere and lovers of Inexpensive Real Food everywhere. Long time no see.

All kinds of stuff has been going down in my life lately. This stuff has prevented me from posting by effectively turning my brain into a quivering pile of goo. It has included:

  • Near mental and emotional breakdowns due to the stress of Ph.D. work
  • Dramatic questioning of What I Want To Be Doing With My Life and Whether Getting a Ph.D. is Actually Going to Get Me There
  • Very, very serious contemplation of dropping out of grad school or, at the very least, taking a break
  • Crippling anxiety over my perceived lack of marketable skills for doing anything other than getting a Ph.D.
  • Daily flip-flopping over whether I need to cancel or postpone my last major qualifying exam (which is less than three weeks away, ahhhhh)
  • Etc.

Grad students and former grad students will know exactly what I mean. To everyone else, I will just say this: Ph.D.s are evil and you should not get them. (That, and: If you want to give me a job if I quit my Ph.D. program, shoot me a comment.)

Anyway. I’ve finally managed to get some mental R&R lately, which has put me in a much better frame of mind and made me want to blog about cheap food again. Yay! I can’t promise that this will happen again before the semester is finished, but I do intend to keep at this once my metaphorical plate is a little less full.

Moukentra (Greek Lentils and Rice)

Greek-style lentils and brown rice

So. Carrying on. This dish, called Moukentra in my Greek cookbook, is another one of my favorites. It’s a good fallback option when you need a quick-ish meal and you don’t have much food in the house – the only ingredient it calls for that I don’t always have on hand is fresh cilantro, and it can be made without it in a pinch. I’ve made this dish with both white and brown rice, and it’s fantastic both ways.

This recipe is adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi. Though it’s low on veggies, I usually eat it on its own, though it would be even tastier paired with a small salad or the like.


Moukentra (Greek-style Lentils and Rice, adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi)

  • 1 c. or 1/2 lb. green or brown lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 red or yellow onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cups lentil cooking water, chicken/veggie stock, water + bullion stuff, plain water, or a combination thereof
  • 1 c. brown or white rice, rinsed (the recipe calls for white Arborio, but I have substituted brown basmati with similarly tasty results)
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, depending on your spice tolerance
  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cook the lentils: Wash them, then put them in a pot with the bay leaf and water to cover by about two inches. Bring this to a boil, and let it simmer until the lentils are done, about 20-25 minutes. Chop your veggies in the meantime. Once the lentils are cooked, drain them, reserving the cooking water if you want to use it later in the dish (this is optional, but flavorful and efficient).

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan or large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it has softened, about five minutes. Add two cups of the lentil cooking water or stock or whatever you are using, plus the rice, cooked lentils, and crushed red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer.

The cooking time will depend on whether you are using white or brown rice – white rice should cook in about 20 minutes, brown in 50. Regardless of which you use, open the lid to stir the dish periodically, and add a bit more lentil water/stock/whatever if it’s drying out or sticking. This dish is supposed to be creamy like a risotto rather than fluffy like a pilaf, so a bit of extra liquid won’t hurt anything. Cook until the rice is done.

Remove from heat and add the cilantro, along with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.


Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

  • ~1/2 lb. brown lentils @ $1.79/lb. = $0.90
  • 1 medium red onion: ~$1
  • ~1/2 lb. brown basmati rice @ $2.19/lb. = $1.10
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro = $1

Total for at least four servings: $4.00 plus the cost of small amounts of olive oil, stock/bullion, crushed red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf.

Bon Appétit!



Filed under Gluten-free, Greek, Lentils, Recipes, Rice, Stews, Vegan, Vegetarian

Greek Lentil Salad

Greek Lentil Salad

Greek Lentil Salad

It’s been bizarrely warm lately for this time of year in Minneapolis – I think we may have even hit 80 sometime last week, which is literally 40 degrees above average. The lawns are green, the trees are blooming, and I’ve been spending my evenings sitting on the porch, rather than huddled up under a blanket in my cold, cold house that my roommates and I can’t afford to heat above 60 degrees. It’s been FANTASTIC.

But it’s given me a hankering for summer foods – fresh tomatoes and eggplant and ripe, red peppers and all the other wonderful peak-of-summer farmers market veggies that, sadly, won’t be showing up in my kitchen in any degree of abundance for several more months. These are things I tend to buy and eat sparingly during the winter months, due to the expense as well as to the lack of quality compared to the vine-ripened, fresh-picked stuff you can get at farmers markets in July and August. A midwinter ratatouille made with imported eggplant and tomatoes just doesn’t compare to the same dish made with veggies that were picked that morning in the summer – and the winter version will cost you about three times as much to boot. It’s better to stick with winter staples to get your requisite veggies, in my opinion – squashes, cabbages, kale, and root veggies – with some canned tomatoes, picked ripe and canned fresh, to add some much-needed variety.

But last week was definitely too hot for a soup or stew, so I opted to try out this middle-of-the-road dish – a cold salad, with some fresh veggies, but comprised primarily of lentils, which are cheap year-round. It did not disappoint – it was crunchy and tangy and just summery enough to satisfy my need for a bit of warm weather food. This salad is very similar to a tabbouleh, but has the advantage of packing more protein (thanks to the lentils), and is gluten-free.

This recipe is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook. I’ve changed some of the vegetable quantities to make things simpler (so you don’t end up with a third of a green pepper and half a cucumber sitting around rotting in your fridge – I hate recipes like that). I recommend serving it with a side of hearty bread and a spoonful of plain yogurt mixed in.


Greek Lentil Salad (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook)

  • 1 lb. or 2 c. green or brown lentils
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 roma tomatoes, or 1 regular (round) tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 small- to medium-sized green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 small- to medium-sized cucumber, cut into a 1/4 inch (or so) dice
  • 1/2 bunch parsley (stems and leaves), minced
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 6 Tbsp. lemon juice (fresh is always more flavorful – 1 very large, juicy lemon or 2 smaller lemons should do it)
  • 2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook the lentils (and allow enough time for them to cool in the fridge, if you want to serve this cold): Rinse, and cover in 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook partially covered until the lentils are tender but not falling apart.This should take about 25 minutes, though it could take longer if your lentils are old, so try a few at 25 minutes to see where they’re at. Add more water if they get too dry.

Once the lentils are cooked, drain the cooking water (or save it for later use in a soup or stew). Refrigerate the lentils for a couple hours or longer, if you want to serve this cold (though this dish is great served warm as well, so it’s okay if you don’t have time to let the lentils cool).

Immediately prior to serving, chop all the veggies and combine them in a bowl. Add the lentils plus the oregano, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Mix, taste, and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with yogurt and/or bread, if you wish.


Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

~1 lb. brown lentils @ $1.79/lb. = ~$1.79
1/2 medium onion: $0.50
2 roma tomatoes: $1.21
1 green pepper: $1.03
1 cucumber: $1.47
1/2 bunch parsley: $0.80
1 ridiculously juicy lemon: ~$1.00

Total for at least five servings: $7.80 plus the cost of small amounts of oregano, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Bon Appétit!

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Filed under Gluten-free, Greek, Lentils, Recipes, Salad, Vegan, Vegetarian

Meatless/Almost Meatless Split Pea Soup with Herbs

Almost Meatless Split Pea Soup

Almost Meatless Split Pea Soup

I know a lot of people, myself included, who grew up hating split pea soup. It was definitely the only lentil- or pea-based dish that my family ate, so I was never quite sure what to make of it. Plus, it’s pretty much the most unappealing color possible for a food. I would have never guessed that I’d actually be cooking and eating it on purpose someday. 🙂

But I’m glad that I’ve given it a second chance as an adult, because it’s a really hearty, filling soup that, when done right, tastes great. It’s especially great for those freezing cold nights when all you want to do is hide out at home (and eat soup). Plus, it’s cheap. So how can you go wrong?

I made a vegetarian version of split pea soup for years, using a veggie broth to give it body, and sometimes finishing it off with a couple tablespoons of soy sauce (as recommended by Deborah Madison). Now that I’m eating meat again, I’ve ditched the veggie broth and soy sauce in favor of a couple of ham hocks or shanks to give it a ham flavor and a bit of meat. Both taste great, though, so I’m providing both recipes below.

Serve this soup with a hearty bread or some biscuits for a balanced and filling meal.


Meatless/Almost Meatless Split Pea Soup with Herbs 

1 1/2 lbs., or about 3 cups, green split peas
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. rosemary
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 parsnips (they look like white carrots), chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped/minced
Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

For the vegetarian version:
4 cups veggie broth (or water + bullion, Better than Bullion, etc.)
4 additional cups water, plus more if soup becomes too dry
Soy sauce

For the non-veg version:
2 ham hocks or shanks (shanks will give you more meat)
8 cups water, plus more if soup becomes too dry
2 tsp. salt, or to taste

Wash the split peas well, to reduce foaming. Combine the peas, ham hocks/shanks (non-veg version), all herbs, and water + veggie stock (veg version) in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, mostly covered, until the peas have broken down into a fine puree. If you are using new split peas, this should take about 60-90 minutes. If your peas are older, this can take quite a bit longer. Add more water if the soup becomes too dry, or if you want a thinner soup.

Non-veg version: When the ham hocks/shanks begin to fall apart, remove the pieces from the soup with a pair of tongs. Cut off the meat, roughly chop it, and return it to the pot, discarding the rest.

At least half an hour before the peas will be done, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the veggies and garlic until soft, about five minutes. Add this to the soup (scrape the sides of the pan with a spatula to make sure all of the olive oil gets in the soup, as that is where much of the flavor resides) and continue to cook until the peas are completely broken down.

Add soy sauce (veg version – 1-3 Tbsp. should do it) or salt (non-veg version) and freshly-ground black pepper to taste. Serve with a hearty bread or biscuits.


Cost of core ingredients: I made the non-vegetarian version of this soup, so the price of ham shanks are included here. This soup would be substantially cheaper without the ham shanks (though it is still quite cheap). The ingredients listed here are primarily organic and were purchased at my food co-op. The ham shanks are from naturally-raised pigs.

1 1/2 lbs. green split peas @ 1.29/lb. = $1.94
2 ham shanks: ~$3.83
1 medium onion: ~$1
2 carrots: ~$1.15
2 parsnips: $1.21

Total cost for at least 6 servings: $9.13 + the cost of small amounts of all herbs, olive oil, celery, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Bon Appétit!

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Filed under European, Gluten-free, Lentils, Recipes, Soups, Vegan, Vegetarian

Javanese Lentils

Javanese Lentils

Javanese Lentils with a fried onion garnish

This dish is another great take on a simple lentil stew, this time with an Indonesian spin. It’s amazing how many ways you can cook lentils and come out with totally different and delicious results every time.

I’ve adapted the recipe from a much more complicated one for Mee Java (or Javanese noodles), from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook. The original recipe calls for this stew to be served as a kind of sauce over seasoned noodles, with about five separate garnishes (each of which has to be prepared separately). I’ve made this dish according to the original instructions several times, but I eventually decided to dispense with most of the minor details of the recipe, because the lentil sauce/stew part is most of what makes it good. However, I decided to keep one garnish – caramelized onions, fried until crispy – because it adds a wonderful sweetness to the dish, but this part is entirely optional.

The original recipe calls for split pigeon peas (sold as toor or toovar dal in Indian markets), but basically any skin-less lentil will do. I usually make this dish with red lentils or yellow split peas. I’ve also substituted onions for shallots here, just because of the huge price difference between the two. Ground asafoetida is common in Indian and Southeast Asian dishes, but might be hard to find outside of Indian and Asian markets, food co-ops, and specialty stores.

I like to serve this stew over brown rice, but it can also be served over basically any type of noodle as well.


Javanese Lentils (adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook)

1 lb. or about 2 1/4 cups red lentils, pigeon peas, or yellow split peas
6 Tbsp. vegetable or coconut oil (coconut oil adds a LOT here – buy on Amazon to avoid paying through the nose at a health foods store)
3/4 tsp. ground asafoetida
2 tsp. whole mustard seeds
1 large onion, cut in half and finely sliced (for optional fried onion garnish)
1 medium onion, chopped
2-4 green serrano chiles, seeded and chopped
4 tsp. curry powder of your choice
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes OR 2 1/2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, if in season, chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro (leaves and stems), minced
~2 tsp. salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp. lemon juice, or to taste
Rice or noodles for serving

First, get the lentils cooking: Wash well to reduce foaming, and cover with six cups of water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, skim off the foam that floats to the top, and cook until mushy and beginning to break down – about 20- 25 minutes for red lentils, longer for pigeon peas and split peas. Continue to cook if you would like the stew to have a smoother texture.

Then, get the fried onion garnish going (optional): Heat 4 Tbsp. of the oil in a large frying pan over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, add the finely sliced onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion pieces are reddish-brown. Turn off the heat just as they are starting to become crispy, or they may burn. (It’s important that onions be sliced with a consistent thickness for this step, or the thinner ones will burn before the thicker ones have caramelized.) Set aside when done.

While the lentils and onions are cooking, prepare the rest of the lentil dish: Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a large frying pan or sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat (but not too high, or the mustard seeds will burn). When hot, put in asafoetida and mustard seeds, stir, and cook for about 15 seconds. Add the medium chopped onion and chopped chiles, stir, and cook for about five minutes. Add the curry powder, stir, and cook for anonther minute. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, salt, and 1 1/2 cup of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 8 minutes. Add this whole mixture to the lentils (whether they are done cooking or not), along with the cilantro and lemon juice, and cook uncovered for at least 15 minutes, or until the lentils have reached the desired consistency. Add more water if the lentils become too dry and start to stick.

Adjust lentils for salt. Serve over rice or noodles, with fried onions as a garnish.


Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

1 lb. red lentils @ $2.29/lb. = $2.29
1 large onion: ~$1.20
1 medium onion: ~$0.90
3 serrano chiles: $0.48
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes: $2.49
1/2 bunch cilantro: $1
1 lemon: $1.06
1 lb. brown rice for serving @ $2.29/lb. = ~$2.29

Total for six servings: $11.71, plus the cost of small amounts of oil, asafoetida, mustard seeds, curry powder, and salt.

Bon Appétit!

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4 February 2012 · 4:35 pm

Ethiopian Lentil (Berberé) Stew

Ethiopian Lentil Stew

Way tastier than baby food

Hokay. Evil research grant application of DOOOOM is all submitted, and I am back to cookin’ up cheap stuff and blogging about it. Yay!

Right, so, Ethiopian lentil stew. Please ignore the fact that this stuff kind of looks like baby food, because it is SUPER tasty, and insanely cheap. It’s also really easy and straightforward, which makes it great for hectic evenings. Like harira (Moroccan vegetable soup), the many spices in this recipe are what really make it sing. Most of these spices are common and widely available, though you might have trouble getting your hands on ground fennugreek seed and ground cardamom – these are both available at Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African markets, but the stew is fine without them too. You can also buy a premade berberé spice mixture, if you’re so inclined, from Northeast African markets and the like.

This recipe is adapted from the Berberé Stew recipe over at I’ve changed it to not be fat free, because I don’t believe anything should be fat free (low-fat, fine, but research shows that your body needs some fat to properly absorb the nutrients in your food, plus a little bit of fat goes a long way in making you feel full and satisfied).

Serve this stew over rice or with flatbread (for an authentic-ish Ethiopian meal, pick up some injera if you live near a market that sells it).


Ethiopian Lentil (Berberé) Stew (adapted from

1 lb. red lentils (about 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
A few cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground fenugreek seed
1/2 tsp.  ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp.  ground cloves
1/2 tsp.  ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp.  turmeric
1/4 tsp. cayenne (or more if you like heat)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp.  ground black pepper
1 28 0z. can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. salt, or to taste

Get the lentils cooking: Wash well (to reduce the amount of foaming when they start boiling, which is harmless but annoying), and cover with 6 cups of water in a large-ish pot. Bring to a boil, skim off the foam on the top, and then add all spices except salt. Let the lentils simmer, partially covered. Add more water if they become too dry.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a separate pan. Sauté the onion and garlic until the garlic begins to brown. Add this to the simmering lentils. Add the diced or crushed tomatoes, return to a simmer, and continue to cook partially covered.

Once the lentils have been simmering for 20-25 minutes, this dish is ready to eat, though you can keep simmering for longer if you want the lentils to break down completely and become creamy, like in an Indian dhal (you’ll probably need to add more water if you do this). Add salt to taste at the end, and serve over rice or with a flatbread.


Cost of core ingredients: Primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

1 lb. lentils @ $2.29/lb = $2.29
1 large onion = ~$1.20
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes = $2.49
1 lb.  brown rice for serving @ $2.29/lb. = $2.29

Total for at least 6 servings: $8.27 + the cost of small amounts of olive oil, garlic, and all spices.

Bon Appétit!


Filed under Gluten-free, Lentils, Northeast African, Recipes, Stews, Vegan, Vegetarian

Deborah Madison’s Hearty Lentil Soup

Deborah Madison's Hearty Lentil Soup

I will get better at taking pictures of food, I swear!

I love cooking with lentils. They’re cheap, cook up fast, and don’t require a pre-soak like dried beans, plus they come in seemingly endless varieties. They work great in soups, stews, pilaf-type dishes, and cold salads.

Even just within the category of lentil soup recipes, there seems to be endless variation. There are versions from Middle Eastern, Indian, and European culinary traditions, as well as modern interpretations, like the recipe below.

This is one of my favorite lentil soups because it is quick, easy, and packs a ton of flavor, in addition to being cheap. It works because it includes two acidic ingredients (red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar, and dijon mustard), which intensify the flavors of the rest of the dish. Served with a high-quality, filling bread, this is easily a complete meal.

See below for a tabulation of costs as well as recommendations, tips, and tricks.


“Hearty Lentil Soup” from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

2 tbs. olive oil
2 cups finely diced onion
3 large garlic cloves
salt and freshly milled pepper
3 tbs. tomato paste
1/3 cup finely diced celery
1/3 cup finely diced carrot
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 cups French green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 tbs. Dijon mustard
1 tbs. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Chopped celery leaves and parsley

Heat the oil in a soup pot over high heat. Add the onion and saute until it begins to color around the edges, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile mince or pound the garlic in a mortar with 1 tsp. salt. Work the tomato paste into the onion, then add garlic, celery, carrot, bay leaves, and parsley and cook for 3 minutes. Add the lentils, 2 quarts water, and 1/2 tsp. salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender, 25 to 35 minutes.

Stir in the mustard and vinegar. Taste and add more of either as needed. Check the salt, season with plenty of pepper, remove the bay leaves and serve, garnished with the celery leaves and parsley. The longer the soup sits before serving the better it will taste.


Cost of core ingredients: This is something I am going to try to do for the recipes I post here, though it’s a little tricky because there’s no good easy way to estimate the cost of things that you only use a bit of (like olive oil, vinegar, garlic, etc.). So I will just take a stab at estimating the cost of the main ingredients, with the caveat that the actual cost of the dish is a bit more. The costs listed below are for primarily organic ingredients purchased at my food co-op, so the cost of this dish would presumably be less if you shop at a conventional grocery store.

Lentils: ~0.6 lbs. @ $1.79/lb = ~$1.07
One large onion: ~$1.20
Two carrots: ~$1.15
Half bunch parsley (I’ll use the other half later this week): $1.00

Total for 4+ hearty servings: ~$4.42 + the cost of two stalks of celery plus small amounts of olive oil, garlic, tomato paste, bay leaves, dijon mustard, and red wine vinegar, plus good bread for serving

Possible or recommended variations:

  • French lentils (sometimes known as Le Puy lentils) tend to be expensive and not widely available. They’re cute and pretty, but not worth the extra cost. Substitute regular green or brown lentils – you won’t notice a difference.
  • I usually add a bit of veggie or chicken bullion when I add the water, for a bit more flavor.
  • I really like my foods acidic, so I tend to double the vinegar and mustard – I find it kicks up the flavor a bit.
  • Regular yellow mustard would work fine here if you don’t want to buy a separate mustard. However, I wouldn’t recommend using other vinegars. Double the mustard if you don’t have red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar and don’t want to buy it.
  • Increase the lentils to 1 3/4 – 2 cups for a heartier, more filling soup-stew.

Tips and tricks:

  • Celery will actually keep for several weeks to a month in the crisper, if you’re willing to cut out a couple bad bits here and there, so you can use the same bunch for many meals.
  • Freeze leftover tomato paste in tablespoon-sized blobs (I put them on a plastic plate, and then move them into a ziploc bag once frozen) to avoid having to purchase a brand new can every time you cook with tomato paste.

Bon Appétit!

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Filed under Gluten-free, Lentils, Recipes, Soups, Vegan, Vegetarian