Lentils are the perfect winter fuel – packed with fiber, protein, and minerals, and versatile enough to eat in everything from simple soups to hearty burgers. And unlike dried beans, which need to be soaked for hours before cooking, lentils can be prepared in just 15 to 20 minutes. While the different varieties can be used more or less interchangeably, they do bring some differences in texture and taste. Brown lentils, probably the most common, have a mildly earthy flavor and, cooked properly, become tender without falling apart. Green (or French) stay firm; use them to bring a peppery crunch to a salad or dip. Red lentils are on the sweet and mushy side – perfect for thickening soups and stews (or a killer veggie burger). Black lentils, once hard to find but lately appearing on more and more menus, have a somewhat intense, funky flavor (and, as an added bonus, a high concentration of antioxidants). There are no hard rules for using any of them – pick whichever you like, vary the seasonings and cook times until you get them just right for you, and chow down.
Makes 8 cups (4 bowls)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 slices bacon, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp ginger, minced
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup brown lentils
- 2 bay leaves
- One 15 oz can white beans
- One 15 oz can pinto beans
- One 15 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
- 1/2 cup cheddar, grated
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
In a large pot, heat the oil until hot. Add the bacon, onion, and garlic, and cook over moderate heat until the onion is softened and all bacon fat is rendered, about 5 minutes.
Add the ginger, chili powder, ground cumin, and black pepper, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the lentils, bay leaves, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Stir in the beans, tomatoes, and broth, and bring to a boil.
Simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes.
Add the jalapeño.
Remove bay leaves.
Top with the cheddar and cilantro.