When it comes to making meals at home, I always think that 90% of the effort required is all in the planning. The idea for what to eat can be far more daunting than preparing the meal itself, and for busy weeknights, good Sunday prep in the midst of other important housekeeping can be a lifesaver.
I know many home cooks who do as I do, but IMO, the best way to be prepared in a vegetarian kitchen is to have cooked beans and grains on hand. Nothing beats these combos for sound nutrition, and the possibilities are endless when paired with seasonal veggies, your favourite optional toasted nut or cheese, and a killer dressing. These are the cornerstones of nourishing power bowls that fill you up, taste amazing, and don't break the bank. The soaking and boiling of the legumes are all part of the process, but taking advantage of any downtime at home can see a bowl or two of dried beans or lentils on the counter just soaking away with zero effort expelled. It's brilliant, really! Since vegetables are quick to cook, bowls like these can be yours in literally the time it would take to ponder and discuss the age-old question of "What's for dinner?". Yeah, we all know that one too well! ;)
Here are two easy ways to take advantage of cooked french lentils, which are a fave of mine. It's hard to believe I don't have a cooked polenta recipe here on the blog - but after seeing this pic surface on my Pinterest feed for too long - I was craving the comfort of a warm bowl of cheesy grits. You can use Laird green lentils here too instead of the French, depending on what you have on hand of course - they soak and steam well too - my preferred method to prepare lentils for meals like this. You can also omit the cheese on the polenta and use coconut butter instead of butter for a vegan version.
Both of these recipes will require just a little bit of preparation, as mentioned above. To cook lentils in advance, simply soak for 12-24 hours in cold water. Drain and rinse in cold water and transfer to a steamer with plenty of water. Steam for 30 minutes or until tender but still firm. When cooked, transfer to a bowl and toss with a little olive oil and a pinch pf salt. Cool and transfer to a container and store in the fridge. To cook enough lentils for these recipes, start with 2.5 cups of dried lentils.
French Lentil Bowl with Sweet Potatoes + Parsley
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup parsley, minced
- 2 cups cooked French lentils
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 clove minced garlic (optional)
- 1/2 cup fresh cherry tomatoes, broiled
- feta cheese (optional)
To prepare, put up your grains to cook (brown rice, quinoa, millet, etc.), or, have some grains cooked in advance to keep this meal in the 20-minute time range. This is really handy and the grains can either be re-heated on their own, or added to the lentils and potato mixture for a few minutes at the end of cooking.
To start, heat a large saute pan with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped sweet potato, and cook, stirring for 10 minutes. If broiling cherry tomatoes, toss them in a small amount of olive oil to coat. Turn on the broiler and spread the cherry tomatoes on a flat baking tray. Broil for 10 minutes while the saute mixture cooks until blistered. When the sweet potatoes have cooked for 10 minutes, stir in the cooked lentils, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Cook further for 5-7 minutes until the sweet potatoes are cooked through. Stir in the minced parsley and stir the whole pan well.
Serve hot with your choice of cooked grains, tucked in a bowl with fresh lettuce, a quarter or half sliced avocado per serving, optional crumbled feta and blistered cherry tomatoes. Top with your dressing of choice (this is usually mine). This recipe should be enough to feed 4-6, with grains and other veggies as part of the meal.
Creamy Polenta with French Lentils + Vegetables:
- 1 cup coarse polenta
- 4 cups water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (optional)
- 1/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
- 1 tbsp butter (can sub coconut oil)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cob fresh corn, removed from the cob
- 1 small red onion, minced
- 1 medium red bell pepper, minced
- 1 medium tomato
- 1 tbsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups cooked French lentils
- 1-2 cups broiled cherry tomatoes
- sliced ripe avocado
- grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
- minced fresh cilantro
- black pepper
Combine the polenta, salt + water in a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid and whisk until combined and not lumpy. Bring the water to a boil with the lid off, whisking here and there while the water reaches temperature. Once the boil is reached, turn the heat down to low and cover the pot. Set the timer for 15 minutes. While you prepare the lentils, continue to whisk the polenta here and there to ensure even (not lumpy) cooking, always returning the lid to the pot. In the final 5 minutes, stir in the cheeses and the butter to melt while the polenta finishes cooking with the lid on.
While the polenta cooks, prepare the chopped vegetables and herbs. Heat a large saute pan with olive oil and add the corn, red onion, and red pepper, and cook for 7-8 minutes. Add the salt, chilli powder and cooked french lentils and stir well. Cook for a further 5 minutes until fragrant. To broil the cherry tomatoes, toss them in a small amount of olive oil to coat before starting the vegetable saute. Turn on the broiler and spread the cherry tomatoes on a flat baking tray. Broil for 10 minutes while the saute mixture cooks until blistered. Remove.
To serve, spoon 1 cup or so of cooked polenta in each serving bowl and top with the lentil mixture, avocado, parmesan, cherry tomatoes, and freshly ground black pepper. This recipe should be enough to serve 2-4, depending on portions.