Lentils' relatively neutral taste, affordability and standout nutritional profile mean they can act as a wonderful complement to nearly any dish. When substituting for them, start by considering what role you want your replacement to serve.
The Closest: Peas and Beans
The closest substitutes you can find for lentils are other types of legumes, such as peas and beans. Split peas have a slightly stronger "earthy" flavor than lentils, but they have the same shape and texture when cooked. Most beans also have a similar texture and cooking process.
Additionally, peas and beans have nearly identical nutritional profiles to lentils. That's important because some recipes, such as those for vegan lentil tacos or vegetarian lentil loaf, rely on the protein and fiber that lentils contain to create a nutritionally balanced meal.
If you're not vegetarian, meat can be a decent substitute for lentils. It lacks the fiber content, but typically has more protein per serving and all essential amino acids.
However, many people choose to eat lentils because they are plant-based, and there are many other plant-based foods that are also high in protein that can serve as good substitutes:
- Textured vegetable protein (TVP)
- Protein powder
If you're not looking to replicate the exact shape and size of lentils, you have many more possibilities for substitution. In a soup or a casserole, for example, use a hearty grain as a replacement for lentils. Brown rice, barley, rolled oats, quinoa or bulgur wheat will all thicken a dish, add texture and offer a separate set of beneficial nutrients.
Soak whole grains, split peas and dry beans for 20 to 60 minutes in cool, fresh water before cooking them on the stove top.