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When you eliminate meat from your diet — even just one day a week — you likely end up craving the taste and texture of something hearty and beefy, something substantial to sink your teeth into. For that, look to lentils. These protein-rich rounds are indeed small in size, but they pack a surprisingly satisfying punch and a chewy firmness similar to beans. No matter which color lentil you pick up (there are almost as many varieties as there are colors of the rainbow), you can be sure that you’ll feel full long after eating them, thanks to their high protein and fiber contents. It takes little more than a drizzle of olive oil and tangy balsamic vinegar to complete a humble bowl of lentils, but these budget-friendly bites add heft to dressed-up plates like soups and salads as well, especially when combined with other hearty ingredients and bold flavors.
Food Network Magazine puts yellow lentils to work in its Slow-Cooker Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup (pictured above), simmered with fresh leeks, ginger and just a pinch of curry powder. Though warming winter soups are often thought to be weekend-only fare, this one is a go-to weeknight pick, since the slow cooker will do most of the cooking for you. Just prep the ingredients and set the machine to low before you leave in the morning, then come back later to a comforting soup made deliciously thick from the lentils. A last-minute addition of garlic, a bit more curry powder, plus refreshingly light lemon juice and fresh cilantro is all it takes to finish this fuss-free supper.
For a quick-cooking side dish or easy lunch option, try Giada’s Italian Lentil Salad. She mixes tender green lentils with scallions, juicy grapes, cucumber and bell pepper to create a light, colorful bowl with fresh flavors. For a bit of crunch, she adds chopped toasted hazelnuts before dressing the salad with a bright mixture of lemon juice and fruity olive oil.