16 Best Ways To Use Canned Lentils

Canned beans are among the most useful pantry staples, but canned lentils often get overlooked in favor of more common legumes like black beans or chickpeas. It's time to give canned lentils their due! Unlike dried lentils, which require soaking and extended cooking times, canned lentils just need to be drained, and they're ready to use straight out of the can. This makes them a boon for anyone seeking a quick and nutritious addition to their meals.

Canned lentils are useful for vegans and vegetarians, too. Like most legumes, they're full of fiber and protein, but lentils have the advantage of a meaty texture that makes them a good stand-in for ground meat in recipes. The sky's the limit when it comes to using canned lentils, from hot, savory soups to cold salad dishes. Here are some ideas to get you started when you're faced with a can of lentils and an empty stomach.

1. Serve a warming lentil soup

There's not much that's better suited for the chilly months than a bowl of hearty, warming lentil soup. The simple taste of lentils allows the herbs and spices to really shine, so break out your best aromatics when you whip up a batch. Making lentil soup can be as easy as heating canned lentils in broth and adding seasonings to your own taste (garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper are a good start), and you can even adjust the flavors to reflect different culinary traditions. 

Lentil soup thickens on in its own, but you can make the broth richer by removing some of the lentils, pureeing them in the blender, and returning them to the soup. Add color to your lentil soup with veggies of your choice (carrots and celery are classic additions). If you're not the kind of cook who likes to wing it in the kitchen, try a tested lentil soup recipe, brightened up with the flavors of creamy yogurt and tarragon. 

2. Please the vegetarians with lentil burgers

Some people don't remember that there was a time before Morningstar Farms and Beyond Burgers when vegetarians who wanted something burger-adjacent had to make their own homemade version. Lentils were a common ingredient in these old-school burger concoctions, and they're still worth making, packed with flavorful ingredients and lacking the unwanted stuff you find in many processed foods. Canned lentils can save a lot of time in the burger-making process. 

Try an inventive lentil burger recipe that takes a cue from the Mediterranean falafel, served in a pita with a cooling feta and yogurt sauce. The recipe is easily adaptable to using canned lentils. Of course, you can serve your canned lentil burgers on traditional buns with ketchup, mustard, and all the classic fixings. Your vegetarian friends would be pleased if you brought these along to the next cookout. Cook them ahead of time and simply reheat them on the grill.

3. Whip up a lentil hummus

The word "hummus" comes from the Arabic word for "chickpea," which means that language purists may balk at the idea of calling chickpea-free dips by that name. That shouldn't stop you from making a creamy lentil dip with the can of lentils in your pantry. You can call it anything you like, whether it's lentil hummus, lentil dip, or lentils a la (insert your own last name). By any name, it's a tasty dish.

It's a simple dish, too. Drain a can of lentils, then blitz the contents in a food processor with some lemon, tahini, and garlic. Top with a little olive oil and paprika, and you have lentil hummus. Serve with plenty of warm pita bread. If you have any leftovers (though you probably won't), you can use your lentil dip as a sandwich spread. It pairs well with any kind of bread and veggies. 

4. Make a spicy dal or curry

East Indian dishes can be deliciously complex, due to the array of spices used, but one way to simplify things is by starting with a can of lentils. Lentil dal is a staple dish in many South Asian cuisines, made by simmering lentils with a blend of aromatic spices and a bit of heat in the form of chili peppers. Canned coconut milk can add richness while tempering the heat a bit. 

Canned lentils can also be incorporated into any type of Indian-inspired curry dish, especially if you're looking to feed those who don't want meat. A savory curry with canned lentils and fresh vegetables makes a palate-pleasing meal when served over rice or with a side of fresh naan bread. Complete the meal with a simple salad and a yogurt dressing. No one will believe you started out with a can of lentils!

5. Get fancy with a French lentil salad

Lentil dishes don't have to have you sweating all day over a hot stove. You can make clever use of canned lentils with a cold salad. The French combine lentils with bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh herbs to make a salad, typically dressed with a homemade Dijon vinaigrette. You can make your own version of the dish with canned lentils by draining them and rinsing with cool water before adding to the salad. 

You can alter the dish by making it more closely resemble the black-eyed pea dish known as "Texas caviar" or "cowboy caviar." Mix cold lentils with finely chopped veggies, plus avocado and corn for a Southwestern vibe, and serve with tortilla chips for scooping. Lentils can be used in any salad where you'd add other legumes. Consider adding them to a three-bean salad for your own new four-bean salad recipe. 

6. Top your sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are one of the best ingredients of the fall, and their sweet, nutty flavor is the perfect pairing for savory lentils. You can roast your sweet potatoes for maximum texture enjoyment, simply steam them, or even microwave them on the fly. Once they're cooked, stuffing sweet potatoes with lentils makes them a complete meal, adding protein and substance. Canned lentils make things even more simple since all you have to do is heat them.

Seasoning the lentils makes them an even tastier topping for your sweet potato. Consider chili or curry powder for an intriguing contrast with the potato's creamy sweetness. Don't forget the other toppings, like fresh cilantro and parsley or some chopped green onion add both color and flavor. A drizzle of sriracha heats things up or a dollop of Greek yogurt can bring the heat down if you've opted to spice up your lentils.

7. Combine with veggies for a simple skillet supper

Skillet dinners are even better than sheet-pan dinners for getting dinner on the table quickly. An entire meal can be ready in the time it takes to sauté some vegetables. Adding lentils to a stir-fry or skillet meal cuts down on the cooking time because you don't have to wait for any meat to cook through. Start with drained canned lentils as your protein, add olive oil to a skillet, and add any vegetable combination you choose.

Beans and greens are a classic combination, so building a skillet dinner from lentils and greens guarantees a great blend of complementary flavors. Choose your greens, add your lentils, then simply choose your seasoning or sauce. Bottled sauces cut your time down even further, or you can improvise if your kitchen skills allow it. In a pinch, lemon, olive oil, and garlic will suit any greens. 

8. Add seasonings for an easy side dish

You don't have to make a big production out of your canned lentils. If you're looking for a simple, out-of-the-ordinary side dish, lentils are a handy way to add protein to a plate. They're also good and filling when you're tired of the same old mashed potatoes or rice. You can use canned lentils with any dish, but they're especially good with main dishes you'd ordinarily serve with baked beans, refried beans, or peas (they are all legumes after all). 

Of course, you don't want to serve them completely naked. At the very least, add some salt and pepper to your canned lentils after draining, but they're even tastier with a bright squeeze of lemon juice to lift them up. A bit of chopped onion or pepper goes a long way. If pressed for time, stir some salsa into your lentils or top with a flavorful southern chow-chow. 

9. Fill your taco shells

Besides canned beans, tortillas or taco shells are another thing you should always keep in your pantry for emergency dinners. A quick vegetarian taco is only minutes away when you keep them on hand. Canned lentils aren't the usual go-to for tacos, but they're just as good as black beans or pintos, and they bring a meaty look and texture that larger beans don't have. You can season the beans just as you would your taco meat.

Top lentil tacos to your own taste, or put out toppings and let your friends build their own. They're a super dinner party idea to keep in mind when serving vegans and vegetarians. They're hearty enough that you won't miss the cheese or sour cream. Add avocado for creamy texture without the dairy. If you're serving mainly meat eaters, have a bowl of seasoned lentils on the taco bar for unexpected vegans. 

10. Try a twist on veggie chili

The same delicious attributes lentils bring to soup are relevant to chili, too. Lentil chili is a hearty twist on the southwestern favorite, and it's easy to make when you have canned lentils on hand. The beauty of lentil chili lies in the meaty texture that lentils bring, making for a thick and hearty base. Even if you prefer meat-based chili, adding lentils to your ground beef and tomatoes will enhance your dish, but if you're keeping it meat-free, the result will still seem meaty. 

You can make lentil chili the same way you make your favorite chili recipe. Begin by softening onions, garlic, and peppers, then add your chosen broth, crushed tomatoes, and your favorite chili seasonings (popular additions are cumin, chili powder, paprika, and oregano). Because the lentils are already cooked, you won't need to simmer for very long but the longer you do the more flavor the lentils will absorb.

11. Smother your nachos

There's almost nothing you can't pile on a plate of nachos. They're a lot like pizza in that regard. Whatever it is, if you like it, it belongs, so don't let anyone tell you it's wrong. Lentils are a great nacho topping for vegetarians, and having canned lentils on hand means you can assemble a plate of nachos when a late-night craving arrives. The texture is similar to refried beans, so they add a nice creamy, meaty layer.

If you want your lentils even more creamy, give them a few seconds in the food processor, and they'll seem even more like refried beans without having to do any refrying. How you further top your lentil nachos is up to you: Keep it vegan with avocado and jalapenos, or pile on the cheese and sour cream. They're your nachos! If you want pineapple on them, that's your business. 

12. Reinvent the shepherd's pie

Shepherd's pie is traditionally made with minced lamb (that's the "shepherd" part), while cottage pie is the name of the same dish made with ground beef. What do you call a vegetarian pie made with lentils? "Beangrower's pie" just doesn't sound right, so you're welcome to call it a vegetarian shepherd's pie, or even a lentil pie. By any name, it's a delicious twist on the classic comfort-food casserole, topped with creamy mashed potatoes and baked until crusty on top.

Canned lentils add a delicious and hearty layer to the pie, especially if you amp up the flavor with savory tomato paste, cooked onions, and other seasonings to really make it taste like home. Mushrooms are also a good addition to a lentil pie, with an earthiness that merges well with the rustic dish. The question of what to bring to a vegetarian potluck supper is now solved. 

13. Create a healthier sloppy joe

Sloppy joes are one of those dishes that transport you back to childhood. They were usually one of the best-liked school cafeteria dishes, surpassed only by pizza and tacos. Many of us have palates that demand more complex flavors now, and some of us have dietary preferences that don't allow for meat consumption. When you're craving a childhood favorite, some modifications are necessary to please adult palates. 

Canned lentils can be the beginning of a vegetarian sloppy joe that keeps things healthy while also keeping things fun. Sauté drained lentils in a pan with some onion, peppers, and tomato sauce (or barbecue sauce, if you prefer), and serve on a bun for a meal that's pure nostalgia — even if it's not quite what the lunch lady served up. Make it a meal with a fresh-made cole slaw, or keep it old-school with some hot tater tots.

14. Stir up a vegan bolognese

A classic bolognese sauce is spaghetti's perfect partner, but what if you don't have any ground beef on hand? (Or perhaps you're vegetarian and don't eat meat at all?) Canned lentils can add consistency and texture to a vegetarian bolognese without having to get a skillet all greasy. The trick is to make sure you have a lot of tomato flavor and plenty of seasoning in your sauce (this isn't a time to be chintzy with the garlic). 

The beauty of a lentil bolognese is that once you've made a big batch, you can use it for a number of vegetarian dishes. Pair your lentil bolognese with any kind of pasta, stuff it into baked peppers, or just eat it by itself with some hot, crusty bread. Make a bunch and freeze it in batches for later, and you'll never lack for a tasty dinner idea. 

15. Layer lentils into lasagna

You know by now that there aren't many dishes that can't be enhanced by canned lentils. They're useful anywhere you want a meaty texture but a taste without meat or when you just need to cut down on the time it would take to brown some meat. Lentil lasagna is yet another lentil-based twist on a classic dish. You can incorporate drained, canned lentils into your regular recipe, substituting them for ground beef and keeping all of the other ingredients the same.

Of course, you can also make a lentil lasagna with a southwestern twist, using enchilada sauce in place of tomato sauce, and topping with queso instead of mozzarella. Lentils are also welcome in a veggie-heavy lasagna with fresh ingredients like spinach, mushrooms, or zucchini for added flavor and nutrition. Use whole wheat noodles, and it's practically health food, so you can feel good about having two slices. 

16. Impress partygoers with veggie meatballs

When planning a party, you always want to make sure vegetarians have plenty to eat and feel hungry from nibbling nothing but vegetables all night. A lentil meatballs recipe ensures that everyone has something hearty to eat. Canned lentils speed up preparation time, which everyone can use more of when they're playing host or hostess. Serve lentil meatballs with a tangy dipping sauce of some kind, like barbecue sauce or a zesty tzatziki.

You don't have to wait until there's a party to make lentil meatballs, and you also don't have to eat them as a snack food. Lentil meatballs can be stuffed into a pita for a filling sandwich, or topped with sauce for a vegetarian meatball sub. They can be combined with pasta for an inventive twist on spaghetti and meatballs. If you do want to have them as party food, you can still make them into sandwiches, using slider buns to make tiny veggie-friendly meatball sandwiches.