Mexican Style Lentils with Garden Tomatoes & Chiles

Lentils. Do you cook with them? They are one of the least expensive yet easiest ways to add a tasty vegetarian protein to a meal. Unlike beans, which can take more than an hour to cook, they take only 20-30 minutes. In this recipe, I greatly simplified a traditional Mexican recipe for stewed lentils for a class I taught at Mercy Learning Center two years ago. The students loved it! Lentils are so naturally full of flavor and palate pleasing (even kids like them) that the addition of a few seasonal ingredients and about 20 minutes of cooking times is all you need to make a meal. I stopped using vegetable or chicken stock in my lentils years ago as a shortcut and nobody noticed. All you need is water.

This recipe is great for Meatless Monday and is an excellent way to stretch the food budget. If you have other seasonal ingredients on hand, like peppers, Swiss chard or kale, they’ll make a great addition to the meal. Cut the peppers into a small dice and add them to the first step (sauteeing onions and chiles). Wash, de-stem and cut the Swiss chard or kale into strips, then add them during the last 10 minutes of cooking, making sure to cook until tender (test!).

Ingredient Note: If you have any Mexican oregano, add a pinch (1/2 tsp.) with the tomatoes. It’s very powerful and is not at all related to Mediterranean oregano.

Meal Tip: Start your rice, quinoa (20 min. cooking time) just before you start prepping the lentil ingredients so both meal components will be done at the same time. Brown rice takes 45 minutes to cook. Always use 2 parts water to 1 part rice and rinse the rice in several changes of water before cooking to reduce inorganic arsenic residue.

Once the pot has come to a boil, lower it to a simmer and do something else for 20 minutes.

Mexican Style Lentils with Garden Tomatoes & Chiles


  • 1 ½ cup dried, uncooked lentils (any color but red, which turns to mush when cooked)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 chiles (any fresh, hot green chile), seeded, stemmed and finely chopped (wash hands immediately after handling)
  • 2 cloves medium garlic, peeled and finely chopped (3 cloves small)
  • 2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (leaves or stems and leaves)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar


1.     Sort and rinse the lentils in cold water, then set aside to drain.

2.     In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and chiles. Cook until soft, about two minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, stirring frequently.

3.     Add the tomato, lentils, water, salt and bay leaf to the pot, cover and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook until the lentils uncovered until soft, about 20-30minutes. Dip a spoon in a have a taste to see if they’re done or still crunchy.

Leave the lid off while the lentils cook so the water reduces to create a stew.

4.    Remove bay leaf and add the cilantro and red wine vinegar. Adjust salt and pepper to your taste.

5.    Serve with tortillas (organic corn or whole wheat), brown rice or quinoa.

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