There is no doubt that red lentils are quickly becoming one of the most popular foods today! They are highly nutritious, add color to otherwise bland dishes, and cook relatively fast. Not to mention, their delicious earthy and sweet flavor makes them an excellent addition to any dish.
Red lentils are not as easy to find as other lentils – and even when you do find them, they can be quite expensive.
Our question today is, what are the best substitutes for red lentils? Try using green or yellow lentils rather than brown or black lentils; they don’t match well when it comes to flavor and texture. The other options include peas, beans, grains, cauliflower, peanuts, and tofu if those options aren’t available.
We will explore specifically what makes a good substitute for red lentils today since there are even more choices within some of these options.
Our second step is to compare the best alternatives – their flavor, texture, cooking methods, nutritional composition, and overall functionality.
How To Choose The Best Substitute For Red Lentils
We need to understand what makes a suitable substitute for red lentils before we can discuss the best alternatives.
Think about what you want to substitute – is it the soft and creamy texture, the bright red color, or the mildly earthy and sweet flavor? Maybe it’s even the nutritional value of red lentils.
We’ll take a look at some of the factors you need to consider in order to make an informed decision.
Flavor And Texture
There is a slight sweetness to red lentils compared to brown or black lentils, though they still have very earthy flavors.
It is common to make vegan burger patties from lentils and mushrooms. Cooked correctly, lentils can also add delicious meaty flavors to a dish.
A unique characteristic of red lentils is their hulled texture. They are removed from their skins, making them cook slightly faster than other kinds.
Despite their firm texture, cooked red lentils should be soft and tender when biting into them. They shouldn’t be mushy, crunchy, gritty, mealy, or soggy.
If you’re looking for something to replace flavor and texture, there are some things to look for. Of course, other types of lentils will perform better in all areas, especially in flavor and texture.
Additionally, red lentils are highly nutritious, which is why many people prefer them to other legumes.
Aside from being extremely high in many B vitamins, zinc, potassium, copper, iron, and magnesium, they are also exceptionally high in plant-based protein, low in fat, and high in fiber.
In order to meet these needs, you should use alternatives that can provide you with the nutrients you need, including meat-free proteins.
The split red lentils require only 5–7 minutes to cook, while these legumes can be cooked in about 15–20 minutes.
When you don’t have much time, choose alternatives which will reduce the amount of time you spend preparing and cooking.
There are some options that are worth the effort you have to put into them; just weigh the pros and cons of each.
Availability And Cost
Even if you decide on the perfect option for you, it may still not be possible (or worth it) to buy it. Some of the alternatives below aren’t as easily available, or they might be too expensive to justify buying for one meal.
If you come across a more expensive option, make sure you can (and are willing to) use any leftovers. We suggest purchasing an alternative that fits your lifestyle and budget.
If you don’t eat soybeans, don’t buy a bag of expensive soybeans; instead, choose one of the following options.
Best Substitutes For Red Lentils
We have included a wide variety of options that will fit into your diet and lifestyle, in some way or another.
While some options are near-perfect matches, others are more functional. Before making a final decision, consider the pros and cons of each option.
1. Yellow Lentils
Today’s list begins with lentils, since they are virtually identical!
There is no difference in flavor, texture, cooking times, or nutritional building between yellow lentils and black lentils. They can easily be substituted one-to-one for each other.
If you don’t watch out for overcooking, yellow lentils may be too mushy for chunky meals, as their flavor isn’t as strong as that of red lentils.
2. Green Lentils
Likewise, green lentils are nearly identical to yellow lentils.
In terms of nutrition, green lentils differ slightly from yellow and red lentils. They contain a higher level of protein and fiber.
We think it lends a deeper and more complex flavor, but to each his or her own. They also have nutty undertones which some people don’t like.
Dried peas are another great one-to-one replacement for fresh peas. Avoid fresh peas as an alternative.
They are higher in protein and fiber (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) and contain more vitamins C and K.
A dried pea’s flavor is slightly sweeter than a red lentil’s, but this can easily be adjusted. Sometimes it isn’t necessary.
The biggest disadvantage of dried peas is that they take much longer to cook than split peas do. Split peas require 30-60 minutes while whole peas require 60-90 minutes.
This alternative isn’t for everyone, but it isn’t bad either! Cauliflower is different from legumes in taste, texture, nutrition, and cooking method.
The reason this vegetable works is because it’s an easy solution with a similar earthy yet sweetness flavor. Its texture can easily be adjusted to resemble cooked red lentils – soft, firm, creamy, and tender.
In addition to cauliflower being extremely low in calories and loaded with vitamins and minerals, it is also a very nutritious food. Although cauliflower does not contain much protein or fiber, it is extremely low in calories.
The cauliflower can be grated or chopped into pea-sized pieces (or you can buy riced cauliflower). If you are using this size, it should take you about 8-10 minutes to cook them.
In addition to being very high in fiber and protein, peanuts also contain a decent amount of other nutrients.
It is either possible to grind peanuts into a powder or to use them whole. If you use powdered peanuts, you can add a tablespoon at a time until the flavor and consistency of the soup is what you desire. Grinding peanuts will make the soup thicker.
Using whole peanuts instead is a one-to-one replacement. You can also use any variety of peanuts, just avoid flavored (even salted) nuts.
Remember to check on peanut allergies before using peanuts as an alternative option if you are cooking for others.
There are so many choices with beans, it may seem overwhelming. Beans have a similar texture and flavor to lentils.
Something like pinto beans, kidney beans, and navy beans will work best as a flavor and texture substitute.
If you are looking for specific nutrients, you will have to research what your bean choice is composed of. Beans are usually high in protein, fiber, and low in fat.
The cooking time of each bean varies. Most beans take between 1–2 hours, but if you use a pressure cooker, you can reduce the cooking time to 20-30 minutes.
Some people don’t consider grains as alternatives for red lentils for some reason, but there are many more options than rice today.
Brown rice, quinoa, and Kamut are our top three choices. Any grain can be substituted one-to-one.
Cooking grains in dishes like soups and stews not only thickens the liquid, but also adds tons of nutrients.
Plant-based tofu is the perfect creamy alternative – and it’s versatile too!
Tofu should be finely diced or crumbled if you are using whole red lentils in a recipe. Make sure you use firm rather than soft tofu.
There is no doubt that tofu won’t taste like red lentils. However, it is slightly sweet, and many people describe it as having an earthy flavor.
For those who aren’t able to digest beans or legumes, this is a great grain-free alternative that is highly nutritious and low in calories.
It is not an option that will work for everyone – many people are allergic to soy, as well as consuming too much soy is unhealthy. If you are already consuming a lot of soy, this will not be an option for you.
The flavor and texture of soybeans make them an excellent alternative. They are also dried and need to be cooked in the same manner – however, the cooking times are much longer, between 5 and 6 hours.
You can also cook them separately and add them to short-cooked dishes for a deliciously rich, tender stew or soup.
Protein, fiber, healthy fats, minerals, and vitamins are also abundant in soybeans.