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Lentils move from side to center plate

Have you noticed lentils are popping up everywhere lately? They have officially moved beyond soup and have been added to salads, made into pasta, breads, chips and other snack foods, and have even become plant-based meat replacements.

But for home cooks, there are a multitude of reasons to love lentils. They’re versatile, healthy, economical and very easy to prepare. They pack a wallop of bona fide nutrition and are one of the easiest legumes to digest. It’s no wonder we’re going mental for lentils.

As the world’s oldest cultivated legume, this superfood comes in colors that range from green and brown, to red, orange and yellow. One cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein, 16 grams of fiber, 38 grams of calcium, 6.6 milligrams of iron, plus magnesium, polyphenols and folate. All that for only 230 calories. But wait, there’s more!

The best part is, unlike most legumes, they don’t require soaking before cooking. They cook in about 20 minutes making them perfect for busy weekday meals. With their mild flavor and chewy texture, you can use them to replace or stretch the meat in your favorite recipes like burgers, soups and casseroles.

One cup of uncooked lentils becomes roughly two cups when cooked. You could substitute two cups of cooked lentils for one pound of hamburger. Of course, it depends on the recipe and other ingredients.

Here is a recipe your whole family will love. Grab a fork and a bunch of napkins because we’re getting delightfully sloppy. Introducing Sweet and Spicy Lentil Sloppy Joes. These sandwiches are so crave-worthy, but the toppings make this over-the-top amazing. I highly recommend copious amounts of bread and butter pickles and onion rings.

If you choose, you can make this recipe with two pounds of ground beef and omit the lentils. Or you could halve the lentils and add a pound of ground beef for a blend. You could also add more vegetables like chopped carrot, mushroom and celery. This is a wonderful vehicle for hiding vegetables.

Perfect for advance meal planning, you can store the sloppy Joes in the fridge for up to three days or freeze for up to two weeks.

SWEET & SPICY LENTIL SLOPPY JOES

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Time: 40 minutes

What you’ll need:

1½ cups lentils, the common brown variety

4 cups water

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 16-ounce package frozen onion and pepper blend, thawed

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon smoky paprika

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 cups (two 8-ounce cans) tomato sauce

2 tablespoons pickle juice

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons yellow mustard

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Optional serving suggestions: hamburger buns, bread and butter pickles, onion rings, pickled jalapeños, mustard and coleslaw.

Here’s how:

In a small saucepan, add the lentils, water and ¼ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low. Simmer for 20-22 minutes, or until tender. Drain and set aside.

If you’re serving this with onion rings, put them in the oven and cook according to package directions.

While the lentils are cooking, into a large skillet on medium heat, add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion and pepper blend and cook with ¼ teaspoon salt, stirring until they are softened. Add the garlic, chili powder, paprika and ½ teaspoon salt, stirring well to coat the vegetables.

Add the tomato paste and stir well. Next, add the tomato sauce, pickle juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and brown sugar. Stir well to incorporate. Add the cooked lentils and stir again, cooking on low for 5-10 minutes to warm through and to thicken a little.

Serve on warmed buns with condiments.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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