Red Lentils and Rice: Two Cooking Lessons From A Cheap and Easy Dish

Here's another recipe that works great as a side dish or as a full meal. I'd say the cost of this meal will be around $2.00 to $3.00 tops (which means it qualifies for laughably cheap) and it'll serve 3-4 people even if served as a main dish.

And, as a free bonus, I'm throwing in two "kitchen life lessons" along with this recipe--see below.
Red Lentils and Rice(modified without permission from the side of a bag of Goya red lentils)
1 lb red lentils

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tblsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (prefer hot curry powder)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups water and 1 bouillon cube (chicken, beef or veggie, it doesn't matter)
3-4 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Black pepper and/or cayenne pepper to taste


Heat oil, then saute onions and garlic in oil on medium high heat for ~5 minutes.
Add ginger, curry powder, cumin and saute another 2 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and lentils.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for ~20 minutes.
Add a bit more water if lentil mixture seems like it's getting too dry.
Serve over white rice.

Serves 4.


There are two things I'd like to teach with this recipe:

1) Don't get rattled by upfront spice costs.
If you're starting up a kitchen and you're cooking some of your first few recipes, you may find your upfront spice costs to be disconcertingly expensive. If you DON'T find them disconcertingly expensive, then please send me some of your excess money.

Admittedly, spices are the worst ripoffs in cooking. You'll have to grin and bear it with the upfront costs and know that the "1/2 teaspoon ground cumin" you just used is still basically free, even if it cost you $4.99 to buy the full jar in the first place. You'll be using the rest of that jar of cumin in lots of other recipes, and don't worry, these spices will last for years.

2) Some of the best recipes come from the most unassuming places.
This is a critical lesson I want to convey: you can find really great recipes in the most humble places. I found the recipe above totally randomly. I was browsing around in the dried beans section of our grocery store (yep, the party NEVER stops over here...) and I picked up a bag of these weird looking orange colored lentils. I'd never really noticed or even seen a red lentil before. And on the side of the bag--again totally randomly--I saw this recipe.

It looked like it would taste good AND be easy to make, thus it would pass both litmus tests to get tried in my kitchen. What you have above is a slightly modified version of that recipe.

Sure, I've found great recipes in the usual places: in cookbooks, in magazines and on the Internet. But I've found some of our top favorite recipes in really nutty places too. I've already shared a house favorite recipe with you that I modified from the side of a Near East couscous box. I've also found great recipes on the side of a 28 ounce can of black beans, on the outside of a box of store-brand linguine, and even a real keeper of a recipe on a tag wrapped around a big bunch of collard greens (in tiny, tiny print no less!).

Now the side of a bag of lentils doesn't seem like such a weird place to snag a recipe after all, does it?

Later, in another post, I'll teach some of my tricks to figure out if a recipe sounds like it will taste good, and if it will be easy or difficult to make. But for now I want you to just keep your eyes open and look everywhere for possible new recipes to add to your heavy rotation. Scan the packaging of everything you buy and even the things you don't buy. Before you know it, you'll be trained to find great new recipes.


Related Posts:Ten Tips to Save Money on Spices and Seasonings
Just Say No to Overpriced Boxed Cereal
Quite Possibly the Easiest Lentil Soup Recipe You’ll Find Anywhere
Three Easy, Delicious and Inexpensive Homemade Salad Dressing Recipes
Invigorate Your Cooking with Fresh Herbs

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Anonymous said...

I have a suggestion for you re: finding fairly priced spices! These are examples of some of the more exotic (and some common) spices I've bought in a local Indian grocery store here in NJ:

Coriander seeds (200 grams/7 oz, or about 2 cups by volume)= $1.49

Sesame seeds (400 grams/14 oz, or about 2 cups by volume)= $1.99

Whole black pepper (200 grams/7 oz, or about 1.5 cups by volume)= $2.99

Whole cloves (200 grams/7 oz, or about 1.5 cups by volume)= $5.99

These whole spices can be quickly ground to the volume needed as called for in a given recipe, using an inexpensive coffee/spice grinder. For spices you might use more frequently, just grind up greater amounts of the whole spices, which can then be stored in old McCormick's containers for ready access as the occasion arises. :)

- veggie in NJ

Anonymous said...

Spice prices are sometimes horrible. I use Penzey's spices if I need good quality and quantity. I do NOT keep my spice for years (it depends on the spice, of course) but the most flavorful ground spice will lose their original potency after a year and even sooner, if you don't keep them stored properly. A word of caution about "cheap Chinese" spices. Some items coming in from other countries are not subject to the same quality controls during the manufacturing process. Quality is not always equal and sometimes buying the cheapest, without considering the source, can lead to unwanted results.

Daniel said...

These are both great pieces of advice. Thank you both for your comments!


Anonymous said...

Bulk spices! You buy as much or as little as you need. Remember though to LABEL the twist-tie or baggie - most dried green leafy herbs look similar. And most importantly, spices shouldn't have birthdays! It's not worth the cost amortization....

Unknown said...

While I have problems with some legumes, suffering terrible migraines after eating them, my dad didn't have that problem. I found a recipe for split pea soup on side of a bag of split peas. Dad's normal favourite soup, ten years ago, was 2.39 for a tin that would provide him with two meals. He liked the homemade soup better, and it cost me less than a dollar for four hearty bowls of soup. Never underestimate the producer's ability to come up with recipes that showcase their own product, often cheaply.

Unknown said...

I understand why this would be in heavy rotation at your house. Cheap easy - dinner in less than half an hour - and tasty. Like mashed potatoes, this is comfort food. Thanks so very much for sharing the recipe.


Daniel said...

Carol, thanks so much for the feedback. And yep, comfort food is a great description for this dish. Glad you enjoyed it!


geekyrandomgirl said...

This recipe is AWESOME! I made a big batch of this tonight for lunches this week. It smelled AMAZING as it was cooking, and my boyfriend kept coming in asking me what smelled so good. I was worried he was going to balk at lentils and rice, but now that he's tasted it, he's excited.
My tweaks : I added a can of diced tomatoes, scaled up to 3 cups of lentils (so 6 total cups of liquid), and added some turmeric and red pepper flakes.
I accidentally bought organic red lentils in bulk, so that drove up the cost a little, but for 10 1 cup servings, this cost me $8.86 plus the cost of 2 cups of rice out of a 20 lb bag. I actually did laugh when I computed that!
Your site is awesome - there is so much good content here. Keep it up!

Daniel said...

GRG, thank you!

I'm always overjoyed when I get comments like yours. I'm not making things up when I talk about recipes that are laughably cheap--it actually does make you laugh out loud when you calculate the per serving cost. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.



Whole cumin is cheaper and keeps _much_ longer than ground. If you toast it or just heat it in a skillet before you grind it, the flavor is infinitely more intense than the ground as well.

I use a mortar and pestle instead of a proper spice grinder -- it's hard on the wrists but it never breaks down and it's dirt cheap.

Daniel said...

Good insight Grant, thanks for sharing.


sarappe said...

As a lentil newbie, I was attracted to this recipe for its simplicity and clarity. I made a big batch last night (adding some chopped preserved lemon), and it turned out great! Thanks! I really enjoy your site and the philosophy behind it. This is the first recipe of yours I've made, and I definitely want to try out more.

Daniel said...

Sarappe, thank you so much for taking time to share your feedback. If you haven't found this post already, I recommend starting here:

The 25 Best Laughably Cheap Recipes at Casual Kitchen.

Good luck, and welcome to CK!


Anonymous said...

Excellent dish, cheap, simple, and fast but very satisfying and flavorful.

I make mine in a similar way, but substitute barley for the rice. As a diabetic I find that rice effects my blood sugar readings more strongly than barley. Individual results may vary so if you are a diabetic, I'd suggest consulting your glucose meter to verify whether this trick works for you. When I do use rice I see some differences depending on the variety-- "sticky" white rice always makes my sugar high, but reasonable limited quantities of basmati, brown, or jasmine seem to give me better results.

Daniel said...

Great input Anonymous, thank you for sharing your thoughts!


George said...

Thanks for this healthy lentil and rice recipe. The spices may be costly, but if we think about the health benefits first and then the cost won't sound so prohibitive.