Lentils, which are the seeds of certain plants in the legume family, have been eaten and cultivated for thousands of years. Thousands of different lentil dishes have been created by the many cultures that commonly make use of lentils. These seeds are high in protein, inexpensive to grow, and have a mild flavor that goes well with a variety of different ingredients. Some of the more common types of lentil dishes include soups, casseroles, and pilafs that that pair lentils with rice. Tomatoes, onions, carrots, and hot peppers are commonly used in lentil dishes, as are many different spices and herbs.
Some of the more common types of lentil dishes are soups. Lentil soups are traditionally found in France, India, and the Middle East, among other cultural groups. Dried lentils must be boiled until they are soft before they can be eaten, making it easy to cook them in soups. Lentil soups often contain ingredients such as carrots, tomatoes, and onions, which give additional flavor to the broth and to the lentils. Herbs such as oregano or tarragon or spices such as cumin and chili powder are also commonly used in lentil soups.
It is also possible to make lentil dishes that are baked as casseroles. In these dishes, lentils are boiled in the oven in as much water as they will absorb when they cook, leaving a dish that is soft and fluid but one with far less liquid than soup. Many lentil casseroles contain cheese as well as the vegetables that are commonly eaten with lentils, including collard greens, spinach, peppers, and tomatoes.
Pilaf also commonly makes use of lentils. In these lentil dishes, a small amount of lentils is added to rice and cooked in a broth until both the rice and the lentils are soft. These dishes can be eaten as sides and provide more nutrients than rice pilaf without the addition of lentils. Many countries in the Middle East feature these types of dishes, which are often seasoned with cumin or coriander and may contain nuts and dried fruits.
Vegetarian and vegan cuisine often make use of lentil dishes as a good source of protein. When cooked, mashed and mixed with binding agents such as flour and oil, lentils can be shaped into loaves. These types of dishes are often eaten instead of meats, especially instead of a dish such as meat loaf, which a lentil loaf can be made to mimic.