Food & Drink

Lentils could change your world of chili

Twenty-five years ago, I had never eaten a lentil. In fact, I'm not sure I had even seen one. Oh, I grew up with dried beans and legumes aplenty, but lentils were never part of the mix.

Then came a vegetarian restaurant, The Sunshine Cafe, in Chapel Hill, N.C., where I attended school. Inspired by the Moosewood Restaurant and cookbook, the menu put forth the first Lentil Chili I had ever encountered.

From the first bite, I was a changed woman.

Fast-forward to years later, when Beverly shared with me her delicious version of Vegetarian Lentil Chili (featured on our website at www., and I was transported back to my college days and lingering hours in the funky little veggie restaurant on Franklin Street. Just recently, I tinkered with Beverly’s recipe, added a signature splash of my favorite barbecue sauce, and developed today’s recipe for Barbecued Lentil Chili. This low-calorie, low-fat version is tangy and sweet, but still at first bite I was back to the plywood benches of that Chapel Hill restaurant, solving the problems of the world with my friends and fellow students. Who knew such a lowly legume could have such a lasting effect?

Share with us your simple meals that transport you to another time and place at and in the meantime enjoy this simple Barbecued Lentil Chili with your friends and family. You’ll also find another of our favorite lentil-soup recipes at our website.

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are mothers whose cookbook is called “Desperation Dinners.” Send tales of woe or success and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016 or

Barbecued Lentil Chili

Yield: 6 generous servings. Start to finish: 1 hour

5 cups vegetable broth (or half broth and half water)

12 ounces to 1 pound (about 2 to 2-1/3 cups) brown lentils (see Cook’s note)

1 (14-1/2-ounce) can reduced-sodium diced tomatoes

1 cup chopped onion

2 cups chopped green bell pepper

4 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 cup prepared barbecue sauce of choice (see Cook’s note)

Hot pepper sauce to taste, optional

Shredded cheddar cheese, for serving, optional

Sour cream, for serving, optional

Any barbecue sauce that you enjoy will work, but we especially like our homemade Fred’s Red, which can be found in our “Cheap. Fast. Good!” cookbook and also at our website.

Bring the broth (and water) to a boil in a 4-1/2-quart Dutch oven or soup pot. Meanwhile, pick through the lentils checking for stones or debris. Rinse and drain the lentils. When the broth boils, add the lentils and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and cook at a slow boil, covered (crack the lid to vent if the pot threatens to boil over), for 20 minutes.

Add the tomatoes with their juice to the pot. Add the onion, green pepper, garlic and barbecue sauce. Simmer 15 minutes, covered, stirring frequently. Add a little more water or vegetable stock if all of the moisture evaporates.

Remove the pot from the heat. Add the hot pepper sauce to taste, if desired. Serve topped with cheese and sour cream, if desired.

Cook’s note: Some lentil packages are 12 ounces and some are 16 ounces, but both work equally well in this recipe.

Approximate nutritional values per serving: 289 calories (6 percent from fat), 2 grams fat (trace amount saturated), 0 milligrams cholesterol, 17.5 grams protein, 52 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams dietary fiber, 1,274 milligrams sodium