We often think of dried beans as an ingredient that can only make soft foods like dips, soups, and slow-cooked dishes — but they can also be transformed into a healthy, crunchy snack. When spiced and baked, these little nibbles put chips to shame in terms of flavor, nutrition, and satisfying crunch factor.
Lentils sit on the small end of the legume family, making them versatile and snackable. You can eat them by the handful as a healthy snack, but they’re also small enough to sprinkle on a salad in lieu of croutons, add a little crunchy texture to soup, or use on top of a dip — basically, you can use them as a garnish where you might otherwise reach for bacon bits, pepitas, or sunflower seeds.
You can also make them the focal point of a freshly-prepared meal. As a simple breakfast or lunch, you can pile sprouted, baked lentils onto warm corn tortillas with avocado and orange slices. The citrus helps in absorbing the lentils’ iron, and the avocado’s healthy fats and smooth texture balance the lentils’ crunch. You could also swap the orange for fermented curtido, and add crumbled goat cheese.
Boiled versus sprouted lentils
Lentils are good for you no matter how you prepare them, and they cook quickly without the long presoak needed for many dried beans. They’re packed with protein and fiber, and are rich in B vitamins, iron, manganese, and other minerals. They also hold significant amounts of phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that may help fight cancer, heart disease, and chronic conditions like type-2 diabetes.
Sprouting lentils takes more time than cooking them, but some additional health benefits make the wait worth it. Some people find sprouted seeds, legumes, nuts, and grains easier to digest. Researchers are discovering that sprouting makes everything from amino acids, to proteins, to melatonin more bioavailable, too.
Choosing lentils for sprouting
If you typically buy ready-to-eat sprouts, you may be surprised by how easy — and affordable — it is to grow your own. Lentils, and other legumes and seeds, packaged specifically for sprouting have high-tested germination rates, but can also have higher price tags. Dried whole lentils sold for cooking can often sprout just as easily and quickly. Green, brown, black, and French Puy lentils all work well; you can also sprout red lentils, but they tend to be softer. Avoid dried lentils that have been split or prehulled, as well as old ones that have been lurking in your cupboard for years.
Grow your own lentil sprouts
In my tiny kitchen, I grow all of my sprouts in wide-mouth jars topped with a mesh screen and ring or sprouting lid that lets water drain and air circulate. Start by rinsing the lentils and then soaking them overnight in a couple of cups of cold water.
Over the next 3-4 days, rinse the jar of lentils, with the sprouting screen intact, under cold water, and then tip the jar upside down to drain, propping it at an angle so that it keeps draining until the next rinse. Repeat the rinse and drain 2-3 times a day until harvest. Lentil sprouts will start to break their hulls in 2-3 days. Their little tails will show, and they’ll be ready to use in 3-4 days.
To make a batch of baked lentil snacks, sprout about ½ cup of dried lentils in a quart-size jar. You can rinse away the hulls if desired, but they contain loads of fiber and crisp up nicely. Definitely remove the hulls if you’ll be storing the sprouted lentils before baking; the hulls ferment and spoil more quickly than the sprouts, which will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.
Crispy Sprouted Lentils
SERVESMakes 2 cups
PREP TIME35 min
COOK TIME25 min
2 ½ cups sprouted lentils
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 ½ teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of ground cayenne pepper (optional)
Sea salt to taste
Pour the lentil sprouts into a fine-mesh colander, rinse them briefly, and let them drain. Spread them in a single layer on a tea towel and let them dry for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Transfer the sprouted lentils to a medium bowl. Toss them with the olive oil, paprika, oregano, cayenne, and salt.
Line two rimmed baking pans with parchment paper. Divide the lentils between the pans, spreading them into a thin layer, and then bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir the lentils and rotate the pans halfway through the baking time, watching closely toward the end to avoid burning. When the lentils are crunchy, let them cool for a few minutes, and then eat warm or at room temperature.