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Lentils and Brown Rice with Caramelized Leeks

Jun 11, 2010


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Lentils originated in the Near East and were already a favorite food source by Neolithic times. They were one of the first domesticated crops cultivated as people started to settle down thousands of years ago and remain a popular staple in many parts of Europe, the Middle East and India today. Lentils are the curved, lens-shaped seeds from a small bushy plant in the legume family; in fact they give us our word for the optical lens. Many cultures prize the lentil for its excellent nutritional value; it is low in fat but delivers a high level of protein and dietary fiber, iron, folate, vitamin B1 and other minerals. Combined with rice, lentils provide a complete and inexpensive protein meal. Best of all, lentils don’t require pre-soaking like most other legumes and cook relatively quickly. Many cuisines combine lentils with white rice because they both cook in about the same time. There are almost as many versions of this dish as there are colors of lentils. Indian cuisine pairs stewed red or yellow lentils (dal) with basmati rice; Mediterranean cuisines often combine green lentils with pasta, Middle Eastern cultures prepare brown lentils with white rice and onions. To make this dish even more nutritious I use short grain brown rice (which takes longer to cook but is not processed and is far more nutritious than white rice) and leeks instead of onions. Leeks are rich in iron and vitamin C and when fried add a crunchy element to the creamy lentils and rice.

Try this gluten-free vegan dish tonight and serve it with a green salad or pickled vegetables for a complete, inexpensive and nutritious meal. Remember to wash your lentils and pick them over well (I use a white plate for this task) to make sure there are no pebbles or other debris. Leeks are notorious sand traps so they also need to be washed very well. Enjoy!

Serves 6
Preparation time: 60 minutes


3 tablespoons grape seed oil
3 or 4 leeks, white and pale green part, cleaned and sliced thin (or 2 medium onions)
1 cup short grain brown rice*
1 ½ cups brown lentils
6 cups filtered water
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
3 or 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


1 Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and rinse well under running water to clean. Slice thinly. Sort through the lentils on a plate to remove any dirt or stones. Rinse and drain well.

2 Heat a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat; add the grape seed oil. Sauté the leeks (or onions if using) seasoned with the salt, both peppers and cumin. Reduce heat to medium and stir often until well caramelized and crunchy, about 15 minutes. Leave a third of the leek mixture in the saucepan. Remove the remaining two thirds of the leeks with a slotted spoon and let cool to crisp up.

3 Add water and brown rice to the leeks in the saucepan. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook for 20 minutes; add the lentils, cover again and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes or until the rice and the lentils are cooked (add a little more water if necessary). Remove from the heat.

4 Cool to room temperature. Add the extra virgin olive oil and mix well. Adjust the seasonings.

5 Transfer to a serving dish and top with the reserved caramelized crunchy leeks.

*Quinoa can be substituted for the brown rice. If using quinoa, reduce the water to 4 cups. Cooking time for the quinoa is about 15-20 minutes so it can be added with the lentils.

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