This quinoa and lentils recipe is one of my favorite easy vegan meals for beginners because it’s so adaptable, and because it’s made in one pot! Made with protein-rich quinoa, lentils, greens, and sun-dried tomatoes, it’s seasoned with herbs that are common in Italian cuisine. Option to top with vegan cashew cream.
I cook so many vegan lentil recipes. But this hearty, wholesome pot of quinoa and lentils is one that I come back to again and again.
This is a dish in which whole grain quinoa and brown (or green) lentils are cooked together, in the same pot.
Cooking the grain and legume simultaneously saves time, effort, and the need to clean a lot of different cooking vessels.
Many of my all-time favorite lentil recipes take an approach like this. They favor simple, streamlined preparation.
I’m thinking specifically of my beloved coconut curried green lentils and my curried potatoes, lentils and peas.
This dish has a different flavor profile from those two. I’ve called it “Italian” and had doubts about whether that really fits.
But I do use Italian-inspired seasoning, including garlic, thyme, and sun-dried tomatoes. And I top it with my vegan cashew Parmesan cheese. In my book, these are all reminiscent of Italian cuisine, which is my culinary heartbeat.
If you’re curious about the Mediterranean Diet, which is associated with heart health, cognitive health, and even prevention of some kinds of cancers, this is the type of dish that can help you to explore.
Explore in a very delicious, very satisfying way!
This recipe was originally inspired by a post that I wrote on vegan sources of iron.
While writing that post, the idea of a one-pot quinoa and lentil dish sprung to mind. They’re both iron-containing, plant-based ingredients. As a dietitian, I recommend them often to nutrition clients in my private practice who are hoping to increase their iron stores through food.
Even separately, quinoa and lentils are each great sources of nutrition.
Lentils are small, nutritional powerhouses. They contain B vitamins, zinc, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Half a cup of lentils also contains about eight grams of fiber. Fiber is associated with both digestive and cardiac health.
Finally, lentils are a great source of plant protein. One half cup contains about 8-10 grams of protein per serving. That’s a meaningful amount, especially when it’s combined with quinoa.
Speaking of, quinoa is also a good source of protein. It’s one of the most protein-rich whole grains (technically a psuedograin) out there.
In addition to protein, quinoa supplies folate, Vitamin B-6, iron, and zinc. It’s a source of electrolytes, which include magnesium and potassium.
A cup of cooked quinoa provides five grams of dietary fiber, which is a significant amount.
Quinoa and lentils are both vegan nutrition superstars. When eaten together, all of their nutritional offerings are stacked.
This dish of quinoa and lentils is one of those nutritional bang-for-your-buck recipes that also happens to be delicious.
Maybe my favorite thing about this dish?
You cook the quinoa and lentils at the same time.
Many of my favorite whole grain + legume dishes require components to be cooked separately. This is because grains and legumes can have quite different cooking times.
In theory, that’s the case here, for the one-pot quinoa and lentils. I use brown lentils in the recipe, and they take more time to cook than quinoa.
However, if you cook them together, with the right amount of liquid, they’ll each reach a perfect consistency in under 30 minutes. So you can actually simmer them in the same pot. No need to worry about cooking each to the right consistency: they’ll get there together.
Here’s a quick walk-through of the recipe:
You begin by sautéing onion in some olive oil until it’s tender. Next, you’ll add garlic and sliced mushrooms. Continue cooking until the mushrooms have released all of their juices and are greatly reduced in size. It should take 5-8 minutes.
Next, you’ll add your quinoa and lentils, along with seasoning (thyme and salt) and broth to cook them in.
Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover your pot. You’ll need to simmer the dish for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
Don’t skip the sun-dried tomatoes and greens: they add nutrition to the dish, and the sun-dried tomatoes also provide a powerful punch of umami!
Note that you should use either oil-packed, drained sun-dried tomatoes, or dry-packed ones that are tender (like these). Avoid dry-packed ones that need to be re-hydrated in hot water.
You’ll stir in the tomatoes and spinach and allow the spinach to wilt down. Next, you’ll add a splash of vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice for a little acid. It will help to balance the dish.
Maybe my favorite part! You’ll now fold in some of my all-purpose cashew cream. This will add a wonderful, creamy texture to the quinoa and lentils.
It’s worth saying that the cashew cream isn’t mandatory here. I think that the one-pot quinoa and lentils are still very flavorful without the creamy component.
Cashew cream simply makes the dish richer, and—in my mind—more satisfying.
It also adds some healthful fat to this dish. Cashews are rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which are the type of fat that can be part of a heart-healthy diet.
At this point, your simple, wholesome, one-pot meal is ready to enjoy.
There are numerous types of lentils, and a number of them will work well in the Italian quinoa and lentils recipe.
I usually use brown lentils or green lentils. But I’ve made the recipe with French lentils, beluga lentils, and pardina lentils, too.
I don’t recommend either red or yellow lentils for this particular recipe. Those two varieties become very soft when they’re cooked. As a result, they make the texture of the one-pot quinoa and lentils a little too mushy.
Speaking of different types of lentil, the quinoa and lentils can support plenty of variations.
In place of spinach, you can try adding another chopped, leafy green. This could be kale, broccoli rabe, beet or turnip greens, or Swiss chard.
Keep in mind that these greens may require longer simmering times than baby spinach, which cook in the blink of an eye.
As for the whole grain here, if you don’t love quinoa, you can try using bulgur wheat in its place. Millet will also be a suitable substitute with a similar cooking time.
Finally, have fun playing around with different add-ins and seasonings! You could try one or a few of the following:
And if thyme isn’t your favorite herb, you can also try rosemary, basil, oregano, or another herb that you love in its place.
Yes, the quinoa and lentils are a gluten-free main dish! If you have celiac disease, be sure to select quinoa and lentils that are gluten-free certified in order to avoid cross contamination.
Leftovers of the quinoa and lentils can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days. They can be frozen for up to six weeks.
If you like this type of dish—nourishing and easy to prepare in a single pot—then here are a few others that you might enjoy making.
This dish is proof that brown food, while not the most photogenic, is often the most delicious!
Hey, it’s nice when food looks as good as it tastes. But I’ll take the most brown and monochrome dish if it delivers on taste. These quinoa and lentils certainly do. (And a little chopped, fresh parsley on top won’t hurt, especially if your eyes are craving a pop of color.)
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I’m not a vegan or even a vegetarian, so I cheated and used chicken broth. Otherwise made recipe as written. Didn’t have high hopes for this but had a bag of quinoa going begging. This was delicious!! A real keeper!
Susan, I’m so glad that you liked it! And that the recipe actually exceeded expectations.
Yummy! I didn’t have any sun-dried tomatoes so I use tomato paste, I also used frozen broken-up wild grape leaves that I picked from out in the yard that I had stored in the freezer, turned out great!
This was easy; I did it in the IPOt, it uses ingredients on hand, and is very good, and thats before spinach, vinegar or Cashew cream additions..
How would using cashew butter instead of cashew cream (I can’t find it anywhere so far)be in this recipe?
If you can find any type of vegan creamer that is unsweetened, I think it would be a better substitute than cashew butter. I do have a cashew cream recipe on the blog: https://www.thefullhelping.com/purpose-cashew-cream-recipe/
And unsweetened cashew or almond yogurt (such as the Kite Hill brand) would also work!
I adjusted some things based on what I had at home, for example, I only had red lentils, not brown. It turned out beautifully, and delicious too! It was the perfect cozy dinner for a cold night. Using quinoa and lentils as a base, there are so many possibilities for this recipe!
So many possibilities for sure! Thanks, Abigail. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂
I took the basics of this and added roasted bell peppers and lots of fresh mushrooms with broth. from here I can add flavors like coconut curry or hot sauce to punch it up.
I love the idea of adding mushrooms and peppers, Helen!
This was delicious! My only changes were addition of some leftover butternut squash cubes and substitution of vegan parmesan for the cashew cream. My kids both told me they did not want to eat it, and then ate every last bite!
So glad you enjoyed!
Even after you telling me this was going to be delicious, I still sorry of didn’t believe you. Not even because it’s brown and mushy! However, I just made this, and all I can say is how very wrong I was to doubt you. This was sooo good! I love how versatile it is, too! I hate mushrooms, an allergic to cashews, didn’t have any onion, and really just wanted to use some of the random veggies I have on hand, and it still turned out great! This is def a new staple for me; thank you!
Leah, I’m delighted that you enjoyed it so much!
Made this last night. So delicious and warming! The perfect cozy winter meal! Highly recommend and will be making this again and again!
So glad you enjoyed, Sarah!
Fantastic! I got inspired and instead of the cashew milk, I puréed half of the mixture and added it in for the creaminess, used apple cider vinegar, and through in some finely chopped apples with the spinach! It was superb.
What creative tweaks, Hayley! Good to know about them, and so glad you enjoyed.
This was an outstanding recipe especially for the little effort it took! Healthy and vegetarian with great flavor!
I skipped the cashew cream and subbed in a generous splash of rice vinegar for the sherry- don’t skip the vinegar! Made the dish.
I sent this to my cooking buddies and can’t wait to make it again! Thank you!!
So glad you enjoyed it!
Substituted mushroom stock for the vegetable stock, made for a nice hearty bowl of umami goodness! Thanks for the recipe, will be using it a lot!
So glad you enjoyed it!
Just made it this morning, it tastes wonderul!
I made this last night and like it a lot. My advice: don’t be shy with the vinegar! The final splash of vinegar (I used rice vinegar because it’s what I had on hand) really brought the dish together. Thanks for this healthy and tasty recipe!
How would you make this in the Instant Pot?
I don’t have an instant pot, Debbie, so I’m actually not sure!
Saute the vegetables, and then put lentils, spices and quinoa and tomatoes and water in IPOT. Set pressure for 15 minutes, and let it release naturally.
I really love Italian food,b ut I wasn’t aware of this recipe until now. Thank you for allowing me to combine my favourite type of food with a healthy way.
Looks great! will try it out
I absolutely love brown food and this looks like an beaut’ – thank you so much for sharing Gena. I’ll be trying this out as soon as I can…
This is so simple and nutritious. Lentils are a big part of Indian cuisine and this recipe is so similar to khichdi. Would love to see you try out your own version of an Indian Khichdi!
Made this last week and expected my partner to raise her eyebrow at the mushy brown appearance. Instead the first comment was a resounding “yum, we’ll have to write down this one in the ‘favourites book'”. There you go. I’m not really a big fan of quinoa but read your nutritional advice carefully about the uptake of iron and feel doubly good about the recipe. Great work Gena. Greetings from Australia.
So, I made this yesterday, and it is so flavorful…..so delicious! Thank you, for sharing this. I just ran in to one challenge, that I seem to run in to frequently when cooking my lentils. I can never quite get them done and soft. Mine almost always stay too crunchy. I thought maybe my simmer is too low, so I turned it up. And, I,simmered for longer. Of course, all my liquid was gone, so I had to keep adding more. Do you have any tips you would share with me?
So happy you liked the flavor. Unfortunately, I find the same to be true of lentils–a lot of variance in cooking time (I have the opposite problem as you — they seem to turn to mush in less than 20 minutes). This is usually a result of how dry and how old the lentils or beans are, so a lot depends on where you shop, when the legumes were packaged, and so on.
If you feel as though your beans tend to take a bit longer than indicated, and especially if you want them to cook at the same rate as another ingredient (like the quinoa in this recipe), I’d recommend soaking them for an hour prior to cooking. I’ve actually started doing this with split peas (which always vary dramatically in cooking time for me), and it’s making a big difference. Hope it helps!
This is a great idea, Gena! Thank you! I’ll try this next time (this does happen to me on split peas, too!). Have a great day!
Yum. This looks fantastic: rich, creamy and comforting. I often make a batch of quinoa/ lentil pilaf as a base for meals, then add an additional protein source and sauce, usually something cheesy, plus frozen spinach. So simple and yet so comforting. Brown food is the best!
Success! You actually made it look beautiful. (though I really sympathize with delicious food that doesn’t photograph well…)
Lentils are my go-to this fall. I am going to make this ASAP.
Just to clarify, it’s calling for uncooked lentils right? Just wanna make sure I’m using the correct amount xD
Can’t wait to make this! ♡
I just wanted to say Gena, that this (along with Mustardy Lentil Sweet Potato Salad) is my favourite recipe on the blog. I absolutely love it, and close to a year after it was originally posted I still make it regularly. I actually bought a big bag of mushrooms yesterday to make it tonight once again!
It’s absolutely delicious, and tastes like something very labored-over and yet it’s so easy. I just make sure to get some cashews soaking first thing in the morning and then it comes together very quick for dinner.
I also highly appreciate this dish too because of how much iron it packs. I’m chronically low iron despite all the whole grains, beans and leafy greens I eat and need to take iron supplements, so having a meal with iron in mind is certainly helpful. Though that’s not the reason why I love it so much; as I said, it’s just so tasty and comforting and I feel so nourished after a bowl of it.
Anyway, my point is: Thankyou thankyou so much for this recipe. I’m sure it’ll still be a dinner (and work lunch!) favourite years down the road.
Oh my goodness. Thank you for posting a recipe for something “super brown and mushy” that sounds and looks good! I love one pot meals and mine often turn out like this so it comforting to know it’s not just me. I love softer foods that are kind of in-between soup and solid. Its amazing how just adding a few colorful vegetables and/or some wilted greens or even just serving in a colorful bowl helps with the visual appeal. Personally I think yours looks delightful. Anyway, thank you so much for this post. it helps me on so many levels. Super brown and mushy = <3
Well, you certainly do not need to apologize to about brown food, to me at least! Brown is one of my favorite colors – and in food? Consider these ~ chocolate, coffee, whole wheat, and lentils! Love them all and I know I will love this recipe. Simple, humble food is exactly what interests me and my husband. Thank you to both you and Steven for sharing it.
I really love the recipe idea 🙂
I got a good chuckle when I read your opener because I know all too well the struggle with lentils and photography. Maybe it’s because of my own appreciation for lentils and quinoa, but I think your stew looks wonderful and would be happy eating this any night of the week. I’ll need to give your cashew cream trick a try- I love that touch of creaminess.
I am so happy I saw this post before I finalized my meal plan for the week! This is now on my list to make and I am sure will make for yummy leftovers. It will be perfect with a baked potato on the side!
I think there can be beauty in drab food, and this certainly looks beautiful. Thank you for this recipe- this is the sort of back pocket, cupboard’s-almost-bare-and-I’m-hungry meal I like to keep in reserve. I’m sure I’ll be making this very soon.
lol, why is it always brown food that tastes the best? I think you did amazing work with your subject matter. It looks absolutely wonder and I can’t wait to try it out! It’s just the warm bowl of comfort I need this weekend! xox
This recipe reminds me of my lentil stroganoff and would delicious served over noodles! It’s on my to-make list for sure!!
You make an all brown dish look pretty regardless, love this Gena! I’m looking for more filly, hearty meals as the temps drop, so this fits the bill!