Cook the Book: Barbecued Lentils

Cook the Book: Barbecued Lentils

[Photographs: Josh Shaub]

In the Small Kitchen by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine is by no means a vegetarian cookbook, but it has a focus on the simple and budget-friendly, so the majority of recipes end up being meat-free.

Serving these Barbecued Lentils at a recent dinner brought back memories of college vegetarian days when both cooking skills and bank accounts were limited to say the least. Everyone around the table had been in the same boat, spending a significant chunk of their late teens and early twenties creating meatless meals on a beans-and-rice budget. After a few spoonfuls of these remarkably flavorful and really meaty lentils, we all lamented the fact that we didn't have this recipe back then.

By mixing French lentils with what are essentially barbecue sauce ingredients, these lentils are transformed into something hearty and super satisfying. Made almost entirely with pantry items, this is the kind of recipe that lends itself to experimentation.

No sweet potatoes? Got kale or mushrooms instead? And what to do with the leftover lentils? Add a fried egg on top and you've got breakfast. Want to up the protein factor? Toss in some tofu or tempeh and you're all set.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of In the Small Kitchen to give away this week.

Reprinted with permission from In the Small Kitchen by Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine. Copyright © 2011. Published by William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.

  • Yield:2 to 4
  • Active time: 45 minutes
  • Total time:15 minutes


  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) black (French) lentils
  • 2 cloves garlic; 1 whole, 1 minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar, or more if needed
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, or more if needed
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce (optional) 


  1. 1.

    Combine the lentils, 4 cups of water, and the whole (peeled) clove of garlic in a saucepan or Dutch oven, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes, until the lentils are soft but still hold their shape. Toward the end of cooking, add 1/2 teaspoon of the salt.

  2. 2.

    Drain the lentils, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and discard the garlic clove.

  3. 3.

    Wash and dry the pot you used to simmer the lentils. Heat the olive oil in the pot over medium heat. Add the onion and minced garlic, and sauté until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the sweet potato and cook until softened, 7 to 10 minutes.

  4. 4.

    Stir in the cayenne and the ginger. Then add the ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, if using, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a simmer.

  5. 5.

    Add the lentils and the reserved cooking water to the pot. Simmer until the sauce coats the lentils and the mixture is no longer soupy. Taste for balance of flavors, adding more brown sugar or vinegar if necessary.