The Daily Beet

29 Oct Adventures with Ami: Lentil Crumbles

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At our house, we love having tacos or nachos for dinner.  Skipping the beef is easy, so is skipping the processed veggie crumbles that are highly processed and sometimes contain oil.  You can opt for using beans in your recipes, as so many varieties exist to give you just the right texture or flavor you seek.  You can also make your own lentil ‘crumbles’ or no-meat filling.  It’s really easy and can be customized for your recipe needs.
The basic ingredients include:
  • 1 cup bulgar wheat or steel cut oats
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1 cup black lentils or french green lentils if you can’t find the black lentils
  • spices to taste
  • 6 cups water or veggie broth

Combine Lentils and bulgar wheat with the water or broth. Add any seasonings being used, in addition to onions or other vegetables you might be using in your recipe.

Cook the Lentils: Bring the water or broth to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes. You may need to add a bit more water to be sure you have enough liquid for your lentils to soak up depending upon your recipe.  You don’t want soupy lentils though, so only add a little water at a time. Test the lentils for tenderness to determine when done.  The lentils should be tender in the center. You want to let the lentils rest for about 20 minutes after cooking.  This creates a thick and crumbly mixture.

With this basic recipe, you can make lentil crumbles to fill your tacos, top your nachos, make BBQ sandwich filling or layer into your lasagna.  All you need to do is change the spices.

I make the basic recipe in a 5 qt stock pot.  It makes enough lentil crumbles to use for a family of four plus leftovers for using another day.  You can always halve or quarter the recipe if you only need a little to work with.  I love having small containers of these frozen for using in a pinch.  Easily warm up and top baked corn tortillas with taco crumbles and fresh veggies and salsa for a easy meal.  If you do not want left overs or are cooking for one or two you might want to halve the recipe.

Create your own variations by changing the spices!  Your imagination is the only limit!

Here are some of my variations:

Basic no-beef style:

I like the texture of black (caviar) lentils if you can find them in addition to the bulgar wheat and brown lentils.  I use garlic, a chopped onion, black pepper and Bragg’s Liquid Aminos to flavor my basic beef style lentils.  You can also use veggie broth in place of all or some of the water for a richer flavor.  Add your seasonings to taste.  Start with a little, as you can always add more.  Stuff peppers or zucchini with this blend along with some sliced mushrooms.

Taco crumbles:

I use my basic ingredients and use cumin, chili powder and cayenne pepper as my seasoning, along with Bragg’s Aminos and diced onions.  You can make your taco crumbles as spicy as you’d like by adding more cayenne.  Experiment with the levels of spice you use.

Italian crumbles:

Starting with the basic ingredients, I add garlic, basil, oregano and black pepper along with Bragg’s Aminos.  I like to add diced onions and sliced mushrooms or green peppers too sometimes.  This blend is perfect for layering in a lasagna or over whole wheat pasta with diced tomatoes.

BBQ crumbles: make the basic beef recipe, adding low sodium BBQ sauce and a little liquid smoke.  Use rosemary, sage and thyme for a Thanksgiving meal flavor.  Or try a Moroccan spice blend to spice them up or Herbs De Provence – one of my favorite spice blends that contains: French thyme, savory, fennel, rosemary, marjoram, basil, lavender and tarragon.  Have fun trying new variations!

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Ami Mackey
Ami Mackey

Ami Mackey is a food coach at Engine 2 Extra and has been plant-strong since 2011. She is also the Program Director at St Louis All City Boxing a nonprofit youth program. She earned certificates from eCornell in Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness Nutrition from NASM.

  • Meji Shmoosba

    can you freeze this after making them?

    • Ami Mackey

      yes you can :)

  • Benjamin B. Orphan Eksouzian

    this sounds like a great addition. I am totally gonna try it. Thanks!

  • Carolyn

    I also enjoy taking a block of tempeh and grating it with a cheese grater, then cooking with spices, tomato sauce etc. Great substitute for beef crumbles!

    • Sherisse Hartley

      Oooh that sounds good!

  • Martha

    Wow! Gotta try this – thanks!

  • Kirsten

    I love Ami’s recipes…and this one, and it’s many variations is now saved in my recipe file. We like tacos at our house too, and this is a much healthier alternative to those ‘protein crumbles’. Thanks again for more great ideas!

  • Karen Mickelson Bogarin

    Think I’m going to try this recipe.

  • SCI

    What would you suggest to substitute for bulgar wheat so the recipe would be gluten free? Thank you!

    • StarchEater

      You could try steel-cut oats (certified gluten free).

      • SCI


  • Sherisse Hartley

    I made this last night, it was really tasty, thanks! I am going to try it with the black/brown lentils next time tho as I substituted red ones, and it turned out kind of mushy…Ooops lol! I’m thinking the black and brown will make the recipe firmer?

  • Gigi

    Thanks so much for this post. It’s just what I needed. I’m new to this lifestyle. I made the ‘basic’ recipe tonight and loved it. I don’t know which lentils I used because the bag was only labeled lentils. They are either brown or green, anyway, I halved the recipe and cooked for 20 min, plus time sitting on the burner turned off. I actually forgot about the 20 min resting step in the recipe. Regardless, it was great, they were al dente and I added more seasoning at the end. I immediately stuffed 3 bell peppers which are cooking now, and still have plenty of leftovers. I think tomorrow I’ll re-season with Tex-Mex sauce and make tacos for the kid. I will definitely be using this for many different fillings, such as your suggested variations and who knows what else.

    • Gigi

      I forgot to mention that I didn’t have bulgar so I subbed quinoa.

      • Carpetmanswife

        Yay! I have to eat gluten free, and am kinda new to this eating style, so I will be looking for gluten free recipes as well.

  • Mattie N

    This recipe makes TONS for trying 3 variations. Tried to taco, italian and bbq. Delicious, but after 3 days of lentils, I thought I was growing them out of my ears. Next time, I’ll just make 1/2 the recipe.

  • Sarah Chambless

    I made this (basic) recipe and then froze it in four individual bags. Now I can pull one out and defrost and season like I used to do ground meat or store bought veggie crumbles. Better for my, and my family’s, health and pocketbook! Thanks for sharing!

  • TG

    I’ve been using this recipe for ages and LOVE it! Thank you so much for posting it! It’s so healthy and I’ll never go back to the prepackaged ones now.
    I mainly use these “crumbles” for veggie tacos but I like to freeze it unseasoned so it feels more like the original Boca/Morningstar crumbles when I go to cook it up. I use black lentils (from Whole Foods), bulgur (from bulk section in Whole Foods), and small green lentils (from TJ.) As Ami says it tastes better with a broth or stock but I’ve made it with water in a pinch and it still works.

  • TG

    I use one cup of each kind of lentil for a total of two cups of lentils.
    I then add the cup of bulgur wheat

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