Green lentils cooked in one pot and seasoned with simple, cheap ingredients (onion, vinegar) were a regular part of my childhood growing up in the Czech Republic.
Both my mom and my grandma made it for lunch or dinner, because it’s quick, delicious and nourishing. It wasn’t my favorite back then—this was—but I learned to love and appreciate it.
They would serve a mediocre version (brown, sticky, mushy) of this dish in my school cafeteria, and you can still find it on menus in restaurants serving traditional Czech food, typically with steamed or grilled frankfurter sausage on top.
If you’re thinking it doesn’t look that irresistible & very photogenic, I don’t blame you.
But just like refried beans or dal, it’s one of those great, unpretentious dishes—one bite and you’re instantly comforted by the lentils’ tender texture, and their sweet and sour taste.
Sweet and Sour One-Pot Green Lentils Ingredients
You can probably find all the ingredients easily in your local market. And you shouldn’t spend more than $ 10 total for this recipe, even if you get everything organic.
Quick Green Lentils Primer
- Lentils are a staple food around the world, from Europe and Middle East to India, and the Americas.
- They’re interchangeably known as both legumes (the plant family) and pulses (the edible seed of the plant).
- Their cousins are the brown, yellow and red lentils, as well as the French lentils, and black beluga lentils, which hold their shape really well.
- Green lentils are a great source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and vitamins A and B. Plus, they’re gluten-free.
- 1/2 cup of cooked green lentils provides 12 grams of protein and 32% of recommended daily fiber intake.
- Storage: airtight in a container at room temperature; they will keep for one year.
- You can use them in soups, stews, salads, or sprout them.
ONION is the the flavor base of this dish. It softens and caramelizes during cooking, and sweetens the lentils. Feel free to use yellow, white, sweet, or red onion varieties in this recipe.
VINEGAR is the star ingredient. It brightens the flavor and enhances the earthiness of the lentils. You can use white, apple cider, or wine vinegar.
VEGETABLE OIL – I used canola oil because it has a neutral flavor. Sunflower oil is good too. Olives are not grown in the Czech Republic, so olive oil wouldn’t be traditional, but you could use it—just note it has a stronger taste than canola or sunflower oils. The same applies to coconut oil.
How to cook Sweet and Sour One-Pot Green Lentils
A note on soaking the lentils – the longer you soak the lentils, the faster they cook.
My mom doesn’t soak them at all, but the cooking time is longer. In this recipe, I soaked them overnight and they cooked in about 15 minutes.
Find a compromise depending on how much time you want to spend cooking.
My grandma used to add 1 tablespoon sugar to the lentils, but it’s not necessary, because of the sweetness of the onion. But definitely try it, if you like, or substitute with 1 tablespoon maple syrup, a sweetener with lower glycemic index.
What to put on top of Sweet and Sour Green Lentils
Fried, caramelized onion in a tiny puddle of oil on top of the green lentils adds another dimension and extra texture. (Some people deep fry the onion to make it extra crispy and dark brown, but I find my version healthier, and faster.)
You’ll also add:
- FRIED EGG – it looks pretty and adds a variety to the green lentils. I make mine this way: In a small skillet, heat vegetable oil, or ghee, over high heat. When the oil is hot, break the egg into the skillet, lower the heat to low, and fry until the egg white is solid, and the egg yolk starts to thicken, but doesn’t get hard, about 3–4 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully remove the egg from the skillet, and slide it on top of the lentils.
- PICKLES – Czechs love their pickles, especially sweet-sour gherkins. They’ll give the lentils an extra acidic kick.
- FRIED ONION – see above
- PARSLEY – adds a little bit of green to a dish that’s pretty much brown. Just chop finely and scatter all over. Chives are great too.
Sweet and Sour One-Pot Green Lentils leftovers soup
This recipe makes a ton and could feed an army. Another great thing is, that it will last in the fridge for up to 3 days.
But if you get bored eating it few days in a row, turn the leftovers into a delicious soup:
I like to reserve 2 cups of the cooked lentils, and add 5–6 cups vegetable stock or water, 2 cups of chopped vegetables I have on hand (carrot, parsnip, potato, zucchini, peas, chopped greens such as kale), 1–2 tablespoons fresh herbs, or even 1/2 cup of leftover cooked rice, and bring to a boil.
Simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
More recipes featuring pulses, legumes and grains:
Green Lentil Soup – also traditional Czech and it brings luck!
Easy Chickpea Salad With Tomatoes and Cucumbers – quick and such a winner
Harira: North African Vegetable Soup-Stew – one-pot dish scented with cinnamon, turmeric and ginger
Red Quinoa Soup With Corn, Carrot and Zucchini – healthy fast-food done in under 25 minutes
Raw Sprouted Lentil Chili – green lentils in a different form
Vegan Heirloom Bean Chili – another comforting one-pot dish
Spring Risotto With Peas and Corn – yummy, creamy rice dish with Spring vegetables
Did you make sweet and sour one-pot green lentils? What’s your favorite way to cook with green lentils? Or any lentils.
Tell me in the commentsPrint
This one-pot dish is delicious, easy to make and highly nutritious. The sweet and sour flavor of the green lentils is perfectly balanced thanks to vinegar, onion, salt and black pepper.
- 1 pound (2½ cups, 454 g) green lentils
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1½ cups (182 g) diced, peeled, yellow onion
- ¼ cup (60 ml) vinegar (apple cider, white, or red wine)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sugar (optional) (note 1)
- Fried onion topping:
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup (118 g) diced, peeled, yellow onion
- Serving suggestions:
- Fried egg
- Chopped fresh parsley and/or chives
- Wash the lentils under cold running water to remove any dirt and debris. Drain and place in a large bowl. Add water to come up 2 inches (5 cm) above the lentils. Soak for a minimum 1 hour and maximum 8 hours/overnight (note 2).
- Transfer the lentils with the soaking water to a large heavy-bottomed pot or a Dutch oven. Add the bay leaves and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered until the lentils are almost soft, about 15–18 minutes—you don’t want them to fall apart and get mushy.
- Discard the bay leaves. Place a sieve over a large bowl and drain the lentils, preserving all the cooking liquid (you’ll have about 1¾ cup/415 ml of liquid). Set both aside.
- Wash the heavy-bottomed pot and heat the vegetable oil in it over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 6–8 minutes.
- Add the lentils and stir in the vinegar, salt, and black pepper. Add the sugar, if using. Add 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 more minutes. Turn the heat off.
- To make the lentils creamier, remove 1 cup and blend them in a blender until smooth, then return back to the pot, and stir in. (You can also use a food processor, potato masher, or immersion blender).
- Taste the lentils and adjust to your taste – add more salt, vinegar, black pepper and/or sugar.
- Make the fried onion. Place both the oil and the onion in a small skillet at the same time, and stir. (Starting with the onion in the oil makes both cook gradually, and prevents the onion from burning).
- Heat slowly over medium-low heat. Cook and stir occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.
- Serve the green lentils with the fried onion topping, fried onion and pickles. Store the lentils and the fried onion topping separately in the fridge for up to 3 days (note 3).
- Sugar – It’s part of my grandma’s original recipe, but I find it’s not necessary, because the onion sweetens it enough.
- Soaking the lentils – the longer you soak the lentils, the faster they cook, but might also fall apart faster & get mushy. My mom doesn’t soak them at all, but the cooking time is longer. Find a compromise depending on how much time you want to spend cooking.
- I like to reserve 2 cups of the cooked lentils and make a lentil soup: add 5–6 cups vegetable stock or water, 2 cups of chopped vegetables you have on hand (carrot, parsnip, potato, zucchini, peas, chopped greens such as kale), 1–2 tablespoons fresh herbs, or even 1/2 cup of leftover cooked rice, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.