Meals that are delicious PLUS frugal and easy to prepare are always a win in my book. When your family gives it their stamp of approval, you know it’s a keeper!
I started out with making up a lentil recipe inspired by my taco soup recipe, and it ended up tasting like an awesome vegetarian* version of my crazy-popular chili recipe!
Unexpected, but hey – I’m not complaining. Honey said these cheesy chili lentils are his favourite lentil recipe to date, and that’s saying something! If your house loves tex-mex flavors, then these cheesy Mexican lentils are sure to win your family over too!
Why cook with lentils?
Lentils are totally my favourite legume. They don’t require soaking ahead of time, they cook up in a flash, and they are so versatile. I’ve tried them many ways, and enjoyed almost all of them.
Oh, and of course, they are uber-frugal! I respect the Paleo movement but my grocery budget just will not let me live without legumes, and honestly – I’m ok with that.
- so frugal
- packed with protein
- fast cooking
- rich in folate and iron
- loaded with fiber
- full of calcium
- plus they are a tasty addition to any diet, there so many ways to cook with them!
Can you add lentils to chili?
Yes! This recipe is made with just lentils, no meat. My popular chili recipe uses ground beef, but you could easily add lentils to that one along with the kidney beans. I often do that when I want to stretch my ground beef to save some money.
How to Make Chili Lentils
- Add the chicken broth. Bring the broth to a boil, then add the lentils, and reduce to a gentle simmer.
- While the lentils are simmering, saute the onions in butter.
- When the liquid has reduced below the lentils, add the spices, tomatoes, green chilies, sauteed onions, and any extra butter drippings. (This would be a good point to steam some rice and prep your veggie sides.)
- Simmer together to meld the flavours. Once they are completely cooked, stir in one cup of shredded cheese. Use the rest of the cheese for garnish at the table.
Chili Cheese Lentils: Expert Tips & Tricks
Can I soak the lentils before cooking?
Yes, you can. I don’t find it necessary, but if you have a more sensitive gut you can soak the lentils for a few hours or overnight before cooking them. You may want to reduce the broth by about 1 cup and keep an eye on them as the cook because soaked lentils have a shorter cooking time.
I haven’t personally tried this, but know from experience that it is possible. If you do try soaking them before you make this recipe let me know about your experience in the comments!
How long to store chili cheese lentils
Any leftovers can be safely stored for 4-5 days in a tightly covered container in the fridge.
Can I freeze this chili lentil recipe?
Yes! Freezing this recipe works great! Freeze the entire recipe except the shredded cheese for topping.
You can freeze these cheesy lentils in a couple of mason quart jars, just be sure to leave a one-inch space at the top because liquids expand as they freeze. No one wants to find a cracked jar when they open up the freezer.
You can also freeze these chili lentils in freezer-proof containers – just like with the jars, leaving about an inch for the food to expand.
Another way to freeze this recipe would be to put pour the lentils into a resealable bag and freeze flat.
Can I make this lentil chili recipe dairy-free?
For sure! Simply skip the step where it tells you to stir in one cup of cheese. If you have people in your house that have to avoid dairy and others that eat it just use the cheese as a garnish that everyone adds on their own at the table.
Can I use other types of lentils?
In short, yes, but the differences might be significant. This lentil chili recipe specifically uses small green lentils. Brown lentils would probably work great. Red lentils, however, tend to cook up really differently, so I wouldn’t recommend them.
The cooking time and flavor for other types of lentils vary vastly, so I can’t guarantee the outcome of the swap.
Recommended Kitchen Tools for This Recipe
Every kitchen needs a good cast iron skillet. It is the best for sautéing those onions to perfection.
Check out my post on Benefits of Cast Iron Cookware
Any large pot will work for simmering your chili lentils but an enameled cast iron dutch oven will make sure your dish stays hot from start to finish while maintaining a consistent heat. A regular stainless steel saucepan works too!
What can I serve with Cheesy Chili Lentils?
I often serve these chili lentils over steamed rice and add a vegetable on the side. You can fix both while your lentils are simmering away. A salad would be great on the side as well, like this Zesty Italian Cucumber Salad, or this Apple Kale Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette.
Want another super quick Mexican-inspired meal you can whip up in 20 minutes? Try my Creamy Green Chili Beef Recipe. It’s a personal favorite! Also, check out my recipe for Sweet & Sour Lentils!
I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
Check out: Quick Healthy Meals Ultimate Guide (101 Tips, Recipes, and Strategies) for recipes like this one and tips for eating well when you’re short on time!
* They would be vegetarian if you used veggie broth instead of chicken.
Chili Cheese Lentils
- 5 cups Chicken stock
- 2 cups Small green lentils
- 2 Medium-sized onions
- ¼ cup Butter
- 2 teaspoons Salt
- 3 teaspoons Cumin
- 4 teaspoons Chili powder
- 2 teaspoons Oregano
- 1 can Diced tomatoes
- 1 can Green chilies, about 1/2 cup
- 2 cups Shredded extra-old cheese
- Bring chicken stock to a boil in a large pot, add lentils, and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
- While lentils are cooking, dice two onions. Add the butter and onions to a skillet, saute over medium heat until transluecnt. Stir the onions occationally to prevent burning.
- When the liquid has reduced to bellow the level of the lentils, add the salt, cumin, chili powder, oregano, tomatoes, and green chilies. Then add the sauteed onions, and any drippings remainng in the skillet. (This would be a good point to steam rice and prep your veggie sides.)
- Simmer together to meld the flavours. Once the are compeltely cooked, stir in one cup of shredded cheese. Use the remaining the cheese for garnish at the table.
I love lentils and am going to make this tonight! One question: what size can of tomatoes? The 15 oz or the 28 oz?
Sorry for the late reply, Sandy! It’s the big 28oz cans. I hope it worked out for you!
I ended out using the 15 oz can, figuring I could always add more if necessary, and we LOVED it! It will be on our regular rotation!
Delish! A family fav for our meatless meals.
Gonna try this tomorrow. But… Me, being the lazy person I am, will mix up your steps. Gonna chop and sautee onions first, THEN add stock/broth to the same pot and go from there
We LOVE lentils and I just came across this recipe from another post of yours, so we will be trying it soon! I agree that it would be hard to stick to our budget if we didn’t have legumes…I was SO relieved when I found out lentils and navy beans were allowed on GAPS, since we’re thinking of doing it soon and I thought no legumes were allowed. I often spice lentils with Indian flavors or make mujedara, an Arabic comfort food topped with fried onions, but I wanted to share a recent favorite, if you like Indian food.
I don’t follow the recipe exactly (we don’t like it too spicy) but it is SO delicious and authentic.
A spring experiment that turned out well was cooking the lentils with thyme and garlic and then topping with feta and sliced raw radishes. Yum!
This was such an AWESOME recipe. i did think that it was a lil too much liquid, so i would cut back on that, and i didn’t need two onions, maybe if they were lil then it would make sense. I also has some velveta cheese for dip on hand, threw that in and OMG, just amazing…this was the first time i ever made red lentils before and it was soo easy don’t know why it took me this long to do it.
We don’t eat canned goods. Any suggestions on what we could use to replace chilies?
I replaced the can of chilies with a few dried ones (I used one each of ancho, guajilo, jalapeno, and chipotle, and removed them before adding the cheese). I used different chiles for a more complex flavour, but you could use any combination.
It was delicious!
I have been paleo for 1 1/2yrs now and live with a lacto-ovo vegetarian and restrict our daughter only to gluten free, so for them I make legumes per the Weston A Price Foundation recommendations. I base a lot of what I eat on GAPS recommendations and lentils are allowed on GAPS, so I thought I’d make a family meal of lentils. I saw that WAPF recommended soaking the lentils overnight, but the vegetarian cookbook said 4hrs would be fine, so I took the short cut. BIG MISTAKE! I was in sever gastro-intestinal distress. The next time I made lentils, I soaked them overnight – no GI distress!
We may not need to soak them to cook them to a decent consistency, but my body tells me we’re better off soaking them.
If you soak the lentils in advance, do you have to decrease the amount of stock in the recipe and if so, by how much?
I haven’t tried it, but I would imagine it would be pretty easy to just wing it… just add a bit less liquid, and keep an eye on them, testing them for doneness every so often to get an idea of the proper timing and ratio 🙂
I love your recipes! And my extra-picky toddler actually ate this! I am all about frugal and healthy cooking. Looking forward to your next recipe post! 🙂
Mmmmm sounds and looks yummy, will have to give it a whirl 🙂 Thank you x
We had this over buttery baked potatoes tonight. It was so delicious and my 4 year old devoured it! Thank you!
My husband recently got an interest in lentils – something I hadn’t even thought of. So I have a recipe to try tomorrow for a soup with lentils in it, and I’m pinning this to try in the near future. I like that it is meatless – much better for the budget, and it looks yummy!
Making this as I type. The lentils are taking a while to cook though
Hope it still turns out ok for you! Your lentils may be larger..? There are several different sizes out there.
my lentils were pardina
I didn’t have diced tomatoes, but a spaghetti sauce/tomato sauce.
Added a heaping Tbs of minced garlic and we all really liked it.
Thanks you for this recipe!!!
Rebekah from Simply Rebekah
What is extra old cheese?
You know, like mild, medium, old, extra-old…? It’s just a more pungent flavour of cheddar, which I find better for cooking. Any shredded cheese could work.
Michele @Frugal Granola
Maybe it is different in Canada? In the US it is labeled “sharp” or “extra sharp”. 🙂 (I guess “old cheese” just didn’t sound polite?) 🙂
LOL! Michele, yes that must be it… Extra-sharp it is, then! 🙂
making this tonight!!!:)
So good Beth!! I was in a hurry so actually just tossed in a couple tablespoons of my homemade taco seasoning (similar to yours) and it was very good!
Hurray! I’m SO glad you liked it 😀