home cooked dinners by the season

Crispy Lentil Cakes with Lemony Yogurt

Crispy Lentil Cakes with Lemony Yogurt

Whew, my (and your) search for the best plant-based cake (burger) is over! You may never have given lentil cakes a thought until now, but I am pretty sure these will become part of your routine once you try them. Maybe you are a solid meat lover or perhaps you aren’t, but one or two of the people you cook for are and a plant-based burger or cake have not been on your radar. Whatever the reason, I am here to put them solidly in your meal rotation.

Admittedly it’s taken me a while to get here with this recipe. I started out a few years ago fooling around with black beans and garbanzo beans but could not come up with anything I loved.  There were too many ingredients to make them taste good….. they did not hold together well…..I didn’t like the texture. Repeated failures made me give up. On the hunt again this summer and after seeing a lentil burger on a menu, my testing began…with success using the fewest number of ingredients possible while still achieving a fabulous result. Not that I don’t  admire beautiful recipes with an exotic cast of ingredients, but as for using them…

What are lentils and where do they grow?
They’re the seedpods of a leguminous plant, hence referred as a “legume” (dried garbanzo beans, peas and beans are also legumes).  Lentils are also referred to as a “pulse,” meaning they are harvested solely for their seed. You may be familiar with the most commonly available lentil which is the brown one. Both the brown and the red lentil cook the most quickly and lose their shape easily. Black, or “Beluga,” lentils are not as easy to find and have a thicker skin so they keep their shape longer. You will most likely find French lentils in the bulk section. They retain their shape the best, making them good for salads and side dishes.

Why eat lentils?
Hmm where do I begin… should I appeal to your wallet (they’re cheap), sense of environmentalism or health? Nutritional powerhouse might be an understatement with lentils high in fiber, complex carbohydrate and protein. When combined with whole grains lentils provide the same quality protein as meat – lentils are the second highest protein-bean (with soybeans leading the way). Relating to your sense of environmentalism is one of the coolest reasons you should cook with lentils. They have a low carbon footprint. Did you know greenhouse gas emissions from crop production are caused by nitrogen fertilizers? Lentils are environmental heroes (“green manure”) creating their own nitrogen fertilization. Here’s how it works – the root nodules are a source of nitrogen so following harvest when a legume plant dies in the field, all of its remaining nitrogen is released back into the soil making it available for other plants as a fertilizer. They are referred to as “cover’ crops for this reason and are used in crop rotation alternating with other crops that benefit from their nitrogen. There’s more good news – they use one tenth less water then other proteins and they extract water from a swallower depth leaving more water in the soil for other crops.

Finally a little about the recipe:
This recipe was developed using brown lentils because they are the most widely available and have the shortest cooking time. Hurrah you don’t need to soak lentils. But do rinse them before cooking to remove any little impurities or dust in the bag or from the bulk section. And don’t salt them before they are cooked – only after – otherwise they will become tough. Use my recipe as a starting point – knowing I developed it using the fewest ingredients possible to encourage you to make it.  Then experiment considering adding chopped fresh parsley, cilantro or basil, curry powder, cumin, etc.  Same goes with the super simple lemony sauce – add a smidge of tahini paste,  a pinch of cayenne pepper – you get the idea.

as an appetizer

as a burger

lentil varieties

Crispy Lentil Cakes with Lemony Yogurt
  • ¾ cup brown lentils (chosen for their short cooking time and wide availability)
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, ends trimmed and finely chopped (1-1/2 cups)
  • ½ cup finely chopped pecans, walnuts or almonds
  • ¼ cup chopped green onions
  • 3 tablespoons gluten free flour or bread crumbs (regular flour or bread crumbs can be substituted)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle powder (3/4 teaspoon chili powder + ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper can be substituted)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Lemony Yogurt (see note)
  1. Rinse lentils. In a saucepan, bring lentils and water to a boil; reduce heat to low heat to achieve a gentle simmer (just a few bubbles escaping surface) and cook just until lentils are soft, about 15 to 20 minutes (checking after 15 minutes); drain well and cool to room temperature. Gently squeeze any excess moisture out of lentils and transfer to a large bowl. There should be about 2 cups.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients to lentils lightly mashing until mixture gathers together and leaving some lentils intact. Mixture can be refrigerated at this point and used within a few days.
  3. For cakes, use a ¼ cup measuring cup to measure out mixture and gather in your hands, forming into ¾ inch thick cakes. Makes about 12.
  4. For balls, use a tablespoon with a heaping amount of mixture and form into balls. Makes about 24 mini appetizer size or 16 dinner portion size.
  5. For patties, divide mixture into 4, gathering in your hand to form into ¾ thick patties.
  6. To cook, heat 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat; add cakes in batches, cooking until browned about 3 minutes, turn and repeat. Add additional oil as needed during cooking batches.
  7. Serve with Lemony Yogurt.
Lemony Yogurt: Stir together 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest and a pinch of Kosher salt.


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4 thoughts on “Crispy Lentil Cakes with Lemony Yogurt”

  • Linda – this brings back memories of you working with lentils in Moscow Idaho when we were at WSU together. Looking forward to trying this recipe. 🙂

    • I can’t believe you remembered my internship there! I guess my lentil roots run deep. 🙂 Great to hear from you and I hope you enjoy this recipe!

    • Christina I am so thankful you notice this. I completely forgot to add to use brown lentils and why. So I just added it to the recipe and copy. They cook the fastest and are the most widely available. Fun to hear from you!

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