Active time: 20 minutes || Total time: 20 minutes
But before I delve into the particulars of this recipe, lets talk a little more generally. This method for “ground meat” can be used in a variety of ways with a little spice switcheroo. Swap out the taco flavors and go Italian (thyme, basil, fresh black pepper) for a meat that would be great in a Bolognese. Add some Sauerkraut to make a great filling for pierogis. So really, anywhere that ground meat would be appropriate, you can sneak these lentils in. Got a favorite Hamburger Helper™ type recipe? Lentils to the rescue instead!
Now on to the taco filling. Ancho chile is dried poblano, and I love to use it straight up (as opposed to a mixed chili powder) for its deep, fruity, naturally smoky flavor. You can use regular old chili powder here, but pick up ground Ancho chili sometime and see if you don’t love it.
The filling is not too spicy, but it does have a little kick from the hot sauce (Cholula is my choice for Mexican inspired foods.) A few squirts of tomato paste provides moisture and binding and really helps to lend a convincing meaty texture. The idea here is to mash the lentils until they hold together, adding splashes of water along the way to keep it juicy.
I like to serve it with cooling ingredients; cilantro for bright freshness, lime for tanginess, avocado (or guacamole) for creaminess and of course some fresh salsa. I’m not really a soy sour cream or cheese person, and here I really don’t find it necessary, but as always, I can’t stop you! For total perfection, grill the tortillas to serve.
Brown lentils have the best color in this recipe but green lentils would work just fine, too. I always whip up a batch of lentils to have on hand, and you should, too. One cup of cooked lentils make about 2 1/2 cups. Just rinse them then bring to a boil in a small covered pot with a big pinch of salt in plenty of water. Lower heat and simmer until tender, then drain. Lentils are so very easy!
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups cooked lentils (from about 1 cup dried)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons hot sauce (preferably Cholula)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground ancho chile
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
First combine all of the ingredients for the spice mix and set aside. Also, keep a cup of water within reach, you’ll need to add splashes as you cook.
Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sautee the onion and garlic in the oil with a pinch of salt for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Add spices and toss them for 30 seconds or so to toast.
Lower heat to medium, add lentils, a few splashes of water, tomato paste and hot sauce; use a spatula to mash them a bit as they cook, until they hold together. If your spatula isn’t strong enough to accomplish this, just use a fork. Do this for about 5 minutes, adding splashes of water as necessary if it appears dry. Taste for salt and seasoning; you may want to add more spices or hot sauce. And that’s it, time to serve!