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If you’re someone who believes that lentils are boring and virtuous, then this variation of chilli con carne will hopefully change your mind. In my experience everyone loves it, whether they are committed carnivores or vegans. And as well as being easy on both the purse and the planet, it’s very convenient, as most of the ingredients are store-cupboard items.

However, if you prefer, you could substitute the red lentils with 225g minced beef, or beef and pork mince. When it comes to heat, you can decide how much, if any, chilli to use. But do take care if using fresh chillis as their juice can irritate sensitive areas.

This dish improves with being made ahead of time, which allows the flavours to develop.

It freezes well, or will keep in the fridge for several days in a covered container.


  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red or green chilli pepper, finely chopped,
  • or ½ teaspoon chilli powder, or to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 225g red lentils
  • (or 225g minced beef, or beef and pork)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable bouillon or a stock cube
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A handful of chopped coriander leaves (optional)


Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan, add the onion, and stir and fry over a low heat for 8 minutes till the onion is soft but not brown.

Add the chopped garlic and fresh chilli, and fry for another couple of minutes.

Stir in the dry spices and herbs, allowing them to heat up and release their fragrance.

Add the lentils and combine with the onion mixture until heated through. (If using meat, add to the pan raise the heat, break up with a wooden spoon, and fry for a few minutes to brown it).

Now add the tinned tomatoes, puree, a big pinch of sugar and kidney beans.

Pour hot water into the empty tomato tin, add the bouillon powder or stock cube, mix well to dissolve, and stir into the pan.

Bring up to the boil, then turn the heat right down, cover and let it simmer for at least half an hour. Stir from time to time to check it isn’t catching - if it seems too dry add a little more hot vegetable stock or water.

Taste, and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

Serve with boiled rice, or over jacket potatoes, sprinkled with coriander leaves.

Posted in Erika’s Kitchen on Feb 01, 2024