For those who abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the Lenten season, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with meatless meals. Even with a fish dinner, consuming enough protein can be a challenge. Fortunately, lentils can help fill the protein gap during Lent.

Lentils are a legume, which means they belong to the same food family tree as beans. People consumed lentils even before Biblical times. No doubt, lentils’ popularity throughout human history stems from its nutrient content and versatility. Lentils are one of the richest sources of plant-based protein grown naturally, and they contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Lentils are also a good source of soluble fiber, which can decrease your blood cholesterol and promote heart health.

Purchase lentils at your local grocery store either in dry or canned form. Recognize that canned lentils generally contain added sodium. To decrease sodium, the best option is to buy dried lentils. The second option is to rinse canned lentils with water, which may wash away 30 to 40 percent of the sodium. Prepare lentils by adding them to boiling water, and simmer 20-30 minutes. Unlike dried beans, lentils do not need to be soaked first, saving you time and energy. Add lentils to soups to impart a grain-like texture, or pair them with meat, fish, and salad entrees. In Indian cooking, lentils are typically eating with a flatbread or rice. Try making lentil soup or a lentil veggie burger for Lent this year!

Spiced Tomato Lentil Mix

¾ cup of canned lentils, drained and rinsed

1 (10 ounce) can of no-salt-added diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained

1 tablespoon chopped green onion

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon reduced-fat sour cream

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Optional: Naan bread or pita to scoop lentil mixture

Place lentils, drained diced tomatoes, green onions, and seasonings in a microwave-safe dish; stir. Cover the dish and cook on high for 2 minutes, pausing halfway through to stir the lentil mixture. Let the mixture rest for 1 minute. Remove from microwave. Top with sour cream and sliced almonds. Serve warm.

Yield: 2 servings

Nutrition facts (per serving): 170 calories, 4 grams fat, 55 milligrams sodium, 23 grams carbohydrate, 9 gram fiber, 11 grams protein

Smith, a registered dietitian, is a nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306.