Montana is the top producer of lentils in the United States, producing almost 40% of the lentils grown in the country, and this month the focus is on lentils for the Montana Harvest of the Month. Lentils, which were one of the first crops cultivated by humans, are highly nutritious, an excellent source of fiber, and a good source of potassium, magnesium, protein, iron, and vitamin B6. They are one of the best all-natural meat substitute foods.

There are many varieties of lentils, each one having its own unique characteristics including texture, flavor, and color. Select the variety of lentils according to the desired use. Green lentils are larger and very versatile, being suitable for soups, salads, or baked goods as a puree. Golden and red lentils cook quickly and lose their shape, making them great for adding to sauces, to thicken soups, to mashed potatoes, and to baked goods as a puree. Pardina, Black Beluga, and French green lentils are smaller and round, hold their shape, and are great sprouted and/or served in soups or salads. Information is from the Lentils Food Fact Sheet developed by MSU Extension.

The Montana Harvest of the Month program showcases Montana grown foods in Montana schools and communities. The program is a collaboration between the Office of Public Instruction, Montana Team Nutrition Program, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, MSU Extension Service, Gallatin Valley Farm to School and Food Corps Montana.

Lentil Mac and Cheese with Veggies

(Servings: 6)

1 cup uncooked pasta, your choice macaroni, shells, bowties, etc.

¾ cup uncooked lentils, can choose a variety if desired (other than golden or red)

2 tablespoons butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 – 4 cup mixed vegetables diced, fresh, frozen, or a combination

3 handfuls fresh spinach or 5 ounces frozen spinach, defrosted and drained

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1½ cups milk

5 ounces grated or crumbled Cheddar cheese (can use other varieties as well)

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (if desired)

In a large saucepan, cook pasta according to package directions. In another saucepan cook lentils according to package directions. While pasta and lentils are cooking, melt butter in a large sauté pan, add garlic and diced vegetables; sauté for 10 minutes. Sprinkle vegetables with flour. Cook and stir to combine. Add milk; cook and stir constantly until mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Stir in grated cheese until melted; stir in spinach until mixture is thoroughly combined. When pasta is cooked, drain; return pasta to saucepan. When lentils are tender, drain off any remaining water; add lentils to pasta. Stir in vegetable and cheese sauce mixture; stir well. Add spices and heat mixture through; serve warm. Source: took this from

Lentils team up with black beans for this vegetarian soup. The Pardina lentils are recommended because they remain firm when cooked, but French green or green lentils can be used instead.

Pardina Lentil & Black Bean Soup

(Servings: 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ large onion, chopped

2 large stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

2 whole bay leaves

1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes

1 cup Pardina lentils (can substitute French Green or Green lentils)

4¾ cup chicken or vegetable broth, low-sodium

3 cups water

1 (14 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed

¼ cup kale, washed, stems removed and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil. When hot, add onions and celery. Saute until aromatic and the onions are transparent. Add garlic, paprika, bay leaves and stir. In a large saucepan, bring water and broth to boil. Add lentils; reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook lentils until just tender – about 25 minutes. Add sautéed vegetables. Add black beans and diced tomatoes. Heat through. Salt and pepper to taste; garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Source: took this from

This hummus, which comes from Jenny and Luca Montague and Jessica Manly with the Kalispell Public Schools, is a quick and healthy snack. Try it with different veggies to find your favorite combination. Peas or cooked beets can be substituted for the squash.

Lentil Squash Hummus

(Makes 4 cups)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons tahini

1-3 cloves garlic (to your taste)

¾ teaspoon salt

1 (15 oz.) can garbanzo beans, drained

1 cup cooked lentils

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1½ cups cooked pumpkin or winter squash

1 teaspoon cumin

Optional spices: dash of paprika or black pepper

While using tahini is preferred for flavor and texture, additional garbanzo beans or lentils can be substituted.

Pulse lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and salt together in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add garbanzo beans, lentils, and olive oil; pulse until smooth. Add squash, cumin, and spices. Process until well blended. If hummus is too thick, add 2 tablespoons of water or an additional tablespoon of olive oil. Transfer hummus to a covered container and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.


In last week's Local Flavor column, an ingredient was left out of the deviled egg casserole dish. Included should have been 2 cups whole milk.

Bernie Mason has written the Local Flavor column for the Billings Gazette for three years or so. She was Yellowstone County extension agent for 24 years. Mason grew up in Sidney in a family of German and Danish ancestry.