Smoky Red Lentil Burgers

Have you ever kept a dinner journal? Even though this blog is technically an account of what we’ve eaten, I don’t capture all of our humble everyday meals here–that’d be a repetitious and poorly lit project. But I love the idea of writing down what we’ve had for dinner. Not because I’m some insanely sentimental type. Nor do I want to obsess over every last morsel I’ve ingested. It’s that I develop amnesia about recent dinner triumphs at exactly the moment when I’m trying to figure out what we should eat on a given night.

There’s always pasta. There are bowl dinners. Recently, we’ve been making soups and eating them with salads (my choice) or sandwiches (his). Neither of us is all that picky, and one of us is a food blogger. But still, the dinner idea well runs dry. When it does, we rack our brains.

“We had something last week that we liked, right?” he’ll say.

“What did we used to eat?” I’ll ask.

When we rack our brains especially hard, we’ll often happen upon one answer: bean burgers. We do like bean burgers, I’ll remember. They use cheap pantry ingredients and no meat and are particularly amenable to incorporating whatever ingredients are on hand–canned beans, already cooked dry beans, or quick-cooking red lentils.

And that single limp scallion in the vegetable drawer.

Have you developed a system for remembering favorite meals on nights when you don’t know what to cook?

I’ve been cooking a lot of lentils recently, as I explore the food of the Middle East, and that’s where I turned last week when we decided to make bean burgers for dinner.I’ve been making little black lentils, homey brown lentils, and super quick-cooking red lentils. The latter are in so many of the Middle Eastern recipes I’ve been drooling over–especially a luxuriously rich lentil soup that takes advantage of the way that red lentils break apart when cooked a few extra minutes and become creamy.

Red lentils form the base of these burgers too, which turned out to be a good choice. If you’ve ever made such a lentil soup, you know that lentils solidify as they cool. So if you make the burgers thirty minutes in advance, you’ll find they’re really easy to cook, not at all likely to fall apart in the pan, unlike some more delicate burgers. I flavored these with smoked paprika, which mellows and complements the earthiness of the lentils.

This sponsored post is part of an ongoing collaboration with Sargento, called Flavor Journey. Throughout the year, with the support of Sargento, I’ll be exploring Middle Eastern cuisine–at home, in Brooklyn, and wherever the flavors may take me. Sponsored posts let me do some of my best work on this blog, and I only ever work with brands whose values and products mesh with the content I love to produce for you. You can read my affiliate disclosure here if you’re interested.


Smoky Red Lentil Burgers
Makes 8 burgers; serves 4 with sides

I’ve shown the lentil burgers tucked into pita breads and garnished with tahini aioli and lots of fresh cilantro. But my favorite way to eat them is piled on top of garlicky sautéed greens. You could certainly also eat on a hamburger bun with mayo, lettuce, and tomato–just like a beef burger. Leftover burgers make a great snack or lunch. Turn the same mixture into little red lentil croquettes if you’re looking for a vegetarian finger food option.

You’ll need a mesh strainer on hand to drain the lentils.

1 1/2 cups red lentils
Olive oil
1 scallion, white and green parts chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 carrot, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Coarse salt
Half an 8-inch pita, toasted and cooled
juice from half a lime
1 egg, lightly beaten

Bring about 3 quarts of water to boil in a pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the lentils. Cook for 12 minutes, until the lentils are very soft and just beginning to fall apart. Drain in a wire mesh strainer, stirring the lentils to get out as much water as possible. They’ll sort of fall apart as you do this, which is what you want.

In a small pan, sauté the scallion, garlic, carrot in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the paprika and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir for another minute.

Transfer the lentils to a mixing bowl and add the cooked vegetables.

Tear up the cooled pita and place in a mini food processor. Pulse to create crumbs. You should have about a 1/2 cup.

Add the crumbs, egg, lime, and 1 tablespoon olive oil to the bowl with the lentils. Mix well to distribute everything evenly. Using about 1/4 cup of the mixture each, form into 8 patties. Place on a cutting board and store in the fridge for about 30 minutes, so the burgers can firm up. You can cover the burgers and leave them overnight, too.

Heat a large frying pan or a cast iron skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add oil to about 1/4-inch depth. Cook the patties 5 to 6 minutes a side, until golden, then flip and repeat on second side. Drain on paper towels, and serve atop greens or inside a pita.


  1. This definitely happens to me, and unfortunately it’s been happening a lot lately! People always think the food blogger should always know what to eat…sometimes I just get indecisive, and other times, I simply forget some of my favorites I made one too many recipes ago.

    Just whipped up some lentils this weekend. These sound great!

  2. I love lentil burgers, and this one looks great! That tahini aioli sounds perfect!

  3. Cara these bean burgers look fab! I’ve always been so intrigued about meatless burgers, this may be the recipe that finally gets me to try them! 😀

    • Thanks! These are really hearty and satisfying – they’re a different beast than beef burgers but so delicious nonetheless. Let us know if you try em!

  4. Made these tonight! Mine fell apart the second they hit the pan but fear not! I just made a fried hash out of them and made a delicious crispy lentil topping for my salad! Muy bueno!

    • I’m glad they were delicious but I wonder why they fell apart! Did you give them some time to rest in the fridge?

      • The same thing happened to us– after leaving them in the fridge for over an hour, we put them in the pan and they immediately fell to pieces, made worse when flipped. Is it 1.5 cups red lentils already cooked? I’ve successfully made a few other veggie burgers from this site, but would love some clarifications about ideas about how to make these stay together more! Would really appreciate any suggestions!

        • I wonder – did you cook the lentils until they were really quite soft? Squeeze out all the water? Sorry to hear you had trouble!

  5. I made these yesterday, in a salad with spinach, grilled zucchini and paprika, olives, and pasta, with a yoghurt dressing. I only used 3/4 cup of lentils because I feared it would become too soggy ánd I increased the amount of breadcrumbs. But they were really delicious (and I fail a lot during my search for the ‘perfect veggie burger’ recipe), thanks for the recipe.

  6. These look absolutely scrumptious. We’ve been obsessed with mediterranean-inspired cuisine lately; especially lentils. This is surely getting added to our recipe collection.

  7. I just made these and they’re awesome! Thank you! The smoked paprika brings a bacon-y flavor. I served them in pitas with a spiced yogurt sauce–delicious! Thanks again for a great recipe 🙂

    • I’m so thrilled you enjoyed–and picked up on the fact that I’m a smoked paprika junkie. Spiced yogurt sauce sounds wonderful!

  8. At what point do you add the smoked paprika? it’s not in the instruction for procedures. Thanks, sounds good.

  9. Things like this usually fall apart for me in the pan as well. Could they possibly be baked? Any ideas on how long and at what temp?

      • I baked them at 400 for 20 minutes, and they were pretty dry. I used panko breadcrumbs instead of the pita crumbs, so maybe that was the cause. Or maybe the oven dried them out and they would have done better in a pan for less time.

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