Sumac Lentil “Pilaf”

Pilaf is a “fried rice” dish that is popular in many Indian and middle-eastern cultures. Simply, the rice is cooked in a seasoned broth with vegetables and spices. Instead of making the Pilaf with rice, we made it with green lentils. Lentils are rich in protein and fiber and have markedly less carbohydrates than rice does. As much as I love rice, I actually find that lentils offer an nuttier and more substantial replacement. We flavored our pilaf primarily with sumac, a middle eastern spice made from dried and powdered sumac fruit. You can find it at larger supermarkets or order it on Amazon like we did. Sumac is a very versatile spice, it’s tangy and lemony but less tart than just lemon juice. 


  • Lentils (1 cup)
  • Onion (1, finely chopped)
  • Garlic (8 cloves, finely chopped)
  • Tomatoes (2 large, finely chopped)
  • Cilantro (1/2 cup, finely chopped)
  • Tomato paste (1 tablespoon)
  • Sumac (2-3 teaspoons)
  • Cayenne Pepper (1 teaspoon)
  • Olive oil (1 tablespoon)

Recipe (4 servings): 

  1.  Soak the green lentils in water for about 1 hour.  Soaking your proteins make them more bioavailable and cuts your cooking time! They are better absorbed by your gut.  Usually, we know what we plan to cook for dinner in the morning, so I generally just soak them in the morning before leaving for work. 
  2. We prepared this dish in our Instant Pot, but you can also do it on the stove. It will just take longer. On “saute” mode, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and cook for 7-8 minutes until soft.
  3. Follow with the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the diced tomatoes next and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  4. Drain the soaking lentils and add to the pot and toss for 4-5 minutes, allowing the lentils to slightly brown. 
  5. Add the tomato paste next. Season with salt to taste and add about 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Add more olive oil if you find that the vegetables are sticking to bottom.
  6. At this point, I recommend adding about 1/2 cup of water to the pot to help the lentils cook. You don’t need much water because the tomatoes have plenty of water. Change the setting to manual pressure mode and cook on high for 12 minutes. Manually release the pressure when time is up. 
  7. Stir in 2 teaspoons of the sumac and cilantro.  Serve in large bowl. We had left-over Za’atar spiced yogurt from the night before, and we ate it with that and it was delicious! So I recommend you do the same. 

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