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Recipe for Health: Mediterranean Lentil Sandwiches

Here's a chance to enjoy the benefits of a Mediterranean diet.

Over the past few decades, the much-vaunted Mediterranean diet’s ability to lessen the risk for an array of ills, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s, has featured prominently in research. But there weren’t any randomized trials conducted in the United States to determine this diet’s long-term impact on Americans’ health measures—until now.

In a study published in the December 2018 issue of JAMA Network Open, researchers assigned nearly 26,000 women in the United States various “MED scores” on a scale of 1–9 (based on how closely they followed the plant-heavy Mediterranean diet) and then tracked their cardiovascular health for 12 years.

People who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely (having a MED score over 6) had a 25% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the 12-year period. Using several biomarkers in blood tests, the scientists determined that improvements in inflammation, blood sugar control and obesity were the biggest drivers in slashing heart disease risk. The study gave no indication that men would not see similar improvements in heart health.

Was it the generous use of olive oil? Or the extra servings of legumes? The researchers still don’t know which elements of the diet help most. In the meantime, biting into this Mediterranean-inspired sandwich at lunch will help keep your heart strong. Want more protein? Stack on some canned sardines or smoked mussels.

Makes 5 servings.

Mediterranean Lentil Sandwiches

2/3 C dried brown or green lentils

3/4 C oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

1/3 C walnuts

1/3 C pitted kalamata olives

1 shallot, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 t fresh thyme

1 t paprika

11/2 C sliced roasted red pepper

2 C thinly sliced fennel

10 slices whole-grain bread, preferably toasted

Place lentils in a medium-sized saucepan along with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until very tender. Drain and let cool. Place lentils, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, olives, shallot, garlic, lemon juice, thyme and paprika in a food processor container and blend into a slightly chunky mixture. To assemble, spread some of the lentil mixture on a piece of bread and top with roasted red pepper and sliced fennel. Spread more lentil mixture on a second slice of bread and combine the slices into a sandwich.

3 Tips for Cooking Great Lentils

Here are a few basic tips to get this underrated nutrition powerhouse on the plate.

  1. Ensure the lentils you buy are fresh. Visually this is hard to do, but one way to increase your chances of getting a fresh batch is to buy them from a bulk bin or from a large grocery store with high traffic. This will help ensure turnover and a fresher supply. Older lentils will be tough and sometimes shed their skins during cooking.
  2. Spread out the amount of lentils you’ll be cooking onto a white or light-colored kitchen towel. Why? Pebbles from the field always seem to sneak into the pile. Spreading the lentils out on a nonpatterned towel will help you spot the debris more easily. There’s nothing worse than breaking a tooth when you’re trying to do something good for your nutrition! It’s also a good idea to rinse lentils thoroughly.
  3. Simmer does not mean boil! If the liquid is rolling too rapidly, it could produce mushy, overcooked lentils with split skins. Bring the water to a rapid simmer and then reduce the heat so the water barely bubbles.

Sources: healthline.com; organicfacts.net.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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