The little black lentil is the power player in this satisfying lasagna

Lentil lasagna. (MUST CREDIT: Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post/food styling by Gina Nistico for The Washington Post)

Here’s a coincidence for you – or is it? The last time I wrote about cookbook author Nik Sharma, it was when I loved a recipe from his previous book, “The Flavor Equation,” for dal makhani, India’s luxuriously silky black lentil stew.

This time, the recipe from his latest book, the gorgeous “Veg-table,” that sparked my interest is for Lentil Lasagna, which brings warming spices – and a decidedly nontraditional pulse – to the Italian classic. When I got him on a Zoom call to discuss it, one of the first things I pointed out was that, yet again, I had picked a recipe from him that features one of my favorite legumes. Obviously, that says more about me and my long-standing bean obsession than it does about him.

Sharma’s cookbook, in fact, covers much more ground than beans. With his trademark emphasis on science, the former engineer looks at vegetables through the lens of their plant families (akin to how Deborah Madison approached “Vegetable Literacy” and Bryant Terry approached “Vegetable Kingdom”), with an unmatched sense of creativity and accessibility. “I can talk a lot about food science, but it should be for the home cook,” he told me from his home office in Los Angeles. “It should be practical and applicable so that even after I’m gone . . . the book will still be valuable.”

As a result, Sharma spends just as much time writing about the differences among vegetables in the same family as about the commonalities. Take potatoes: “I realized that vegetables from other families, unrelated biologically, if they had starch, a lot of the same techniques cross over because they’re biochemically similar but biologically, family-wise, completely different.”

That brings us back to those black lentils, which are part of the pea or bean family, but don’t require the same cooking approach as what Sharma calls HTC (hard-to-cook) beans. Lentils take up water more quickly and typically can cook in under 30 minutes. Black lentils take a little longer than other varieties, but that same quality helps them hold their shape and stay a little firm during cooking.

Why put them in lasagna? Those firm lentils contribute to what Sharma calls the “interplay of textures” in his take on the dish. He often puts dal makhani on nachos and in lasagna, so for “Veg-table” he decided to streamline the approach for the latter.

There’s no arguing with the simple fact that what results from this combination (and a spice blend of garam masala, Aleppo-style peppers and turmeric) straddles the lines between comforting and exciting, satisfying and healthy.

Two shortcuts can help turn this lasagna into a weeknight-friendly endeavor: The first, of course, are no-boil noodles, which let you skip – well, it’s right there in their name. The second is a can. If you’re lucky enough to find canned black lentils such as Westbrae Naturals brand (I’ve also seen microwaveable pouches at Target), they can speed up this recipe considerably.

As Sharma, ever on the lookout for home-cook-friendly approaches, put it in reference to canned beans: “If it makes cooking easier, use them. If you want to soak and cook your beans from scratch, do it. The only person who needs to have a say in this is you.”

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Lentil lasagna. (MUST CREDIT: Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post/food styling by Gina Nistico for The Washington Post)

Lentil Lasagna

This hearty, comforting lasagna gets texture from black lentils and a warming flavor from garam masala. You can make the sauce as chunky or smooth as you would like. Using no-boil noodles and canned black lentils (if you can find them) turns this into a weeknight-appropriate dish.

Storage: Refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Where to buy: Westbrae Natural brand canned black lentils can be found at Whole Foods Market and other natural foods stores. Target sells Good & Gather brand black lentils in 8-ounce microwavable pouches; 3 of those packages would work here.

Active time: 40 mins; Total time: 1 hour 30 mins

Adapted from “Veg-table” by Nik Sharma (Chronicle Books, 2023).


2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing

1 large white or yellow onion (12 ounces), chopped

2 large bell peppers, cored and chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 large carrot, scrubbed and chopped

1 (28-ounce) can no-salt-added crushed tomatoes

1 cup water

2 teaspoons Aleppo-style chile flakes

1 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste

3 cups cooked black lentils (from 2 15-ounce cans), drained and rinsed (see NOTE)

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) finely grated parmesan cheese

1 pound no-boil lasagna sheets


Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Brush a deep 9-by-13-inch baking dish generously with olive oil.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and saute until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers, celery and carrot and saute until the carrots and peppers start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, water, chile flakes, garam masala, turmeric, black pepper and salt. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from the heat, taste, and season with more salt, as needed.

Use an immersion blender to pulse for a few seconds to get a chunky sauce, or longer to get it smooth, if you’d like. (Alternatively, you can transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor, pulse or puree, and return the sauce to the pot.) Stir in the lentils.

In a small bowl, mix the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses until combined.

Line the base of the greased baking pan with enough sheets of pasta to cover in a single layer. Cover the pasta with 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and spread evenly. Sprinkle about 3/4 cup of the cheese mixture on top, and add another layer of pasta. Repeat the sequence three more times, layering sauce and cheese on the pasta. The final layer should be covered with the sauce and cheese.

Cover the dish tightly with foil, and set the baking pan on a large sheet pan to catch any drips.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the cheese is melted, the sauce is bubbling, and the pasta layers are all cooked. Carefully remove the foil, turn on the broiler, and broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and lightly brown. Watch carefully so the cheese does not burn.

Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving warm.

Substitutions: No Aleppo-style chile flakes? >> Use Urfa, Morash, crushed red pepper flakes, or a combination of mostly sweet paprika with a pinch of cayenne. Crushed tomatoes >> Diced tomatoes or tomato puree. Garam masala >> Curry powder. Mozzarella >> Vegan mozzarella-style shreds, such as Daiya brand. Parmesan >> Vegan parmesan cheese, such as Violife brand, or nutritional yeast.

Notes: If you can’t find canned black lentils, simmer 1 cup dried black lentils in 4 cups water until tender but not mushy, 25 to 30 minutes, then drain.

Nutrition | Per serving (one roughly 3-by-4-inch piece): 504 calories, 73g carbohydrates, 29mg cholesterol, 14g fat, 13g fiber, 28g protein, 6g saturated fat, 843mg sodium, 13g sugar

Recipe tested by Joe Yonan.; email questions to



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