mexican lentil stuffed shells

Posted on Dec 2, 2011 in Food

I grew up in a really tiny town.

Actually, that’s not even right. I grew up in the countryside between two equally tiny towns. One had a bustling population of 1400, a gas station, a grocery store, a bank and no stoplights or delivery pizza. The other was home to 800 people and was so small that if you blinked on the highway, you might miss it. Neither of them had any chain restaurants, big box stores, supermarkets or movie theaters.

For those things, we had to drive the 30 minutes to the Indiana suburbs of Louisville. At the time, the drive didn’t seem like any big annoyance. We drove that 30 minutes five or six times a week. My after-school job in high school at Target was even 25 minutes away. It was just what we did.

One of those things that we drove 30 minutes to get to was Mexican food. Right across the four lane highway from my Target store was an always-packed Don Pablos. My friends from high school and I would meet there at 9 or 10pm for dinner after we all got off work from our various minimum wage jobs. We’d stuff our faces with warm chips and enchiladas and drink a million Cherry Cokes while giggling about our cute waiter. Then, we’d all pack up into our cars and drive the 30 minutes back to our sleepy little Southern Indiana towns. My paycheck from Target went 50% to gas, 25% to clothes at Target and 25% to Don Pablos. Oh those were the days…

Because of these fond memories, Mexican food will always and forever be one of my biggest comfort foods. I no longer frequent Don Pablos (I don’t even want to think about the calorie counts or nasty stuff in that food), but I do love diving fork-first into a nice pile of warm, spicy food. And even though I’m over a decade removed, it always brings me back to flirting with our waiter with my girlfriends.

I’m not sure I could say enough marvelous things to do this dish justice. This is one of the, if not the, most flavorful, delicious and decadent vegetarian dishes I’ve ever made. You could serve this to a meat eater without a peep of complaint. Lentils make such a great ground beef substitute (you’ve seen me use them before) and this dish is no exception. The lentils soak up all the complex flavor of the cumin and chili power while adding a powerful punch of fiber, iron and protein.

I am head-over-heels in love with this dish.

Mexican Lentil Stuffed Shells

by Cassie Johnston

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Makes: 6-8 servings

The easiest way I’ve found to fill shells is the ziptop bag method. Spoon the filling into a large ziptop bag, cut off one corner of the bag and then pipe the filling into the shells just like you would with frosting.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 packet/batch taco seasoning
  • 2-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 12 ounces jumbo shells, cooked
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup enchilada sauce

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add in onion and garlic and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add in taco seasoning, lentils and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until lentils are very tender and water is absorbed.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°.
  3. Once lentils are cooked, remove from heat and stir in salsa and cream cheese.
  4. Spread 1/4 cup of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.
  5. Stuff each cooked shell with the lentil mixture, placing each shell, seam-side-down in the baking dish.
  6. Once all shells are stuffed, pour remaining enchilada sauce over top and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese.
  7. Bake in 350° oven for 20-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
  8. Serve with sliced green onions and sour cream.

Did you have any go to restaurants or hang-outs in high school?

Other than Don Pablos, we also found ourselves at Dairy Queen a ton. I even sang Baby Got Back to a giant group of senior citizens during Karaoke Night at our local DQ. Yup. That was one of my prouder moments.

19 Comments

  1. I lived in a suburb of DC when I was in high school and we used to hang out at this restaurant called the Silver Diner. I think it was open until 3 am. That and 7-11. It was like a well known thing that if you went to a certain 7-11, you’d see someone from school there.

  2. Awww…I love this post! Reminds me of growing up in WV, 20 – 30 minutes from town no matter what. I have a hard time even now explaining to people that a 30 min. drive is nothing to me because of this!! Our favorite hang out was always the service station / country store (probably because there were always cute boys). Its somehow a comforting thought to know I grew up somewhere where you have to ask “are you going to town today” if you need something. Definitely less hustle bustle growing up there!

  3. I used to go to Friendly’s at the mall with my friends, once one of us got a car. I didn’t get my license until just before I started my sophomore year of college, and my best friend in high school didn’t get hers until she graduated high school, so we spent a lot of time either bumming rides from friends or having our parents drive us to the mall. It wasn’t perfect, but Friendly’s always reminds me of hanging out with my buddies in high school.

  4. These look REALLY good. I’m far from all things Mexican…I think I’d have to drive two hours to get to the closest Mexican restaurant. All we have are pubs and diners and pizza joints.

    I finally got around to making a lightbox yesterday. Your tutorial was very easy to follow! So thanks.

  5. I lived “out of town” for part of my high school years. Those of us that lived out there hung out together quite a bit due to lack of transportation to get “in town”. We had a little marina/grocery store in walking distance, and would spend time there when the weather was nice.

    These shells look tasty! I make a homemade green tomatillo sauce that I have a bunch of frozen. I might sub that in. Love all Mexican-style food!

  6. I also grew up in a very tiny town. I’m not even sure we had 800 people in our town..lol, but my favorite high school hangouts were Pizza Hut and Sonic. On Sundays, it was Dairy Queen after church to get frozen treats…ahhh, memories!

  7. I LOVE Mexican food too. This recipe sounds wonderful.
    We hung out at Perkins in high school; eating bread bowls and drinking pots upon pots of coffee. We also hung out at a pizza parlor called Rodano’s after basketball games. After football games we hung out in the parking lot of McDonalds, if you can imagine that. Then there was the period of time where we were mall rats. We’d go to the mall, then the movies, then finish with Pizza Hut’s salad bar. Good times! lol

  8. I forgot about Palooka’s diner – we loved it there too. This is such a fun post – bringing back so many memories :) I found your blog from your guest post over on Emily’s. I’m so glad I did!

  9. I’m speachless. Those look amazing. I have awesome memories of mexican food too, but unfortunately awesome mexican food isn’t as plentiful here in Canada :( Anywho, I can’t remember if I’ve ever commented on your blog before or if I just don’t often but I’ve been loving your blog for a while now :D I think I must be the only one that thinks “first comments” are awkward – kind of like introductions. So hi, I’m Heidi, I think you’re blog is awesome and your food always looks amazing :D Now I feel better and I’ll comment more often!

    • Hahah! Hi Heidi!
      I totally think first comments are awkward. It’s like, “Uh, hi. I’ve been reading all about your life but you have no idea who I am but I’m going to comment now.”
      It’s nice to “meet” you. :)

  10. Mmmmm I’ve been craving stuffed shells! Thank you for the recipe :D

  11. I worked at Tim Hortons throughout high school and that was the hang-out spot. To this day I do not like tim’s coffee or donuts! I currently live in a small town (population 620 and most of them are seniors). We have a lot of amenities to get by and I try to only go to the bigger towns once a week :) I do miss the convenience of being able to order pizza if I don’t feel like cooking but that never happens!

  12. I grew up in the mid-sized city of Vancouver, WA (by Portland, OR). The thing we really laugh about now is that in junior high (grades 7, 8, and 9) after night time dances we would walk through the pitch dark large cemetery behind our school to get to the pizza place we were going to. This was WITH our parents knowledge…I guess they figured safety in numbers. We are all in our early and mid 40s now, most with kids, and I can’t imagine any of us letting our kids do that now. Hello people with knives and drugs hiding behind the grave stones.

  13. Change a few of the details in your story and we’d have the same ones. For me, it was the creamy white cheese dip …. and homemade tortillas … OMG! Also Cherry Coke. Other haunts included a mediterranean greek place and a 50 year old deli that made THE best sandwiches EVER! and orange spiced sweet tea I have yet to replicate. Great post, cant wait to try it

  14. This was fantastic! It was nice to find a recipe without the meat but still taste absolutely wonderful! Honestly, my kids did not miss the meat and gobbled this up! Obviously this is a keeper! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Hi Jeri! Glad you and the kids liked it. :)

  15. This is awesome and easy to make! I have to say my kids liked this one and I think I have the pickiest kids on the planet!! However, this suited them just fine! They even asked me last week when I would make it again!

  16. these look good (in face I think I have pinned them before). Looks like your taco seasoning recipe makes about 3 tablespoons give or take. Is that correct?

    • Yup! About that. It’s about the same amount that’s in the little packets.

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