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If you’re a pasta lover, it’s a great time to be alive. The pasta aisle is filled with alternatives to traditional semolina and whole-wheat varieties, from red lentil penne to edamame spaghetti. In addition to being gluten-free, these pastas are also surprisingly high in protein, making your quick dinner of spaghetti and marinara or vegan mac and cheese a bit more filling (and well-balanced).
Aside from homemade rainbow pasta, these bean and legume pastas are pretty much the greatest thing ever. They cook quickly and eliminate the need to prep a separate protein to go with your meal, meaning they’re perfect for 15-minute dinner recipes.
Some are easier to cook than others (and, frankly, a couple of them don’t taste great), so we’re sharing cooking tips for the most popular types of bean pastas, along with simple ideas for dinners that can be on the table in under 30 minutes.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Trader Joe’s Red Lentil Sedanini ($3)
Why We Like It: This is, hands-down, the best legume pasta out there. The Trader Joe’s version has quickly become a best-seller, and for good reason: There’s no bean-y flavor, it cooks to a perfect al dente texture, and it pairs well with both creamy and tomato sauces. Red lentil pasta stays firm even after being refrigerated, so you’ll have no more mushy leftovers! Plus, it boasts 13 grams of protein per serving.
Cooking Tip: Use this one for your baked pasta dishes, like baked ziti. On busy nights, simply toss with jarred sauce and Parmesan. (If you have a few extra minutes, sauté fresh garlic in a bit of olive oil, along with oregano, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper to make your store-bought sauce feel fancier.)
Pair It With: Your favorite sauce. The short pasta can handle chunky sauces, and it soaks up thin and creamy sauces too. There’s no sauce that red lentil pasta can’t handle!
Modern Table Lentil Elbows ($4)
Why We Like It: Like the red lentil pasta, these lentil elbows have a neutral flavor and cook up without much guesswork on the timing. (We’ve tried a few brands.) They’re also the perfect swap in your favorite mac and cheese recipe. Each serving contains a whopping 20 grams of protein.
Cooking Tip: Use a thick or darker sauce to fool picky eaters and mask the slight green color. (Try pesto!)
Pair It With: Toss hot pasta with two cloves of minced garlic, plus plenty of olive oil or butter, and Parmesan for a quick weeknight dinner. Garnish with black pepper and crushed red pepper.
Banza Chickpea Shells ($4)
Why We Like It: Chickpea pasta was named one of the 25 best inventions back in 2015, and we agree. This pasta looks and tastes surprisingly like the real deal, with a bit more texture (like a whole-wheat pasta). It cooks quickly and doesn’t fall apart if you forget to set a timer and let it go a couple of extra minutes. (It’s worth buying in bulk!). Also, did you see the 25 grams of protein per serving?
Cooking Tip: Garbanzo bean pasta is tasty chilled too, so use it in your favorite pasta salad recipes. Make a quick lunch by mixing chickpea shells with hummus, chopped olives, and roasted red peppers. Serve over arugula.
Pair It With: Toss hot pasta with tahini (thinned with water and lemon juice), then salt to taste. Serve with steamed broccoli.
Explore Cuisine Green Lentil Lasagne ($4)
Why We Like It: You don’t need to parboil these noodles, and they cook up perfectly. They’re a dream come true with 11 grams of protein per serving. (While you can find plenty of no-cook wheat lasagna noodles, the protein content in this variety keeps your Sunday supper from putting you into a carb coma.)
Cooking Tip: Keep a box of these awesome noodles on hand for all your lasagna cravings. Get creative by turning other favorite pasta dishes into layered feasts. Try roasted butternut squash rings with ricotta, gorgonzola, dried cranberries, and sage, then top with a simple tomato or Alfredo sauce (seasoned with rosemary and black pepper).
Pair It With: Your grandmother’s lasagna recipe. No one will know you’ve swapped the noodles!
Explore Cuisine Edamame Spaghetti ($4)
Why We Like It: This pasta cooks quickly and is a tasty alternative to rice when stir-fry is on the menu.
Cooking Tip: Set a timer, and don’t walk away. Any thin, long legume pasta like this one needs to be stirred often and not overcooked. If you overcook it, you’ll end up with a congealed blob.
Pair It With: Asian-inspired sauces like sesame ginger or traditional noodle dishes like Korean japchae.
Trader Joe’s Black Bean Rotini ($3)
Why We Like It: Unfortunately, we don’t, even with its 14 grams of protein per serving. Every brand we’ve tried needs far longer than the recommended cook time to reach al dente, and we experienced some, um, bean-y side effects every time we ate this one. Since black beans take longer to cook from dried than the other legumes listed here, we suspect that’s why black bean rotini was a fail. Black bean spaghetti did fare slightly better, but it’s still not worth the price.
Cooking Tip: Skip this one, or stock up on the Beano.
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