You don't need to be a mystic these days to prefer a meatless diet. Vegetarianism has emerged from the world of the occult to be practiced by more people than at any other time in the nation's history.

People are predisposed to vegetarianism for reasons of health, economy and ecology according to an article in a recent "Journal of the American Dietetic Association." In that article the authors state, "In light of recent studies that show the nutrient adequacy of certain vegetarian diets as well as the health and economic benefits, nutritionists and dietitians should be prepared to counsel and adequately support those who have chosen to eliminate meat from their diets."

The ADA has reviewed medical and nutritional research which shows a positive relationship between a vegetarian diet and the reduction of certain diseases -- coronary heart disease, cancer, obesity and osteoporosis (weakening of the bones commonly associated with the aging process).

Lentils make a main dish that fulfills many vegetarian expectations. They are good sources of vegetable protein, vitamins and calcium. These dried legumes are available all year and save energy because they can be stored without refrigeration. Although green and brown lentils are available most often, red and yellow lentils can be found in health food stores and may be used interchangeably. Best of all, lentils are inexpensive.

Lentil stew with spinach makes a substantive main dish. Top it with yogurt and serve whole wheat rolls on the side. There's minimum cleanup with maximum nutrition.

The recipe calls for about four cups of fresh spinach. Frozen chopped spinach may be substituted. If you're allowed more items in your grocery basket, add chopped potatoes (preferably unpeeled) to the broth with the onions and spices. Chunks of fresh summer squash may be added at this time, too.

As always, it is assumed that the most ill-equipped kitchen has at least a little flour, sugar, oil, salt and pepper.

EXPRESS LANE LIST: onion, lentils, spinach, lemon, ground cloves, cinnamon, yogurt, whole wheat rolls.

LENTIL STEW WITH SPINACH (4 to 6 servings) 1 medium onion, sliced 3 tablespoons oil (preferably olive) 1 1/4 cups dried lentils 4 cups water, or more as preferred 2 potatoes, cubed (optional) 1 small summer squash, cubed (optional) Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste Dash each ground cloves and allspice 4 cups shredded spinach leaves (or 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed) Juice and rind of 1 lemon

In a saucepan, brown onions in olive oil. Add lentils and 3 cups of water. Add potatoes and squash (if desired) and seasonings. Heat to boiling, then cover and simmer about an hour. Add the spinach and cook about 5 minutes. Stir in grated rind and juice of lemon. Serve in heated bowls topped with cold, plain yogurt.

Note: Count on larger portions if the potatoes and squash are added.