How to Cook Lentils

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Learn how to cook lentils perfectly, so they don’t end up mushy. Lentils are nutrition powerhouses, inexpensive, and a staple in vegan and vegetarian recipes as they’re loaded with plant-based protein. Lentils come in a rainbow of colors and be used in a variety of recipes (see my ideas below!).

A bowl of cooked lentils with a spoon.

What Are Lentils?

Lentils are a small round legume and staple ingredient in many recipes throughout South Asia, West Asia and the Mediterranean. They’re inexpensive, versatile and can be stored for up to a year, which makes them a great pantry staple.

Lentils are also common in vegan and vegetarian cuisine because they’re high in fiber, carbohydrates and protein. In fact, they’re so high in protein (9g per ½ cup) that when readers ask me for a meatless alternative for my recipes I frequently recommend lentils. In other words, lentils will keep you full, healthy and energized.

A glass jar full of dried lentils.

How to Cook Lentils

When you’re cooking lentils on the stove make sure to choose green lentils, Lentils de Puy, brown lentils or black lentils. Red lentils are best reserved for soups, dals and curries as they’ll easily become mushy. Here’s how to cook lentils in 4 steps:

  • Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve under the faucet. While rinsing, make sure to pick out any bad lentils, debris or small stones which can sometimes sneak in.
  • Add four cups of water and one cup of lentils to a pot. I also recommend adding a bay leaf and piece of kombu (see note below), though this isn’t required.
  • Bring the pot to a boil. Then reduce to a very low simmer, cover, and set your timer for 20 to 30 minutes. The cook time will vary slightly based on the variety:
    • Green Lentils: 18 to 20 minutes
    • Lentils de Puy: 25 to 30 minutes
    • Brown Lentils: 20 to 25 minutes
    • Black Lentils: 25 to 30 minutes
  • Drain the water from the lentils and discard the bay leaf and kombu, before using the cooked lentils in your favorite recipe.
Cooking lentils in a pot on the stove.

Varieties of Lentils

There are a dozen or so varieties of lentils, but these are the ones I use most frequently and the more common ones you’ll find in your local market:

  • Green Lentils: green lentils have a slight peppery flavor and maintain a medium to firm texture making them perfect for salads and side dishes.
  • Lentils de Puy (French Green Lentils): Lentils de Puy are similar to green lentils but with a slightly firmer texture, more speckled appearance and they’re grown exclusively in France.
  • Brown Lentils: brown lentils are the most common and easy to find, have a mild earthy flavor and hold their shape well, making them versatile for many recipes.
  • Red Lentils: red lentils are often sold split, cook fast, have a sweeter flavor and soften up to the point of a puree, making them perfect for soups.
  • Black Lentils (Beluga Lentils): black lentils have a rich earthy flavor, hold their shape and are so tiny and shiny they look amazingly similar to caviar.
Straining lentils over the sink.

Common Questions

Do you need to soak lentils?

No, you don’t need to soak lentils. When you cook other dried legumes and beans you typically need to soak them first. But because lentils are so small and cook quickly, you don’t need to soak them first.

How do you prevent them from going mushy?

Once you’ve brought the lentils to a boil, turn the heat as low as it’ll go. Sometimes this means switching to a smaller burner on your stove, so that you don’t over simmer the lentils. Simmering at too high a heat (and having them bounce around in the pot) is usually what leads to mushy lentils. They can overcook quickly, so keep an eye on the time.

Why do you add a bay leaf and piece of kombu seaweed?

While lentils have a natural earthy flavor, a bay leaf and piece of kombu seaweed adds more flavor to the tiny legume. Additionally, the enzymes in kombu break down the phytic acid in lentils making them more easily digestible (and you’ll end up less gassy).

A spoonful of green lentils.

STORAGE TIPS

  • To store for the week: Let the cooked lentils cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container in the fridge for 4 to 5 days. Perfect to enjoy throughout the week!
  • To freeze for later: You can store cooked lentils in freezer-safe container. They’ll last for up to 3 months in the freezer.
  • For reheating: Thaw any frozen lentils in the fridge overnight. Then reheat for a minute or two in the microwave, or add to your favorite recipes on the stove.

More Lentil Recipes and Ideas

Lentils are a blank slate for many recipes and a great way to add plant-based protein that won’t weigh you down.

A big bowl of cooked lentils.

How to Cook Lentils Perfectly (Not Mushy)

4.98 from 34 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Total: 30 minutes
Servings: 5 servings
Author: Lisa Bryan

Description

Learn how to cook lentils perfectly – it's easy! Watch my quick video below to see how I make them. Then use them in a variety of healthy, delicious recipes throughout the week.

Video

Ingredients 
 

Optional

Instructions 

  • Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve under the faucet. Inspect the lentils and remove any bad lentils or small stones.
  • Add the lentils, water, bay leaf and kombu to a pot. Bring the pot to a boil, reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover the pot with a lid and cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until tender but not mushy. 
  • Drain the lentils, remove the bay leaf and kombu and serve. 

Nutrition

Serving: 0.5cup | Calories: 135kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 9g | Sodium: 13mg | Potassium: 366mg | Fiber: 11g | Vitamin A: 15IU | Vitamin C: 1.7mg | Calcium: 28mg | Iron: 2.9mg
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Asian, Mediterranean
Keyword: how to cook lentils, lentil recipes, lentils
Did you make this recipe?Mention @downshiftology or tag #downshiftology!

Recipe originally published February 2019, but updated to include new information for your benefit!

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About the author

Lisa Bryan

Lisa is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, and YouTuber (with over 2.5 million subscribers) living in sunny Southern California. She started Downshiftology in 2014, and is passionate about making healthy food with fresh, simple and seasonal ingredients.

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109 Comments

  1. You’re assuming everyone has a piece of seaweed. I don’t. Is there something a little more commonly on hand to use?

  2. Simple to prepare, delicious fresh tasting recipe. Pairs well with salmon and greek chicken and great for meal prep.

    1. Hi Katarina – I haven’t tried using the lentil broth for anything. But if you do, I’d be curious as to how you use it!

  3. Thank you so much. I was getting frustrated with other instructions that didn’t turn out or took much longer than they said. Your recipe cooked my green lentils in 30 minutes on simmer. I will decrease to 25 mins next time.5 stars

  4. I tried this recipe with green lentils, to use as as a side for the Chicken & Artichoke bake as Lisa suggested. It is a great pairing. My lentils did go a bit mushy so I will follow her tip next time and shorten my cook time from 30 min to 20-25 min.

    1. It’s all about timing when it comes to cooking lentils! But, I’m glad they were great as a side dish.

  5. What else can be used to flavor lentils if I don’t have Kombu? I’m breaking away from so much meat to a cleaner, healthier diet.

  6. Just made my lentils and they came out perfect. Thank you for the recipe! I made them with the usual spices I always make them so I was wondering if instead of discarding the excess liquid I could save it (like you save vegetable or chicken broth) to make my next batch of lentils or is that water no good?
    TIA
    Dora

    1. Glad this recipe worked out perfectly! I haven’t tried using the leftover water for anything yet, but I believe you can save it for broth!

  7. This is a bit random but I am wondering if you can tell me what pen you used to label your lentil jar? :)

  8. I appreciate the introduction to kombu, but I do not have easy access to it, espcially if i would like to cook my lentils today.  Is there a more common substitution? 

  9. The best lentils I ever cooked 😁 I used half of the quantities and only simmered for 15 mins. I added salt and a bit of butter after cooking. Delish!