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How to Cook Lentils

Learn how to cook lentils perfectly, so they don’t end up mushy. Lentils are nutrition powerhouses, flavorful, 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, including easy side dishes, tasty salads and hearty main meals.

How to cook lentils perfectly. Lentils are small legumes loaded with plant-based protein and nutrients and they're delicious in a variety of healthy recipes.

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.

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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 1/2 cup) that when readers ask me for a meatless alternative for my recipes I frequently recommend lentils (hint: they’d be great in my Stuffed Sweet Potatoes recipe). Lentils will keep you full, healthy and energized.

How to cook lentils perfectly. Lentils are small legumes loaded with plant-based protein and nutrients and they're delicious in a variety of healthy recipes.

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.

How to cook lentils perfectly. Lentils are small legumes loaded with plant-based protein and nutrients and they're delicious in a variety of healthy recipes.

How to Cook Lentils

When it comes to cooking lentils on the stove (for use in other recipes) opt for 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).
  • Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a very low simmer, cover and set your timer for 20-30 minutes. The cook time will vary slightly based on the variety:
    • Green Lentils: 18-20 minutes
    • Lentils de Puy: 25-30 minutes
    • Brown Lentils: 20-25 minutes
    • Black Lentils: 25-30 minutes
  • Drain the water from the lentils and discard the bay leaf and kombu, before using the cooked lentils in your favorite recipe.

How to cook lentils perfectly. Lentils are small legumes loaded with plant-based protein and nutrients and they're delicious in a variety of healthy recipes.

How to cook lentils perfectly. Lentils are small legumes loaded with plant-based protein and nutrients and they're delicious in a variety of healthy recipes.

Tips for Cooking Lentils

You Don’t Need to Soak Lentils: When you cook other dried legumes and beans you typically need to soak them first. Because lentils are so small and cook quickly, you do not need to soak them first.

Be Gentle and Watch the Time: 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.

Add a Bay Leaf and Piece of Kombu: 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). Kombu adds vitamins, nutrients and trace minerals as well, including iodine.

How to cook lentils perfectly. Lentils are small legumes loaded with plant-based protein and nutrients and they're delicious in a variety of healthy recipes.

More Lentil Recipes and Ideas

Watch How to Cook Lentils

How to cook lentils perfectly. Lentils are small legumes loaded with plant-based protein and nutrients and they're delicious in a variety of healthy recipes.
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How to Cook Lentils

Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins
Total Time: 30 mins
Servings: 5 servings
Author: Lisa Bryan
Learn how to cook lentils perfectly - it's easy! Watch my quick video above to see how I make them. Then use them in a variety of healthy, delicious recipes.
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small piece kombu (approx 3-4 inches)

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 20-30 minutes or until tender but not mushy. 
  • Drain the lentils, remove the bay leaf and kombu and serve. 

Lisa's Tips

  • You can store cooked lentils for 4-5 days in a sealed storage container in the fridge. You can also freeze them up to 4 months. 

Nutrition

Serving: 0.5cup, Calories: 135kcal, Carbohydrates: 23g, Protein: 9g, Sodium: 13mg, Potassium: 366mg, Fiber: 11g, Vitamin A: 0.3%, Vitamin C: 2%, Calcium: 2.8%, Iron: 16.1%
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Asian, Mediterranean
Keyword: how to cook lentils, lentils
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12 comments on “How to Cook Lentils”

  1. I haven’t tried the recipe yet, but it’s because I’ve made lentils in the past and had an INTENSE GASSY experience after.  So much so that I’ve avoided them.  But I was interested to hear that Kombu might help that. Thanks for this.  I’m new to your page but am enjoying it.   

    • Yes, you’ll have to give them a try with the kombu next time. And I’d recommend starting with a small quantity of lentils to see how your gut handles them. :) Glad you’re enjoying my site!

  2. Simple things if unknown make life better for some. This information will surely help quite a few to make a healthy meal for them. Thank You.

  3. I love lentils! It’s my favorite legume – such a great guide!

  4. THANK YOU! I’ve always cooked mushy lentils. Every single time. Your instructions finally broke me of it – thank you so much!

  5. Thanks for sharing these tips, cooking lentils can definitely be a scary thing especially if you’re new to them!

  6. I didn’t realize that lentils varied so much in their consistency. Good to know. This is such a great resource to keep on hand. Thank you!