How to Cook Lentils
Oct 01, 2023
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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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
- 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.
- Lentil Soup – a reader favorite with Mediterranean flavor.
- Lentil Salad – a light and fresh salad with cucumber.
- Warm Sweet Potato Noodle, Cabbage and Lentil Salad – a warm salad perfect for winter.
How to Cook Lentils Perfectly (Not Mushy)
- 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.
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Recipe originally published February 2019, but updated to include new information for your benefit!