Learn how to cook lentils and make the most of this amazing nutritious and tasty legume. They're a fantastic way to add protein to salads, side dishes, and more.
If you're looking to incorporate more plant-based protein into your diet, consider turning to lentils as a top choice. These petite legumes pack a punch with their abundant protein and fiber content, boasting an uncomplicated cooking process and a delightfully earthy flavor that enhances a variety of dishes. Continue reading to discover my preferred technique for cooking lentils, explore various varieties, and find some of my favorite lentil recipes.
What are lentils?
Lentils, small and round legumes, are a kitchen staple found in numerous recipes across South Asia, West Asia, and the Mediterranean. Their versatility, affordability, and long shelf life make them an excellent addition to any pantry.
Especially prevalent in vegan and vegetarian cuisine, lentils are rich in fiber, carbohydrates, and protein. With a remarkable protein content of 9g per ½ cup, lentils stand out as a top recommendation when seeking a meatless alternative in recipes.
How to cook Lentils?
When preparing lentils on the stovetop, opt for green lentils, Lentils de Puy, brown lentils, or black lentils for optimal results. Save red lentils for soups, dals, and curries, as they have a tendency to become mushy.
Unlike quinoa or rice, you do not need an exact water-to-lentil ratio. Think more like you’re cooking pasta, you just need significantly more water than lentils. You can also use chicken or vegetable broth instead if you want to add an extra layer of flavor.
I like to add a bay leaf, an onion cut in half, and a clove of garlic to add extra flavor to the lentils. Do not salt the lentils before cooking! They will become tough and less appetizing. Bring the water and lentils to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook and low for 20-30 minutes or until tender.
The cooking time will vary slightly based on the type of lentils:
- Green Lentils: 18-20 minutes
- French Lentils: 25-30 minutes
- Brown Lentils: 20-25 minutes
- Black Lentils: 25-30 minutes
Drain the water (or broth) from the lentils and set the lentils aside until they come down to room temperature, before mixing into a salad. Discard the bay leaf, half onion, and garlic. Now you can add the cooked lentils to salads or any recipe that calls for cooked lentils.
This cooking method is ideal for meal prep, adding to salads and other dishes like lentil tacos or kofta. You can also braise lentils which makes an impressive main dish all on its own. Black and French lentils are particularly tasty braising in red wine and flavored with dijon mustard.
Storing Cooked Lentils
To store for the week: Allow the cooked lentils to cool to room temperature before transferring them to an airtight container. Keep the container in the fridge, and your cooked lentils will stay fresh for 4 to 5 days—a perfect convenience for enjoying throughout the week!
To freeze for later: Place the cooked lentils in a freezer-safe container for a longer storage option. Your frozen lentils will maintain quality for up to 3 months in the freezer.
For reheating: When ready to use, thaw any frozen lentils in the fridge overnight. Reheat them in the microwave for a minute or two, or seamlessly incorporate them into your favorite stove-cooked recipes.
Lentil Soup Recipes:
Different Kinds of Lentils
Not all different types of lentils are interchangeable, as each excels in specific types of recipes. Below are the varieties commonly found in the grocery store, along with recommendations on how to incorporate them into your dishes:
Green and Brown Lentils
Brown lentils, or brewer lentils, are the most common lentils and are sometimes labeled generically as "lentils". Conversely, green lentils come in a range of sizes, classified into three main groups. The larger green lentils are likely Laird lentils or similar varieties, medium-sized ones often belong to the Richlea lentil category, and the smaller, classic green lentil is referred to as the Eston lentil.
French Green Lentils (Le Puy)
Puy lentils, also known as French Green Lentils, hold a special place in the world of legumes, hailing from the region of Le Puy in central France. Their unique cultivation in volcanic soil within the Regions of France sets them apart from the more common green lentils.
The unique growing conditions lend Puy lentils a distinctive flinty, earthy, and boldly peppery flavor. Puy lentils are relatively rare compared to their counterparts, which contributes to their higher price point. Unlike traditional green lentils, Puy lentils retain their structural integrity even after prolonged boiling, making them an excellent choice for salads.
Black Beluga Lentils
Known as beluga lentils due to their striking resemblance to the caviar variety, black lentils are less prevalent than their green or brown counterparts, thriving exclusively in cool and arid climates. These lens-shaped legumes boast a robust, earthy flavor while retaining their structural integrity resulting in firmer lentils when cooked.
Renowned for their velvety, buttery, and mild taste, yellow and red lentils are favored by those who enjoy a more tender legume texture. Notably, these lentils are exclusively available in their "split" form, a factor that expedites their cooking time through enhanced refinement. For this reason, they break down and become incorporated in their cooking liquid, making them better suited for soups and stew rather than for salad or meal prep. RED LENTILS ARE NOT SUITED FOR THIS RECIPE!
Tips and Tricks
- If lentils have been stored for over a year, they may exhibit increased dryness and require a longer cooking time compared to a fresher batch. Adhere to your recipe's recommended cooking duration, but regularly taste the lentils to prevent them from becoming excessively firm or overly mushy. Avoid blending newly purchased lentils with those stored for an extended period, as the latter are likely to be drier, leading to uneven cooking.
- Salt and acidic ingredients, such as vinegar and lemon juice, can toughen their skins. Thus, it's advisable to wait until the lentils are tender before introducing these elements.
- Pressure cooking is not advised for any lentil variety due to the foam they generate, which can potentially clog pressure vents. Opt for the boil and simmer method, as most lentil varieties cook quickly using this technique.
- Maximize flavor with fresh herbs. Add hearty herbs like rosemary, oregano, or/ and thyme to the cooking liquid to infuse their flavors throughout the cooking process. For more tender herbs chop and mix them into the lentils after the are done cooking.
Lentil Salad Recipes:
1 cup of dry lentils yields approximately 2 ½ cups of cooked lentils. When cooked, lentils expand in volume by about 2 ½ times.
Anticipate serving sizes of approximately 1 to 1 ½ cups of cooked lentils per individual serving.
Unlike some other pulses, lentils do not necessitate soaking. However, it's advisable to rinse your lentils with fresh water before boiling to eliminate any dust or debris.
You can substitute brown and green lentils, puy lentils, and black lentils for each other in recipes. Note that puy lentils and black lentils will require more time to fully cook than green and brown lentils.
While you can substitute red and yellow lentils for each other, they will not be a good swap with any of the other lentils. Red and yellow lentils break down and lose all of their texture when they are cooked having a very different final result.
Once you've brought the lentils to a boil, lower the heat to its minimum setting. This might require using a smaller burner on your stove to prevent the lentils from vigorously simmering, as high heat and excessive movement in the pot tend to result in lentils turning mushy. Lentils can easily overcook, so monitor the cooking time closely.
How to cook Lentils?
- ½ cup lentils
- 3 cups water or vegetable stock or chicken broth
- 1 onion peeled and cut in half
- 1 bay leave
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- Bring water (or broth), onions, bay leaves, and lentils to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- Cook on low for 20-30 minutes or until tender.
- Drain the water (or broth) and set the lentils aside to cool to room temperature before adding to salads or recipes.
- Discard the bay leaf, half onion, and garlic before incorporating the cooked lentils into your dishes.