Lentils are a powerhouse legume—the perfect weeknight bean for their quick cooking time, they lend an easy protein boost to soups, salads, grain dishes, and more.
Depending on the type of lentil, texture and cooking times differ, meaning different dishes suit different colored lentils better, but the method is relatively similar. Mushier red, yellow, and orange lentils can serve as the base of pureed dips, and Indian curries or dal. Brown lentils are perfect for soups, vegetarian burgers, or Middle Eastern dishes like mujadarra (spiced lentils cooked with rice). Green lentils, which hold their shape best, shine in salads and side dishes.
Aim to buy them from the bulk bin if you can, to ensure freshness—old lentils take forever to cook and may separate from their skins.
An Easy Lentil Cooking Method
1. Rinse the lentils in a colander. Sift through them to make sure there are no tiny pebbles.
2. The general ratio is one cup of dried lentils to four cups of liquid (water or stock). They’ll take on the flavor of whatever you cook them with, so adding a clove of garlic or two, half an onion, bay leaves, or other hearty herbs will add to their deliciousness. Avoid adding salt or any acidic ingredients like vinegar until the lentils are fully cooked—it may prevent them from softening.
3. Bring the rinsed lentils, cooking liquid, and any aromatics to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat.
4. To avoid mushy beans, you’ll then want to reduce them to a low temperature. You can’t rush perfect tenderness. Maintain a very gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for between 10 and 50 minutes, depending on lentil variety. If at any point the lentils begin to dry out, add more liquid to make sure they’re just barely covered.
5. Taste for proper tenderness. When fully cooked, drain and discard any aromatics. You can now proceed to throw those lentils in the dish of your choice, or let them shine solo—simply dress them with a little salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon or vinegar. A poached egg on top wouldn’t hurt.
Note: If you’re cooking lentils in a basic lentil soup, you’ll add them in with the broth after sauteeing any veggies and aromatics. The recipe may call for covering or partially covering the pot, but a gentle simmer is still the name of the game
Brown: Brown lentils (the most common variety) range from brown to black in color, have an earthy flavor, hold their shape well, and require 20-30 minutes of cooking time.
Green: Green lentils take the longest to cook—about 45 minutes—but hold a firm texture. French green lentils, or lentilles du Puy, are slightly firmer and quicker-cooking than other green lentil varieties.
Red: Ranging in hue from yellow to orange to red, these are the fastest-cooking variety (10-20 minutes). They do tend to break down and get mushy when fully cooked, so we like them for curries, purees, or thickening soups.
Check out some delicious ways to use those colorful legumes.
Standard chickpeas get an upgrade with this colorful take on a dipping classic. Get our Red Lentil Hummus recipe.
That romaine lettuce recall will have you thinking outside of the box during dinnertime. Here’s one option. Get our Lentil Salad recipe.
You don’t need to go overboard to enjoy lentils in their most common form. Get our Basic Lentil Soup recipe.