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. Some of my favorites include easy side dishes, tasty salads and hearty main meals.
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 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
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. Watch the video below and learn 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.
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.
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.
More Lentil Recipes and Ideas
- Lentil Soup (the very best!)
- Lentil Salad with Cucumber
- Warm Sweet Potato Noodle, Cabbage and Lentil Salad
- Meal Prep for Winter