Lentils are one of those secret-weapon ingredients. These tiny legumes are high in protein, fiber and healthy carbs, while being naturally low in sodium, sugars and fat. They are very high in folate, an essential B vitamin—1 cup will give you about 90% of your recommended daily intake. They’re also sources of a ton of other nutrients, including potassium, zinc, magnesium, thiamin, niacin, B6 and many others.

But beyond their nutritive value, lentils are, quite simply, delicious! They come in a variety of colors and textures, so you can eat them frequently without getting bored. They are quick to cook, and require no soaking, so they are a perfect way to get more legumes into your diet without some of the fuss that most dried beans present. They work well in all sorts of recipes, from cold salads to hearty soups, and can be either a side dish or a main course. Especially for vegetarians, vegans or people who are trying to include more plant-based meals in their diet, lentils are a way to ensure that you are getting enough protein.

Types of Lentils

Before we learn how to cook lentils, we need to know about the different varieties available.

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Le Puy or French Green Lentils

These slate-colored lentils are ideal for salads. They cook quickly on the stovetop in a similar method to making pasta and, once cooked, will last up to a week in the fridge. They have a nutty flavor and retain their shape when cooked. Try them in these recipes:

Very Green Lentil Soup

Lentil Stew with Salsa Verde

Celeriac & Lentil Salad with Poached Eggs

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Beluga Lentils

These black lentils resemble caviar, hence the name. Similar in style to the French green lentils, with a slightly musky flavor, they also work well in salads, and can stand up to strong flavors and intense spices. A few recipes to try:

Pan-Seared Cod with Radish & Lentil Salad

Braised Black Lentil & Quinoa Bowls

Roasted Salmon with Lentil “Caviar”

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Green Lentils

These lighter-green lentils are ideal for use in rice pilaf dishes, since they retain their shape but have a creamy center. They also work very well for side dishes, and can be sautéed once cooked to add a bit of crisp texture. Have some on hand? Give one of these recipes a whirl:

One-Pot Lentils & Rice with Spinach

Lemony Lentil Salad with Salmon

Lentil Burgers

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Brown Lentils

These lentils are ideal for soups and stews, where some of them will stay intact, and others will break down and get creamy, for a soup with wonderful texture. The skins are thin, so they can also be pureed if you prefer a smooth soup. Cook them up in one of these recipes:

Lemony Lentil Soup with Collards

Lentil Salad with Feta, Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Olives

Koshari (Egyptian Lentils, Rice & Pasta)

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Red Lentils

These lentils have been peeled, so are just the creamy interior. They will break down pretty completely during cooking, and are traditional for dishes like dal, but can also be used for unique versions of either refried-style beans or hummus or other bean dips. Or try them in one of these recipes:

Winter Vegetable Dal

Red Lentil Fritters with Ginger-Yogurt Sauce

Chocolate-Banana Protein Smoothie

Dried vs. Canned Lentils

In general, because of their quick cooking time, dried lentils are the perfect pantry secret weapon. Another benefit is you can season them yourself. Canned lentils are a good thing to have on hand for truly last-minute dishes, since they are already cooked and just need to be rinsed before using. They may also have added salt, something to watch for particularly if you’re watching your sodium intake. They are also good for making dips and spreads, since they tend to have a much softer texture than you might get when cooking your own lentils from dried. You can also sometimes find vacuum-sealed cooked lentils, which have a more al dente texture than canned.

How to Store Lentils

Dried lentils should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Lentils will last in your pantry for up to a year before they begin to get tough. They will still be edible, but will take longer to get tender and may taste a bit bland.

Cooked lentils should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, where they can last up to five days.

How to Avoid Mushy Lentils

If you are cooking lentils and want to still have little pops of texture, it is important not to overcook them so that you avoid mushy lentils. Always start tasting for doneness a good 7 to 10 minutes before you think they might be done to help give you a sense of how much longer your lentils need to cook. And tasting at least four different lentils from different areas of the pot will also help you judge cooking time.

Tips for Cooking Lentils

* You do not need to soak lentils before cooking them.

* Be sure to pick through your lentils to eliminate rocks or other debris, and rinse them before cooking.

* Add aromatics like onion, garlic or shallot, or herbs like bay leaf or thyme to the cooking liquid for extra flavor.

Are Lentils Healthy?

Lentils are a nutrient-dense food, rich in both protein and fiber. Just ½ cup of cooked lentils packs in 8 grams of fiber, which is nearly 33% of the daily fiber goal for women, per the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Fiber has a slew of health benefits, including lowering the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Lentils are also high in the B vitamin folate, a particularly important nutrient for pregnant and lactating women.

How to Cook Lentils on the Stove

Cooking lentils on the stovetop is simple, and just requires a few basic steps. To begin, for any style of lentil, pick through to find and discard any little rocks or debris, then rinse well.

How to Cook French Green, Beluga, Green or Brown Lentils

The best method for cooking French, beluga, green or brown lentils is to cook them in lots of boiling water then drain them when tender. Scroll down for more instructions.

How to Cook Red Lentils

Since red lentils break down during cooking, it is recommended to cook them in just the amount of liquid they need to become tender. Scroll down for more instructions.

How to Cook Lentils in a Pressure Cooker

Pressure cookers are great for speeding up lentil cooking. As for the stovetop, pick through for debris, and rinse well. It will be important to follow the specific instructions that come with your cooker, but generally, you will use 2 cups of water per 1 cup of lentils. Depending on your cooker, lentils like green or brown will need to cook for 12 to 15 minutes once the pot comes to pressure; red might be done in as little as 3 to 5 minutes. Once the pot has finished its cycle and you have followed the recommendations for releasing the pressure, drain the lentils in a colander and continue with your recipe.

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