Learn how to cook lentils and how to use lentils to make delicious hearty lentil-based recipes!
Lentils are full of fiber, protein, folate and iron and are such a delicious food to use in soups, curries, stews, bowls and even wraps. But if you’ve never cooked lentils before, you might feel a bit intimidated. But don’t worry, cooking lentils is easy and compared to beans actually a pretty quick process. So to make it short, we’ll be cooking some lentils today.
I’ll also give you some reasons to add lentils to your diet and share a few recipes that you can make with dried or cooked lentils.
Types Of Lentils
First things first, let’s have a look at the main types of lentils you are most likely to find in your grocery store.
Brown lentils – probably the most frequently used type of lentils. Brown lentils have a lovely, earthy taste, and take about 20-30 minutes to fully cook.
Green lentils also have an earthy taste but with slight hints of pepper. They take about 20 minutes to cook and hold their shape and texture very well.
French Lentils are similar to green lentils but smaller and take around 25 minutes to cook. They hold their shape perfectly when cooked and I find them ideal for salads and wraps – anywhere where you want to have more texture.
Red lentils. Distinguished particularly by their sweet and nutty taste, they take only 10-15 minutes to cook. They do become mushier when cooked and are perfect for creamy soups and curries.
Black or beluga lentils. These very small in size lentils have great taste and high nutritional value. They cook in around 20 minutes and are very appealing to the eye. For this reason, they are often used on salads or as garnish.
Whether green or black, red or brown, whichever type you choose to buy, you won’t be disappointed when you taste your lentils. Once you have your bag of lentils, head for the kitchen and turn on the stove. Then, simply follow our step-by-step guide about how to cook lentils.
How to cook lentils
Now that you have them, it’s time to cook your dry lentils. This is a very basic way to cook lentils without any spices or vegetables (we’ll talk about that later). The result will be tender lentils that are easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes like salads, wraps or soups. They’re perfect for food prep when you want to speed things up in the kitchen throughout the week.
Let’s get started!
Soak. Firstly, it would be a good idea to soak the lentils overnight or for at least two hours. This way, you reduce the cooking time. But it’s not only that. Lentils contain phytic acid and soaking reduces its levels. As a result, through soaking you improve the absorption of nutrients and minerals, such as protein, iron, zinc, and calcium in your gut.
If you choose to cook red lentils – you don’t need to soak them that long. They cook fast and 30 minutes is more than enough. then you may proceed with the next step as they don’t require soaking.
Rinse and drain the lentils in a fine mesh sieve under running water, so that you get rid of any dust or debris. Also, while rinsing, pick up any bad lentils or small stones that you can spot.
Add water. Add the lentils to a cooking pot or a large pan and pour in water or stock of your choice. If you’re using water, don’t forget to add a good amount of salt to the lentils. Otherwise, they will turn bland. The ratio of lentils to water should be at least 1:3.
Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and let the lentils simmer for 20-30 minutes. The cooking time depends very much on the type of lentils you use. For example, red lentils will cook in 10-15 minutes, green for about 20 minutes and brown can take around 25-30 minutes.
Why Do Some Lentils Cook Longer
Now, all this considered, cooking time also depends on how and how long the lentils have been stored. If you’ve got a bag of old lentils – they will cook for a long time.
Sometimes I’ve had green lentils that took 35 minutes to cook. I guess it was an old batch. So, I always find it’s best to just have a taste of the lentils after 20 minutes (except for red lentils) and if they’re tender – you’re done! If they’re not let them cook and check in 5 minutes again.
Another thing that can make lentils cook longer is adding acidic foods like vinegar, tomatoes or lemons to them.
Other Options To Cook Lentils
If you’ve got your taste buds set on a certain flavor, then it’s best to cook your lentils with the flavors you want from the start.
All you need to do to cook the lentils with the flavor you want is put your lentils and all the other ingredients you want into a pot. Cover with water and add salt (or stock), bring to a boil. Then let simmer until lentils are tender.
Here are some examples of things you can add when cooking lentils:
Herbs and spices. My favorite way to cook lentils is with some mint, cumin, hot paprika and sweet paprika. Other herbs and spices you might want to consider when it comes to cooking lentils include turmeric, coriander, oregano, basil and bay leaves. As they cook, the herbs and spices will simmer together with the lentils and will eventually give out their flavor to the fullest.
Vegetables. Now, my favorite types of vegetables to add to lentils are onion and garlic. Talk about enhancing flavor! These are also the two vegetables that I would definitely add from the start. When adding other vegetables to the lentils, consider their cooking time.
For example, you want to add chopped potatoes – do it at least 15 minutes before the lentils are supposed to be done. But you can add kale, spinach, mushrooms and broccoli in the last 5 minutes. Some other good vegetables to add to your lentils are red bell peppers, carrots, cauliflower and even cabbage. I know it sounds weird, but I actually have a delicious lentil vegetable soup recipe that uses most of these things and it’s wonderful.
Tomato. Now, tomatoes and tomato paste are a bit special. In some cases, lentils can take forever to cook when they’re simmered with tomatoes. Why? I’m not a food scientist, but it has something to do with the acidity of tomatoes preventing lentils from cooking faster. However, I do often cook my lentils with tomato paste and the difference in cooking time isn’t huge – around 5 minutes. The best way to go around it is to add the tomato paste in the last 7-8 minutes of cooking.
Don’t forget some oil! I find oil essential for lentils and other plant-based dishes. It enhances the flavor, but also helps to absorb some of the fat-soluble vitamins from the vegetables and spices. I do recommend adding the oil in the last 2-3 minutes of cooking.
Do You Need To Soak Lentils
Well, for most types of lentils – no. Especially the red lentils, they will cook pretty fast even if you don’t soak them.
However, I personally recommend soaking. The reason for this is to remove the phytates and anti-nutrients and to make the valuable nutrients like iron and zinc in the lentils more bioavailable aka more absorbable. Your body won’t benefit from something if it can’t absorb it.
Soaking lentils actually helps you to reduce the levels of these antinutrients and it’s a good way to clean your lentils thoroughly.
Reasons to Eat Lentils More Often
Now that you know how to cook lentils, here’s my last pitch on why you should add cooked lentils to your weekly menu:
Great source of protein. In this sense, lentils are a good alternative to fish and meat. Protein helps build and maintain not only your muscles but also your bones and skin. Just one cup of cooked lentils will provide you with 18 grams of high-quality, plant-based protein.
They are rather cheap! If you are on a tight budget or have already realized that more expensive doesn’t always mean better quality – get your favorite type of lentils. The price may be low, but the nutritional value is definitely high.
Very nutritious. Lentils are rich in polyphenols, prebiotic fiber, folate, potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron. They have a low glycemic index and no cholesterol – which makes them a perfect choice if you’re looking to enjoy a more cardiovascular-friendly diet. (source)
Lentils are a quite versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. Great in soups, wraps, curries, and stews, they will work equally well when mashed into burgers or vegan meatballs. Likewise, you could add them on top of salads, too. Serve either as a starter or a main course. You name it, the possibilities are endless.
Last but not least, they are really delicious. Cook them with your favorite spices to enrich the taste and then, treat yourself and your family to a healthy dish.
How to store cooked lentils
If you’ve cooked a lot of lentils, more than you can eat in one sitting, you can store them in the fridge for 3-4 days. To do this, let the leftovers cool down to room temperature. Placing warm food in the fridge can change the inner temperature of the refrigerator and as a result, compromise the quality of the products already in it.
Once cooled down, place the lentils in airtight containers or mason jars, close and put them in the fridge.
You can also rinse and drain lentils really well and freeze them for up to 3-4 months to use in soups, stews and other dishes. Defrost by transferring to the fridge the previous night before reheating. This is a much better option than buying canned lentils.
Are cooked lentils good for meal prep?
Yes, absolutely! If you are often short of time during weekdays, plan your weekly menu in advance. Whether soups and stews or wraps and burgers, lentils can be a part of the dish.
So, boil one bag of lentils following the step-by-step guide as shown above. When cooled down, transfer to airtight containers and store in the fridge for the next 3-4 days. As a result, you will have a healthy, high-protein ingredient close at hand.
Favorite meals with lentils
Well, I hope you learned how to cook lentils and can successfully cook your first batch of lentils this week. Once you’re ready, here are some delicious lentil recipes to help you use your cooked and dry lentils:
- Lentil coconut curry
- Mini Pitas With Spicy Lentils
- Easy Lentil Soup
- Lentil Lettuce Tacos
- Healthy Lentil Bowls
- Evolved Lentil Wraps
- 1 cup lentils, soaked overnight
- 3-4 cups water or stock
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 garlic cloves,
- 1 onion, thinly chopped
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp mint
- 1 cup spinach
- Rinse and drain the lentils.
- Add to a cooking pot with water and salt, or vegetable stock. Start with 3 cups or to cover and if needed, add more while the lentils are cooking.
- If you desire, add in the onion, garlic, paprika, crushed red pepper, cumin, paprika and mint.
- Cover the pot and bring the lentils to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to simmer and allow 20-25 minutes for the lentils to cook (shorter if you have red lentils).
- If you wish, during the last 5 minutes add in 1 tbsp olive oil, the tomato paste and spinach, add water/stock if needed (I usually don't need to add extra water and like my lentils thicker). Give it a good stir and let simmer for 5-6 more minutes.
- Enjoy your lentils!
Nutrition InformationYield 3 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 171Total Fat 2gSaturated Fat 0gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 1gCholesterol 2mgSodium 207mgCarbohydrates 30gFiber 8gSugar 9gProtein 11g