How to Cook Lentils: The Ultimate Easy Step-by-Step Guide
Lentils are a quick, easy, wholesome part of the legume family, also referred to as "pulses." They're affordable and quick to prepare, plus they serve as a fantastic source of protein and store easily in the pantry. We love lentils in everything from soups and stews to salads, dips, and side dishes. Clearly, learning to cook dried lentils is a kitchen skill worth mastering.
This guide covers everything you need to know: how to prepare lentils, how to cook them them using different appliances, how long to cook lentils, and a roundup of the different types available. You'll learn how to cook red split lentils, how to cook French green lentils, and every type in between!
Different Types of Lentils
There are a variety of lentils widely available on the market, each with it's own flavor profile and texture. Often, the answer to "How do you cook lentils?" or "How long do you cook lentils" is based on the variety you choose.
Red, Orange, and Yellow Lentils
These sweet lentils are all beautifully-hued variations of one specific variety. They're ideal for thick soups, sauces, curries, or Indian daal. You can find them in Indian or Middle Eastern markets labeled as masoor (red lentils) or channa (yellow lentils). Since they get mushy easily, it's important to know how long to cook red lentils. As a rule of thumb, remember that they generally take about 30 minutes on the stovetop.
This is the most common variety of lentil, and what you'll see most often at your local grocery store. They generally have a mild, earthy flavor, cook quickly in about 20 to 30 minutes, and hold their shape fairly well. Common varieties include Spanish Brown, German Brown, or Indian Brown. The blackest and tiniest lentils are called Beluga lentils. If you're cooking black lentils, start checking for doneness after 15 minutes.
Green Lentils are much-loved for their hearty and peppery flavor, and they also stay firm after cooking, which makes them perfect for salads and sides. How long to cook green lentils? Slowly, for 45 minutes, to preserve that firm texture. Varieties include Lentilles du Puy, Puy Lentils, or French Green lentils.
How to Prepare Lentils
Whether you want to learn how to cook lentil soup or how to cook lentils for a variety of dishes, once you've chosen the type of lentil the steps are the same. Here's a summary of how to prepare lentils:
- Buy the freshest lentils possible (look for a date on the package). Older lentils require much longer to cook and sometimes don't soften at all.
- Rinse lentils in a colander and sift through to remove small rocks and debris.
- Add flavor to lentils while cooking by simmering in chicken or vegetable broth with aromatics like onions and garlic, fresh herbs, or spices.
- Skip the salt and acidic ingredients like vinegar and lemon juice while cooking lentils—they slow cooking and may toughen skins.
- Don't overcook your lentils and wait to season with salt when finished.
How to Cook Lentils
Cook time is based on the variety of lentil you choose and the method you choose to cook them. When deciding how to cook lentils consider these three main techniques:
A simple way to cook perfectly tender lentils is on the stovetop. This technique is great for when you want total control over how firm or soft your lentils become.
- Place lentils in a large pot with at least 2" of unsalted liquid covering them.
- Bring to a rapid simmer.
- Reduce heat to very low, so only slow bubbles appear.
- Cook your lentils uncovered on low heat for 20-45 minutes (based on the variety) to plump them up while avoiding split skins and mushy results.
- Add more liquid as needed until lentils are done. A good ratio to start with is 1 cup of lentils to 2½ cups liquid.
- If you have any liquid left, strain lentils through a mesh sieve.
Cooking lentils in a slow cooker is a wonderful way to let them tenderize and allow their flavor to meld with other ingredients. A slow cooker is also fantastic for making soups and stews where it's ok if your lentils get very soft such as in Red Lentil Daal. The final texture of the lentils is based on how much liquid you add and how long/what temperature you set your slow cooker to. Here's how to cook them:
- Add all ingredient to slow cooker and set on low or high.
- Set the time based on the type of lentil you're cooking. It's helpful to refer to recipes or your slow cooker's instruction manual for more precise ratios of lentil to liquid as well as exact cook times by type.
- A great starting point is 1 cup lentils to 2½ cups liquid.
Like a slow cooker, pressure cookers slash cook time, making for super speedy meal prep! Just be sure to stick with brown or green lentils; red, yellow, and orange lentils will turn to mush under high pressure. Here's how to cook lentils in a pressure cooker:
- Place lentils and seasoned liquid in the pressure cooker. A good ratio to start with is 1 cup lentils to 2 ¼ cups liquid.
- Cook for 6-15 minutes on high pressure depending on the type of lentil.
- Allow the pressure cooker to release pressure naturally for about 10 minutes to finish the cooking process.
That's it! Cooked lentils will keep refrigerated for about a week, making them super convenient for fast meals and on-the-fly cooking. Just season with oils, vinegars, herbs and spices to eat on their own, or add to soups, salads, lentil bowls or even burritos!