Lentils are delicious in soups or salads, and also taste great as a side dish. Learn how to cook and prepare lentils on the stovetop, in the slow cooker and more.

By Julie Hartigan

Lentils are a quick, easy, wholesome part of the legume family, also referred to as “pulses.” They’re affordable,they're quick to prepare, 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. With all this to rave about, how to cook dry lentils is clearly a helpful kitchen skill to master! If you’re not sure about lentils and how to cook them, you’re in the right place. This guide covers everything you need to know including how to prepare lentils, how to cook lentils in different ways (ie: how to cook lentils in a crock pot vs. a pressure cooker), 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!

Various colors and kinds of lentils

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: They generally take about 30 minutes on the stovetop.

Brown Lentils

These are 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. When it comes to how to cook black lentils, start checking for doneness after 15 minutes.

Green Lentils

Green Lentils are a popular for their hearty and somewhat 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. We cover easy options for how to cook green lentils below.

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:

Lentils in a pot

  1. 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.
  2. Rinse lentils in a colander and sift through to remove small rocks and debris.
  3. Add flavor to lentils while cooking by simmering in chicken or vegetable broth with aromatics like onions and garlic, fresh herbs, or spices.
  4. Skip the salt and acidic ingredients like vinegar and lemon juice while cooking lentils—they slow cooking and may toughen skins.
  5. Don’t overcook your lentils and wait to season with salt when finished.

How to Cook Lentils

How long to cook lentils? Not only is that based on the variety of lentil you choose but also the method you choose to cook them! When deciding how to cook lentils consider these three main techniques:

Stovetop

A simple way to cook perfectly tender lentils is on the stovetop. Here’s how to cook red lentils, green lentils—really, how to easily cook any variety in a basic soup pot! This technique is great for when you want total control over how firm or soft your lentils become.

  1. Place lentils in a large pot with at least 2” of unsalted liquid covering them.
  2. Bring to a rapid simmer.
  3. Reduce heat to very low, so only slow bubbles appear.
  4. 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.
  5. Add more liquid as needed until lentils are done. A good ratio to start with is 1 cup of lentils to 2½ cups liquid.
  6. If you have any liquid left, strain lentils through a mesh sieve.

Salmon With Warm Lentil Salad

Slow Cooker

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:

  1. Add all ingredient to slow cooker and set on low or high.
  2. 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.
  3. A great starting point is 1 cup lentils to 2½ cups liquid.

Curried Lentils With Chicken and Potatoes

Pressure Cooker

Pressure cookers slash cook time, making for 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:

  1. Place lentils and seasoned liquid in the pressure cooker. A good ratio to start with is 1 cup lentils to 2 ¼ cups liquid.
  2. Cook for 6-15 minutes on high pressure depending on the type of lentil.
  3. Allow the pressure cooker to release pressure naturally for about 10 minutes to finish the cooking process.

Spiced Chicken Breasts With Lentil and Radicchio Salad

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!

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