How to Cook Lentils: An Easy Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

Learn how to cook a variety of lentils on the stovetop, in the slow cooker, and more.

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Lentils are an easy and wholesome part of the legume family and are also referred to as "pulses." They're affordable and quick to prepare, plus they serve as a fantastic source of vegan 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 how to cook lentils, how to prepare them, and a roundup of the different types available.

Types of Lentils

Various colors and kinds of lentils
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There are a variety of lentils on the market, each with its own flavor profile and texture. Often, how you cook them is based on the type you choose.

Red, Orange, and Yellow Lentils

These sweet lentils are all beautifully-hued variations of one specific variety. They're ideal for thick dips, 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 them. As a rule of thumb, remember that they generally take about 30 minutes on the stovetop.

Brown Lentils

This is the most common variety of lentils 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, and Indian Brown. The blackest and tiniest lentils are called Beluga lentils. If you're cooking black lentils, check for doneness after 15 minutes. Brown lentils will work well in spiced lentil soups and stews.

Green Lentils

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. 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

  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 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 prepping lentils—they are slow cooking and may toughen skins.
  5. Don't overcook your lentils (each type has a different cook time) and wait to season them with salt when finished.

How to Cook Lentils on the Stovetop

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.

  1. Place lentils in a large pot with at least 2 inches 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 the lentils are done. A good ratio to start with is 1 cup of lentils to 2½ cups of liquid.
  6. If you have any liquid left, strain lentils through a mesh sieve.

How to Cook Lentils in the 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 okay if your lentils get very soft. The final texture of the lentils is based on how much liquid you add, how long you cook them, and what temperature you set your slow cooker.

  1. Add all ingredients to the 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 and exact cook times by type. A great starting point is 1 cup lentils to 2½ cups liquid.

How to Cook Lentils in the Pressure Cooker

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.

  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.

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, vinegar, herbs, and spices to eat on their own, or add to soups, salads, lentil bowls, or even burritos!

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