How to Cook Lentils
Find out how to cook lentils, from green to red. Plus find 20 of the best lentil recipes from soups to salad.
Over the past 5 or so years, lentils have become a staple in my cooking. These little legumes are inexpensive, hearty, and filling. They are a good source of plant-based protein and iron, are low calorie, and high in fiber. One cup of cooked lentils provides nearly 18 grams of protein(1).
I love making lentils on food prep days to add to Buddha bowls and salads throughout the week, and adding them to soups and stews. My youngest daughter covers them in marinara, veggies, and cheese and bakes them into a pizza-like snack (I’ll have to share that recipe with you another time). Next up, be sure to check out my post on How to Cook Chickpeas + Best Chickpea Recipes and How to Cook Perfect Quinoa + Best Quinoa Recipes!
What are Lentils
Lentils are in the legume family, like beans. They are about the size of peas, but are flat like disks, and have a nutty, earthy flavor. Most commonly, lentils are purchased dried, though I’ve seen them fresh and sprouted at my local farmers market. You may also be able to find sprouted dried lentils, which may be easier to digest for some people. If you’re in a hurry, you can find vacuum-packed lentils in the refrigerated section of some stores such as Trader Joe’s, and canned lentils with the beans. These are handy for tossing in last minute soups.
Lentils are inexpensive, nutritious, and have been eaten worldwide for a very long time. Red lentil curry (dal) is a part of daily Indian cuisine. Ethiopian cuisine has it’s own red lentil stew. And they are commonly used in soups, stews, and salads throughout Europe and the Americas. In Italy, lentils are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve, as the coin shaped legumes are thought to bring prosperity in the new year.
There are many varieties of lentils, but the most common you’ll find in stores are green or brown and red, so I’ll be focusing on those. Beluga lentils are small black lentils resembling caviar, and also great for salads.
Green and brown lentils, as well as Beluga, French, and Puy lentils, hold their shape when cooked. They are about the size of peas, but can vary slightly. These are my choice for hearty salads. They take about half an hour to cook.
Red and yellow lentils can come split or whole. Don’t be surprised if your red lentils are not red at all – they are actually more orange. When they are split, the skin is removed and the lentils break in half. Red lentils cook very quickly (about 5 minutes) and break down to a soft consistency. They are great for very soft curries and creamy soups, but would be a poor choice for salads. Red lentils lend themselves well to coconut milk based creamy curries.
Rinse Dried Lentils Before Cooking
Lentils don’t need to be soaked the way beans do, but they should be rinsed. It’s important to always pick over and rinse your lentils, whether you’re using red or green. You may notice tiny stones or other debris with the lentils, and you’ll want to discard that. Some people also prefer to soak their lentils to aid in digestion and reduce anti-nutrients. Once you’ve rinsed the lentils in a bowl of water a few times, strain through a a sieve.
How to Cook Lentils on the Stove
For soups and stews, you can add lentils directly to the pot with the broth and other ingredients. Be sure to account for the liquid the lentils will absorb.
For salads and other preparations, you’ll be draining the cooked lentils, so it doesn’t matter how much water you use for cooking, so long as there’s enough to cover the lentils by a couple of inches. Using vegetable broth rather than water will add flavor. You can also add flavor by cooking with herbs and diced onions.
Simmer the lentils in a covered saucepan until they are tender. This will take about 30 minutes for medium sized whole green dried lentils. Taste a few lentils. They should be tender but firm. Drain any left over water and then season however you would like. I like to add fresh garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper.
How to Cook Lentils in the Instant Pot
Legumes are one of my favorite uses for the Instant Pot pressure cooker. It cuts down on the time and is just so quick and easy. Add one cup of dried, rinsed lentils to the pot and cover with one cup of water or broth. Cook on high pressure with the following times, then carefully quick pressure release. You can also cook green lentils for 5-6 minutes, then do a natural pressure release. I’ve grabbed these times from the official Instant Pot website. I wouldn’t recommend cooking red lentils in the Instant Pot unless it’s part of a recipe such as dal.
- Green and Brown Lentils: 8-10 minutes
- Red and Yellow Lentils: 1-2 minutes
Green Lentil Recipes
- Mediterranean Lentil Salad
- Lentil Salad with Tomatoes, Cucumbers, and Mustard Vinaigrette (shown at top)
- Vegan Lentil Loaf
- Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes
- Vegan Lentil “Meatballs”
- Instant Pot Lentil Soup
- Creamy Mushroom Lentil Soup
- Mexican Lentil Soup
- Lemony Lentil Soup
- Lentil Shepherd’s Pie
- Lentil Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
- Lentil Bolognese
- Lentil Sloppy Joe’s from Stacy Homemaker
- Chickpea and Lentil Taco Salad Meal Prep Bowls from She Likes Food
- Sweet Korean Lentils on It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken
- Vegan Lentil Balls with Sweet & Sour Sauce from Vegan in the Freezer
Red Lentil Recipes
- Easy Red Lentil Dal
- Curried Pumpkin Lentil Soup
- Ethiopian Lentil Stew on Connoisseurus Veg
- Cozy Red Lentil and Butternut Squash Stew on Oh She Glows
- Red Lentil Falafel in a Nanwich from Occasionally Eggs
Do lentils need to be soaked?
No, lentils cook much more quickly than beans and don’t need soaking. Some people like to soak them to aid in digestion.
How much do lentils expand?
Dried lentils will roughly double when cooked. So if you cook 1 cup of dried lentils you can expect to end up with around 2 cups.
Can red and green lentils be used interchangeably?
No, red lentils are much softer and will cook more quickly than green or brown.
Do lentils contain gluten?
No, lentils are naturally gluten-free. It’s a good idea to always check packaging, though, as contamination during processing is a possibility.
How do I season lentils?
When I pre-cook green lentils for meal prep to add to salads or bowls, I usually give them a tiny splash of good olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh garlic, and a little salt and pepper.
How Should Lentils Be Stored?
Keep dried lentils in an airtight container in the pantry and they have about a 2-3 year shelf life. Cooked lentils should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and will last about a week. You can also freeze your cooked lentils for 2-3 months.
- 1 cup whole green, brown, or French dried lentils
- 2 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Rinse and pick through the lentils, discarding any little stones or debris. Drain.
- Add the clean lentils and water or broth (broth adds flavor) to a medium saucepan.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer over low. Cook the lentils, covered, until they are tender, about 25-40 minutes depending on size.
- If all the liquid hasn't been absorbed, drain the lentils. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Allow the lentils to cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Be sure to check packaging for cook times, which may vary depending on size. My bag of sprouted green dried lentils from tru Roots, for example cooks in only 5 minutes!
See the post for recipe ideas, from soups to salads, to lentil "meatloaf" and more.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 60 Total Fat: 0g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 0g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: n/amg Carbohydrates: 10g Fiber: 4g Sugar: 1g Protein: 5g