Dried lentils are a useful pantry staple, as they’re inexpensive, nutritious and versatile. They can be used in salads, soups, burgers, fritters or as a side dish on their own. They also stay fresh for up to a year. However, older lentils can take longer to cook, making recipes a little trickier, so always try to cook with the freshest lentils possible.
Another bonus to lentils is that they’re so easy to cook! Unlike dried beans, dried lentils don’t require being soaked prior to cooking. Here’s a step-by-step guide for how to cook lentils on the stove:
- Rinse lentils in a colander until the water runs clear, removing any pebbles or shriveled lentils.
- Add rinsed lentils to a pot with water and seasonings (if desired), such as garlic or bay leaf. Don’t add salt at this step, since it can cause the lentils to remain crunchy even after they’re cooked.
- Bring lentils to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer on low for 20 to 30 minutes. For red and yellow lentils, check regularly after 15 minutes. This procedure is key to avoiding mushy lentils. Once lentils are tender, they’re done.
- Strain excess liquid.
- Add salt to taste.
Cooked lentils can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days
Different Varieties of Lentils
Lentils are vegetarian- and vegan-friendly legumes that are packed with fiber and protein. They’re wonderful in soups and stews in winter and make great additions to cold salads in summer.
There are many different types of lentils, and each variety has its own unique characteristics:
- Green and brown lentils cook quickly and evenly without becoming mushy.
- Red and yellow lentils cook faster because their seed coats have been removed. This means they have a tendency to become too mushy to be used in salads, but make a great addition to soups and sauces.
- French lentils du puy are green with a slightly firmer texture and they’re exclusively grown in France.
- Beluga lentils are tiny and black, and they look almost like caviar with a thick skin. This creates a firmer texture that holds up to longer cooking times.
Generally speaking, lentils require 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of dried lentils. If needed, top off the water while cooking to ensure that the lentils are just barely covered.
Note that you don’t always need to use water in this ratio. Using a different cooking liquid, such as chicken stock, will infuse a boost of flavor to the lentils while they cook.
Instant Pot Lentils
Using an Instant Pot is a great way to cook lentils. Simply add your 2:1 ratio of water to lentils and seasonings (except for salt), and cook on high pressure for the recommended times below. Then allow a natural pressure release for 10 minutes before switching the pressure valve to vent to quickly release the remaining pressure. Stir the lentils, remove the bay leaf if used, and either strain excess liquid or serve with the liquid.
Recommended cooking times:
- Red and yellow lentils: 1-2 minutes
- Black lentils: 6-7 minutes
- Brown and green lentils: 8-10 minutes
When cooking lentils in a slow cooker, opt for black beluga, French du puy or green lentils, since their firm texture holds up best to longer cooking times. Simply add your 2:1 ratio of water to lentils to your slow cooker, add seasoning if desired, and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours. Check them every few hours and add water to cover, if necessary. Add salt for the final 10 to 15 minutes of cooking. Drain excess liquid and serve or add to your favorite recipe.
Lentil Recipe Roundup
There’s no shortage of great recipes using lentils, including some unexpected dishes that are sure to become family favorites — like our Lentil Tacos, below. Pick a lentil recipe to try and easily add the ingredients you need to your online shopping cart.