Lentils are the small dried seeds of a shrub that’s native to Africa and regions that border the Mediterranean Sea. These little legumes are always cooked before eating.
Lentils Nutrition: Lentils are an excellent source of folate and a good source of fiber, protein, iron, and potassium. One of the advantages of lentils over dry beans is that they require no soaking and cook in 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the variety and desired doneness.
TIP: This Lentil, Quinoa, and Baby Kale Bowl recipe shows you how to cook green lentils in a fiber and protein-packed vegetarian main dish.
Three common varieties of lentils are shown above and described here, but there are other varieties, too, including yellow, green, and black lentils.
Lentils are most often sold dried. They are available year-round in bulk or packaged. When buying in bulk, make sure the bins are covered to ensure freshness. While dry lentils can be stored almost indefinitely, six months is recommended. Longer storage can cause the lentils to fade and become drier, which can require extended cooking times. Store dry lentils in an airtight container in a cool, dry place out of direct light. You can also find cooked, ready-to-use packages of lentils in some markets.
Tip: Because they’re precooked, canned lentils can make a super-quick, extra-easy to make option. Be sure to rinse well and drain before adding to your lentil recipes.
How long does it take to cook lentils? That depends on the type of lentils you’re using. The following instructions apply to any lentils you wish to cook, though note the variations in timings. Note that one pound (16 ounces) of dry lentils yields about 7 cups cooked. Remember, no soaking is required for cooking lentils.
Tip: To add a little flavor to your lentils recipe, replace some of the water with chicken broth or vegetable broth. For additional flavor, consider adding 1/2 cup chopped onion, minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, a bay leaf, and/or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed, to the cooking liquid along with the lentils. If using, remove the bay leaf before serving.
How to Cook Lentils for Lentil Salad: Cook green lentils or brown lentils as directed until just tender (do not cook too long or the lentils will be mushy in the salad). Cool completely. Toss with desired vegetables, such as chopped tomatoes, sliced green onion, sliced and quartered cucumber, and/or chopped carrot. Toss with enough vinaigrette, such as bottled balsamic vinaigrette, to moisten. If desired, toss in crumbled feta cheese, sliced olives, and/or snipped fresh basil. Cover and chill for 1 to 24 hours before serving.
Make our Caramelized Veggie Lentil Salad to see how to cook French green lentils in a totally up-to-date way.
Tip: How do you cook lentils for a hearty and nutritious side dish? Try this lentils recipe for pilaf.
How Long to Cook Lentils in Soup: When using brown or green lentils in soup, add the uncooked lentils to the soup and cook about 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. To cook red lentils in soup, add the uncooked red lentils and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until the lentils are tender.
Try our Lemony Lentil Soup with Greens to learn how to cook lentils in soup.
Tip: Wondering how to cook lentils in an Instant Pot? This Salmon with Lentil Hash and Bacon recipe is a great introduction. You cook lentils in the Instant Pot with salmon, potatoes, veggies, spices, and bacon. Dinner is truly ready in an instant!