How to Cook Lentils

The mini but mighty lentil is a nutrient powerhouse that tastes great in soups, salads, side dishes, and more. Our tips and techniques will show you how to cook lentils. Plus, get our favorite lentil recipes and tips for choosing and storing dried lentils.

What Are Lentils?

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.

lentils

Types of Lentils

Three common varieties of lentils are shown above and described here, but there are other varieties, too, including yellow, green, and black lentils.

  • Dry brown lentils: These are inexpensive and easy to find in most grocery stores. They hold their shape well after cooking, so consider them for soups, salads, side dishes, and meatless main dishes.
  • Dry French green lentils: Also called du Puy lentils, these dark slate-green lentils hold their shape especially nicely when cooked. Their peppery flavor and texture make them a good choice for many dishes, including soups, salads, side dishes, and main dishes. French lentils tend to be more expensive, and finding them might require a visit to a specialty market.
  • Dry red lentils: This thin-skin variety tends to cook quickly and break up while cooking. The lentils are small and often sold split, revealing an orange-red color. Consider red lentils for thickening soups, making purees, and using in recipes where their softer texture is desired. They are commonly used in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes.
Lemony Lentil Soup with Greens

How to Buy and Store 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.

Lentil Pilaf

How to Cook Lentils

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.

  • Place 1 pound lentils in a colander or sieve, and rinse with cool running water; drain.
  • In a Dutch oven or large saucepan combine 5 cups cool water and the 1 pound lentils. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until tender, stirring occasionally.  
    • How long to cook lentils: Allow 25 to 30 minutes for yellow or brown lentils.
    • How long to cook green lentils: Allow 25 to 30 minutes to cook green lentils
    • How long to cook red lentils: Allow 5 to 10 minutes to cook red lentils.
  • After cooking, drain any excess cooking liquid and use as desired.
  • To store cooked lentils, place in a covered storage container and chill for up to 3 days.

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!

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