Learn how to cook lentils so that they come out perfectly every time. Plus how to flavor them, recipe ideas, and how to freeze them for future use.
Let's learn how to cook lentils right on the stove in less than thirty minutes. Lentils are affordable, super nutritious, and versatile. They can be used as a side dish or to make all kinds of main dishes including tacos, salads, sloppy joes, soup, burgers, and more.
Lentils are a fantastic side dish and one we often don't think about. They can be cooked on the stove-top in about the same amount of time it takes to cook rice and can be flavored with all kinds of spices to match any meal. They are also packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and they are a good source of plant-based protein.
Lentils also make a great base for a vegetarian meal or as a way to bulk up meat-based dishes and stretch your protein. Their hearty taste and texture make them a perfect option for dishes like tacos, sloppy joes, pasta (as a sub for meat), stuffed peppers, and more. They keep well in the fridge and freezer so you can make a big batch and use them in all kinds of dishes.
One quick tip, when buying lentils, try to make sure you buy fresh lentils since older lentils won't cook as evenly and sometimes shed an outer layer during cooking. Make sure to wait until the end of cooking to add acidic ingredients since it can make the lentils crunchy when added early in the cooking process.
How to Prepare Lentils for Cooking
- Start by choosing the freshest lentils you can find. This may sound strange since lentils are dried, but older lentils generally take longer to cook and sometimes shed the outside layer when cooking. Since it can be hard to know how fresh dried lentils are, I usually buy them from bulk bins since they tend to be fresher. You can also try and avoid lentils that look discolored, which can be another sign of age.
- Rinse and sort the lentils: You always want to rinse your lentils to make sure to remove any dirt and debris. You also want to sort them to remove any small rocks that could end up in the lentil mixture.
- Avoid acids: Generally speaking, you don't want to add acids (like tomatoes, vinegar, citrus juices) to your lentils until after they have cooked since it can slow down or halt the cooking process. There are some exceptions to this but it is a good rule of thumb.
How to Cook Lentils on the Stove
It couldn't be easier to cook lentils on the stovetop and they only take 15-20 minutes in most cases. The cooking time will vary slightly depending on the type of lentil, which are included below.
Always start by rinsing the lentils and sorting to remove any small rocks. Although this isn't common, it is something that can happen and no one wants to worry about chipping a tooth while eating lentils.
Next, bring the liquid to a boil. Water and broth are the most common liquids to use when cooking lentils. For every 1 cup of dried lentils, you need about 4 cups of liquid.
Add the dried lentils to the boiling liquid. Stir and turn down to a low simmer. This is also when you can add salt, seasoning, dried herbs (a bay leaf adds so much flavor), garlic, onions, or other flavor agents.
Let the lentils simmer and stir as needed. Depending on the type of lentils, they will take between about 6 minutes for red lentils to 20-25 minutes for French lentils. Check the lentils for doneness and then continuing cooking until soft but not mushy. The exact time will vary slightly.
- Red lentils: Check at 6-8 minutes.
- Green and brown lentils: Check at 15-17 minutes.
- Black beluga lentils: Check at 17-20 minutes.
- French green lentils: Check at 18-22 minutes.
Drain the lentils using a fine strainer to remove the excess liquid. Season with salt to taste.
How to Add Flavor to Lentils
Lentils are basically a blank canvas and there are so many different ways to add flavor during and after cooking them.
- Bay leaves pair really well with the earthy taste of lentils. Add a dried bay leaf to your pot when cooking. This is something I do every time I cook lentils.
- Garlic is another option for adding flavor. Let a few cloves cook with the lentils. Once they are soft, you can mash them and add them back into the cooked lentils.
- Add some chopped onion, celery, or carrots to enhance the flavor of the lentils. These can be added raw (except for red lentils since they cook too quickly) or for more flavor, state them in olive oil before adding the cooking liquid and lentils.
- Fresh or dried herbs are another option to build flavor including rosemary, thyme, oregano, or parsley.
- Dried spices like paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, ground ginger, chili powder, or curry powder can all add flavor to your lentils.
- After the lentils are cooked, there are so many ways to add flavor. Consider diced tomatoes, pesto, fresh chopped herbs, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, a drizzle of vinegar, or any other sauces, seasonings, or toppings.
Turning Lentils Into a Meal
- Tacos: Combine the lentils with pico de gallo, store-bought salsa, chipotle peppers in adobo, or even taco seasoning to make quick vegetarian tacos. Top with all your favorite for an easy and hearty vegetarian meal.
- Salad: Lentils are a great addition to make salads heartier and more filling.
- Soup and stews: Although dried lentils are usually used to make soup, you can also add cooked lentils to all kinds of soups and stews to make them heartier and more filling. Add them to your favorite homemade or store-bought chicken soup, vegetable soup, or bean soup.
- Burgers: You can use cooked lentils in place of beans in most vegetarian burgers.
- Pasta sauce: Instead of meat, use cooked lentils in your pasta and pasta sauce. Make a super healthy and hearty bolognese with cooked lentils.
- Add eggs: One of my favorite simple meals is cooked lentils with whatever greens or vegetables I have at home and poached eggs. It is so simple but so delicious.
Can I make lentils in the slow cooker?
Lentils can be cooked in the slow cooker. You will want to use the same 1 cup of lentils to 4 cups of liquid and can add any of the flavor enhancers. Cook the lentils on high for 3-4 hours and low on 6-8 hours. Drain once they are cooked. Red lentils tend to overcook and break down in the slow cooker so I only recommend cooking red lentils this way for soup.
How to make lentils in the Instant Pot?
It's easy to cook lentils in the Instant Pot. For the Instant Pot, use a ratio of 1 cup of lentils to 2 cups of liquid. Cook them on high pressure for 9 minutes and then quick release so that the lentils don't overcook. This is best for standard green or brown lentils.
How to freeze lentils?
Lentils are great for batch cooking and freezing. Make a large batch and portion out to freeze. They will last in the freezer for up to 6 months when stored correctly. Defrost overnight in the fridge or gently in a pan or the microwave.
Looking for more lentil recipes?
Simple Stovetop Lentils
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- 4 cups water (or broth)
- 1 cup lentils
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
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* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
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