Learn how to cook lentils, a nutritious and healthy member of the legume family. These protein-packed pulses cook quickly with no soaking or advance planning required!
All over the world, people rely on lentils as an inexpensive, long-lasting, versatile source of plant-based protein. Lentils are an important part of many global cuisines, including Indian, North African, French, Greek, Turkish, and more. One most often finds lentils in soups, stews, and salads, but lentils are also a good substitute for meat in dishes like casseroles, sandwiches, and tacos.
Are Lentils Easy To Cook?
It may surprise you to learn that lentils are very easy to cook and are ready in under 30 minutes. With more people emphasizing a plant-based diet these days – or needing to cook for vegetarian friends and family members – now is a perfect time to start incorporating lentils into your regular repertoire.
But many of us do not know how to prepare lentils correctly or may be operating under the misapprehension that lentils require a long time to cook the way that beans – another source of plant-based protein – do. The good news is that lentils are very easy to prepare and cook quickly. So put aside any hesitation you may have about whether lentils will fit into your busy lifestyle – they definitely do!
What Are Lentils?
First, what are lentils? Lentils are pulses, which means that they are edible seeds from a plant in the legume family. All pulses are very nutritious and can be stored for a long time – up to one year – in their dried form. Most lentils that you find in the grocery store are, in fact, dried. Lentils can be red, brown, green, or black – but they are all lentils.
Different types of lentils behave differently when cooked, so it is important to choose the correct lentil for your finished dish. Red lentils tend to break down when cooked and become soupy and porridge-like in consistency. Reserve red lentils for soups, stews, like Indian dal, or dips. Brown, green, and black lentils, by contrast, will hold their shape even after cooking and have a pleasantly firm texture. This texture makes these lentil varieties suitable for salads and also as a substitute for meat in all kinds of dishes, such as tacos, burgers, and more.
How To Cook Dried Lentils – No Soaking!
The first thing to know about dried lentils is that they do not need to be soaked prior to cooking. In other words, lentils can go right from the bag to the cooking pot, which makes these pulses especially easy to fit into a busy lifestyle. You do want to rinse lentils and check them over for any pebbles or other debris prior to cooking, but that is all the advance preparation that is required.
On The Stovetop
The most popular method for cooking dried lentils is on the stovetop. Combine one cup of dried lentils with 3 cups of broth or water in a saucepan. Bring this mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer the lentils, covered, until tender. For red lentils, this may take as little as 7 minutes.
Brown, green, and black lentils typically need around 20 minutes of cooking to become tender enough to eat but still maintain some firmness. You may find that when you cook brown, green, or black lentils, there is excess liquid even after the lentils are cooked through. You can simply drain the lentils in a colander to remove this liquid. The lentils are now ready to use or store.
In The Instant Pot
You can also cook lentils in the Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker. Simply add a cup of rinsed lentils to the inner pot of your Instant Pot and cover with 3 cups of water or broth.
Close the lid and make sure that the pressure release valve is closed. Select the Pressure Cook or Manual function and set the cooking time to 9 minutes at high pressure for brown, green, or black lentils. The cooking time for red lentils is shorter: only 5 minutes.
Once the cooking program is complete, allow the pressure to release naturally for at least 5 minutes. This helps the lentils retain their shape. After that, you can release the pressure manually and remove the lid. Drain the lentils of any excess liquid if desired.
Remember: 3 cup of broth or water : 1 cup of dried lentils
Can You Season Lentils During Cooking?
However you prepare your lentils, you can add seasoning during cooking for more flavor, but whether you want to may depend on how you are planning to use the lentils once cooked. For basic lentils that can be used on any recipe, add a peeled whole clove of garlic, a pinch of kosher salt, and a bay leaf to the water or broth prior to cooking. (Go easy on the salt if you are cooking the lentils in broth as opposed to water.)
You can also sauté aromatics such as onion and garlic or vegetables in the same pot as you cook the lentils in. Simply sauté your vegetables and aromatics in olive oil until tender. Once the aromatics are softened and fragrant, you can either remove them with a slotted spoon – if you want them to stay somewhat firm to use in a salad, for example – and save them for the finished dish. Or, you can leave the aromatics in the pot, add the lentils and liquid, and cook as explained above, which is a good base for a lentil soup, for example.
How To Cook Canned Lentils
Canned lentils are already fully cooked, so they are a good option if you are especially pressed for time. In general, I prefer dried lentils because they are more economical, have a better texture, and contain less sodium than canned. However, canned lentils are extremely convenient, so they deserve a spot in your pantry as well.
Canned lentils, as I mentioned, contain a lot of sodium as a preservative, which may discourage some people from trying them. Rinsing the lentils well in a colander for at least 30 seconds prior to use removes much of the sodium, so do not skip this step when preparing canned lentils.
Once rinsed and drained, canned lentils can be added directly to sauces, soups, salads, and more. For hot dishes, like soups and stews, simply heat the lentils through and they are ready to serve. You can also puree canned lentils in a blender or food processor. If you want to sneak some extra protein to smoothies or baked goods, add a scoop of pureed lentils. Often, no one will even know that they are there!
There you have it! Everything you need to know about cooking lentils. You can see that lentils are easy to prepare and that they cook quickly with no advance planning required. I recommend that you keep at least two varieties of lentils in your pantry – red lentils and the common brown or green lentils. You will be amazed at how convenient and versatile lentils are and how they can help you eat a more plant-based diet without spending a lot of money.