How To Make Perfect Lentils
Are you watching your food budget like a hawk?
If so, meet lentils. One of the cheapest, most bang-for-your-buck items in the supermarket.
A 1-lb bag of lentils – good for several meals – costs right around $1.50.
Lentils are super versatile, a good source of fiber, and easy to make once you know the basic steps. Making just one lentil-based meal a week will help you save significant money over time.
What Are Lentils?
Lentils and beans come from the legume family. Lentils are small, round pulses that grow in pods. They are sold dried.
Lentils come in many varieties – different sizes, colors, and textures. Lentils are very common in Indian cooking, where they are called dal (the lentil) – and are used to make many varieties of dal (the dish).
Recipes Using Cooked Lentils
While cooked lentils can certainly be eaten plain, they are really easy to dress up. Here are some of my favorite ways to use lentils:
- In salads:
- In soups:
- In veggie burgers (like these curried lentil burgers)
- In this unique lemon-lentil dip
- With rice
- In Indian dishes
- As a side dish
How To Make (Perfect) Lentils
These instructions are for green, brown, or French lentils. This cooking method results in lentils that are perfectly cooked – not mushy – and can be eaten plain (hot or cold) or added to a recipe.
Note: Red and yellow lentils are cooked slightly differently.
To make a perfect batch of green, brown or French lentils, you’ll need:
- 1 part dried lentils (green, brown, or French lentils)
- 2 parts water
1: Soak lentils: For best results – and to help aid in the digestion of lentils – soak lentils in hot water for at least 15 minutes and up to 24 hours before cooking. If you’re crunched for time, simply start with step two.
2: Rinse: Place lentils in a strainer and rinse with cold water. Remove any discolored lentils or ones that are unusually small.
3: Choose cooking vessel: Place lentils in an appropriately-sized saucepan (use a large saucepan if you are making a large amount of lentils, a small saucepan if you are making a small amount of lentils, etc.). Add water. (Remember, it’s 2 parts water to 1 part lentils)
4: Cook lentils: Turn heat to medium-high and cook until the water comes to a rapid simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low so that the water gently simmers. Simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You can add a bit of water to the pot if it dries out before the lentils are done cooking, but don’t overdo it. You’ll know the lentils are done when they are fork tender but not mushy.
5: Remove from heat. To remove unwanted skins, place lentils in a strainer and rinse with cold water.
6: Eat or store: Use immediately or store lentils in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to two months.
Please note: Don’t salt the lentils until they are done cooking! If you add to the pan while cooking, the lentils may get tough.
Cooking Red Lentils
Red lentils (also known as masoor dal) cook faster than green, brown or French lentils. When cooked, they become soft and do not hold their shape. Therefore, perfectly cooked red lentils are not fork-tender. They are soft.
A lot of red lentil recipes involve cooking the lentils with other ingredients and spices (like in this creamy coconut and red lentil curry).
However, if you want to cook red lentils to eat plain, follow the method, above, with the following modifications:
- Avoid soaking
- The lentil-to-water ratio will be 1:3 (instead of 1:2 with green/brown/French lentils)
- The red lentils are cooked for between 7 and 10 minutes (for firmer lentils) or 15 and 20 minutes (for softer lentils)
- 1 cup brown, green or French lentils
- 2 cups water
- Soak lentils: If time allows, soak lentils in hot water for at least 15 minutes - and for up to 24 hours before cooking. This aids in the digestion of lentils. If you don't have time, proceed to Step 2.
- Rinse and sort lentils, removing any discolored or abnormal lentils.
- Place lentils and water in a medium-size saucepan.
- Turn on heat to medium-high. Bring water to a rapid simmer. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the water goes down too much, you can add a bit more so the lentils don't dry out. But don't add too much! The lentils are done when they are fork tender but not mushy.
- Remove from heat. If you want to remove outer skins, place in a colander and rinse with cold water. Otherwise, you can serve the lentils immediately or let them cool.
- Store, covered, in a container in the fridge for up to 5 days, or frozen for 2 or more months.