How to Cook Lentils

  • 01 of 05

    Choose Your Lentil

    cooked lentils in bowl
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    Lentils are a high-protein, high-fiber legume that cooks quickly and does not require pre-soaking like other beans. Depending on the variety of lentil you choose, they can cook down to a smooth puree or retain their shape and some firmness after boiling. While red, yellow, and brown lentils cook quickly (about 20-25 minutes), green lentils or French Puy lentils may require more time (about 40-45 minutes).

    The instructions that follow are for the basic brown variety of lentil. If cooking green...MORE lentils, simply increase the cooking time. If cooking red or yellow lentils, be aware that they will break down more than what is pictured.

    Lentils make fantastic additions to soups, stews, salads, and pilafs. Their flavor is mild and somewhat nutty and they are an excellent low-cost meat substitute. Because lentils are dried, they have an extremely long shelf life when stored properly.

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  • 02 of 05

    Sort and Rinse the Lentils

    rinsed lentils in colander over sink
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    Before you begin, the lentils should be sorted and rinsed. Spread the lentils out on a flat surface (a baking sheet works well) so that all pieces are visible. Remove any stones, dirt, damaged lentils, or other debris.

    Place the sorted lentils into a colander or bowl and rinse well with cool water to remove any fine particles. If the holes in your colander are too large to hold in the lentils, a small bowl will work well. Simply fill the bowl with water, swirl the lentils, and then carefully pour...MORE out as much water as possible. Repeat two to three times.

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  • 03 of 05

    Boil Lentils

    garlic being added to boiling pot of lentils
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    For every one cup of lentils that are being cooked, use one and a half cups of water. Place the water in a medium sauce pot without the lentils. Bring the water to a rolling boil and then add the sorted and rinsed lentils. Allow the mixture to return to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, place a lid on top, and allow them to simmer for 20 minutes.

    If desired, herbs and spices may be added to the cooking water for additional flavor. Salt should not be added to the water as this may prevent the...MORE lentils from softening.

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  • 04 of 05

    Test the Texture of the Lentils

    lentils in pan on stove
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    After twenty minutes, use a fork to remove a few lentils from the simmering water. Taste the lentils to test the texture. The lentils should be tender and somewhat firm, but not crunchy. If the lentils are not yet to your desired level of doneness, allow to simmer for five minutes more and test again. Repeat this until the lentils have reached the texture you desire.

    Note: Remember that green lentils may take up to 45 minutes to become tender. Red and yellow lentils will break down quickly during...MORE cooking and form a puree, rather than retaining their shape.

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  • 05 of 05

    Drain the Lentils

    metal colander
    Maximilian Stock Ltd./Photolibrary/Getty Images

    Pour the lentils and the cooking water into a colander to drain. The lentils may be seasoned with salt at this time. Lentils can be served warm, added to other recipes, or chilled and used to top salads.