How to Cook Lentils

Learn how to cook lentils perfectly every time! Tasty, nutritious, and easy to make, they're a fantastic way to add protein to salads, side dishes, and more.

Lentils in a pot

If you’re interested in adding more plant-based meals to your diet, lentils are one of the first things you should turn to. These tiny legumes are protein and fiber powerhouses, they’re easy to cook, and they have a delicious earthy flavor that adds to all sorts of dishes. Read on to find my go-to method for how to cook lentils, along with information about different varieties and my favorite lentil recipes.

How to Cook Lentils

My method for how to cook lentils is easy! It comes down to 2 basic steps:

  1. Rinse. On occasion, you’ll find small rocks or debris mixed in with dried lentils. To avoid eating them, rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve and pick them over before you cook them. Discard any shriveled lentils in addition to debris.
  2. Then, simmer! Unlike when you’re cooking couscous or quinoa, you don’t need to use a specific lentil:cups of water ratio. Just fill a large pot halfway with water, bring it to a boil, and add the lentils. Simmer until they’re tender. The specific cook time will depend on what type of lentils you’re cooking.

Types of lentils

Types of Lentils and How to Use Them

Not all varieties of lentils are interchangeable, and each works particularly well in different types of recipes. Here are the varieties you’ll most often see in stores, along with suggestions for how to use them:

Le Puy or French Green Lentils

My favorite type of lentils! These guys hold their shape as they cook, and they have a yummy firm texture. I like to use them in lentil salad and pasta sauce, and their hearty texture is also delicious in my curried lentil soup.

French green lentils

Beluga Lentils

These black lentils are very similar to the French green variety. In fact, you could use them interchangeably in most lentil recipes! They cook in about 20 minutes, and they have a nice bite. I turn to them when I want to add lentils to a salad or serve them on their own as hearty side dish.

Black lentils

Regular Green or Brown Lentils

If you’re making a homey soup or stew, either regular green or brown lentils would be an excellent choice. Instead of holding their shape, they soften and become mushy as they cook. I like to add the dried lentils to a big pot of soup and let it simmer until they become tender, about 30 minutes.

Green lentils

Red Lentils

Red (or yellow) lentils cook much more quickly than any other variety. They become soft and tender after simmering for just 15 minutes! As they cook, they melt and dissolve, creating a delicious creamy texture. Consequently, they’re a great choice for adding to thick curries, stews, or an Indian dal. I even blend them into a luscious, hummus-like dip!

Red lentils

Favorite Lentil Recipes

Below, you’ll find my go-to method for seasoning cooked French lentils. I toss them with lemon juice, Dijon mustard, fresh herbs, and red pepper flakes to make a nutritious side dish or base for plant-based bowls. They keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, so they’re one of my favorite proteins to meal prep and keep on hand in the fridge.

Beyond this simple preparation, there are endless ways to use them. Aside from the lentil recipes I mentioned above, these are a few of my favorites:

  • Sauté cooked French green lentils with garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, and black pepper to use as a hearty filling for vegetarian tacos. You could also add a handful of chopped walnuts for crunch!
  • Swap them for the chickpeas in my many-veggie soup, adding them to the pot at the same time as the broth.
  • Toss them with a simple vegetable pasta for extra protein.
  • Use them in a Morrocan-spiced salad, like the Roasted and Raw Carrot Salad on page 121 of Love and Lemons Every Day.
  • Stuff them into veggies to make a protein-packed vegetarian main dish, like the Mediterranean Stuffed Eggplant on page 179 of Love and Lemons Every Day. Alternatively, pile them into a cozy baked sweet potato!
  • Use them in homemade falafel! Find my red lentil falafel recipe on page 137 of Love and Lemons Every Day.

Do you have any favorite lentil recipes? Let me know in the comments!

Lentil recipe

More Plant-Based Cooking Basics

If you love this recipe, try one of these plant-based cooking components next:

How to Cook Lentils

rate this recipe:
5 from 8 votes
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 25 mins
Serves 4 to 6
This is my go-to method for cooking lentils. Once your lentils are cooked, try the tangy marinade that makes the lentils delicious and ready to be tossed into salads or bowls.

Ingredients

Cooked Lentils

  • 1 cup uncooked French green or black lentils
  • pot of water

Lemon-Herb Dressing, optional

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • pinches of red pepper flakes, optional.

Instructions

  • Cook the lentils: In a medium saucepan, combine the lentils and water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 17 to 20 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain any excess water, let cool. Use in any recipe that calls for cooked lentils.
  • Make the Lemon-Herb Dressing: Transfer the cooked lentils to a medium bowl. Stir in the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, mustard, and pepper. Stir in the parsley and red pepper flakes, if using. Serve as a side dish or store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

Yields 2 1/2 cups cooked lentils.

 

12 comments

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  1. Bridget
    01.16.2020

    Do you have any tips for how to reduce the classic affect that legumes play on the gut? We’ve been trying to use lentils and beans to get more plant based proteins but are finding we are getting upset tummies! (gas, bloating, all the fun things) Perhaps a good soak before the cook, or rinsing off the extra fiber once they’re ready? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      01.17.2020

      Hi Bridget, you can soak them, I’d probably check them a little earlier while cooking so that they don’t turn out mushy. Based on my personal experience – I’d try sticking to the foods that make you feel good, first. Legumes, whole grains, and raw veggies (especially if you’re increasing them all) can be rough on digestion, sometimes it’s best to bring these foods in little by little and in smaller quantities to begin with. Hope that helps!

    • Frank from nutritix.blogspot.com
      07.23.2020

      I agree, work legumes into your diet slowly, and vary your protein sources for best digestive happiness. For example, alternate among tofu, tempeh, legumes, quinoa, and the like, avoiding getting “stuck” on one in particular. You can also try soaking legumes in pure water with a little lemon juice first and then rinsing prior to cooking, particularly good with black beans. I also prefer to de-husk chickpeas after cooking, it’s tedious, but makes for smoother hummus and better digestion, too. Alton Brown specifies using 1/8 t of baking soda when cooking chickpeas, I rinse afterwards, not sure why he includes that, but little tricks like these may help! And then there’s Beano enzyme, available at most markets, I haven’t used it, but it’s supposedly helpful for easier legume digestion, too.

  2. Sabrina from newkitchenlife.com
    01.16.2020

    thank you, lentils are one of my approved legumes for slow carb, much appreciated!

  3. Kristie May
    01.17.2020

    What is a good source for your favorite black lentils?
    🙂

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      01.17.2020

      Hi Kristie, I find them in the bulk bin section at Whole Foods. In a pinch, they’re always on amazon, I’m not sure if one brand is better than another. I get Bob’s French Green Lentils, but I don’t see that they make black lentils.

    • Frank from nutritix.blogspot.com
      07.23.2020

      timelessfood.com, organic and straight from the source in Montana!

  4. its so nice to know you can turn boring lentils into tasty dishes. thanks for sharing

  5. Michael
    02.03.2020

    I’ve always started lentils in a pot with water. The first part of this post has you adding them to boiling water, then the recipe is what I’m used to. Is there a benefit to one over the other?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      02.03.2020

      Hi Michael – either way works, the only difference is that I start checking them a few minutes earlier if I start them in a pot of cold water.

      • Michael
        02.03.2020

        I went with adding to plenty of boiling water and draining, almost like pasta but not as much water. I think I like it better and may change my lentil ways. Thanks!

  6. Jo
    02.20.2020

    5 stars
    I’ve never cooked lentils before, much less ate them. Thank you for showing me how!

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Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.