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

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How to Cook Lentils

rate this recipe:
5 from 80 votes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
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.

Equipment

Ingredients

Cooked Lentils

Lemon-Herb Dressing, 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.

71 comments

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  1. Sue
    02.17.2024

    Hi, I am pretty sure this is a “me” problem as I am hopeless in the kitchen m but every time I try to make lentils, they SPROUT! They give birth, I swear! There are white curls protruding!
    What the heck am I doing wrong!
    Thanks,
    Sue

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      02.17.2024

      Hi Sue, are you soaking them prior to cooking them or just cooking them from dry according to the instructions? I’d suggest trying a different brand – I like Bob’s Red Mill’s lentils.

      • Sylvie
        02.17.2024

        Hi, no never soaked them! Just like evil lentils. Hiya…I even tried two different bags (from the same store) because I thought maybe the first bag 2as too old or something…. Maybe I’ll try Bob’s Mills…thanks 🙂

    • Shay
      02.18.2024

      5 stars
      There’s nothing wrong with sprouted lentils as they are actually easier to digest and makes the nutrients more bioavailable. Keep on sprouting them!

  2. Sherrie Bruner
    02.06.2024

    I make quesadillas with my lentils. You have many good recipes..

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)
      02.09.2024

      Hi Sherrie, so glad you’re enjoying the recipes! Love the idea to use lentils in a quesadilla.

  3. Marylou Cardoza
    01.19.2024

    5 stars
    Yippee ❣️ what break through kind of post! I’ve been vegetarian for 10 years and I never realized that I could substitute lentils for meat in recipe. I just did a potato lentils mixture with a bit of Dijon mustard and then topped with wilted Swiss Chard! .oh my! Thank you so much!

  4. tara Fonteyn
    10.22.2023

    5 stars
    Loved the white bean dip and added the basil for an amazing appetizer with almond crackers.

    The pesto was scrumptious and a breeze to make. I usually put it on roasted chicken for a beautiful and tasty presentation.
    Thank You!!

  5. Berni
    10.09.2023

    Can I freeze lentils after they’ve cooked and cooled? Thank you!

    • Debra
      11.29.2023

      Yes. I cook lentils then freeze single-serving portions to pull out when needed. I’ve never detected any difference in the quality between eating immediately after cooking versus after freezing and thawing. I wouldn’t freeze them with a dressing on them though. Seasoning is fine, but a liquid dressing might make them mushy from freezing.

  6. Lisa M.
    05.20.2023

    I just needed a way to cook lentils. This was very helpful; it’s so simple! I just made them plain for use in whatever and just ate some by themself warm with some Jane’s Crazy Mixed-Up Salt. I didn’t measure a thing, just dumped in whatever I’d scooped from the Whole Foods bin and rinsed them in the pot. No strainer (long story), so I rinsed and poured a couple of times, found no rocks, then brought to boil in the same big pot, which took about 7 minutes. Turned to simmer and they were perfect in about 20 minutes. Not sure what kind I had: they were green but they are still firm but they are normal size so I don’t know if they’re French, aren’t those smaller? Anyhow they’re Great and now I have a pile of healthy legumes to munch on. I’m planning to slice and cook a big bunch of carrots I got and add that, and also sauteé the carrot greens and add those. Plus some herbs.

    • Sean T.
      10.18.2023

      I’m so heart warmed when I hear of people enjoying lentils! They are one of my favourite foods, and so versatile. I’ve never found stones in them, but always good to check I suppose!

  7. Tricia
    05.11.2023

    How can you tell when lentils have gone bad? When I poured water into my pot with the lentils, there were many tiny flakes all over in the pot. I didn’t know if that meant if they were old or beyond edible.

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)
      05.12.2023

      Hi Tricia, did you rinse the lentils before adding them to the pot?

      • Tricia Berkow
        05.18.2023

        I did! It was the strangest thing. I’ve never seen green lentils do that before.

  8. Angela lentzner
    04.27.2023

    5 stars
    Loved this ! Highly recommend it as a new favorite.

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)
      04.28.2023

      So glad you loved the recipe!

  9. Major E.J. Ski Korczynski
    02.25.2023

    Thanks for the directions! Plan on following, because I have not been successful in my past preparations. Please email me your instructions and preparing the perfect lentil soup.

    Thanks in advance.
    Major Edwin J. “Ski” Korczynski, CAP/USAF

  10. Jim T from None
    02.01.2023

    Dressing looks real tasty I will try. Lentils can also be cooked in chicken or any kind of preferably homemade stock. Perfect for turkey stock. In that case “pot of water” is not precise enough. Need to soecify the lentil/ water ratio.

      • C
        05.02.2023

        She says right in the article you don’t need a specific water to lentil ratio

  11. Madeline
    01.17.2023

    5 stars
    Needed a quick dinner and this was delish! I added vegan feta on top of my bowl of lentils and it was perfect.

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)
      01.20.2023

      I’m so glad you loved the lentils!

      • Karen
        10.23.2023

        5 stars
        This is what Jesus ate a lot of lentils.

  12. Mark
    01.16.2023

    My lentils were mush at 16 minutes, but the lemon vinaigrette was delicious! Added lemon zest and a grated garlic clove.

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)
      01.20.2023

      Hi Mark, so glad you enjoyed the dressing!

  13. McKena
    01.05.2023

    I’ve made this so many times now! The dressing is wonderful. Thank you 🙂

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)
      01.06.2023

      Hi McKena, so glad you love it!

  14. Laura
    01.02.2023

    5 stars
    I needed a cup of cooked lentils for another recipe. Found your website and decided to try the dressing with the extra lentils. Delish!

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)
      01.03.2023

      So glad you loved it!

  15. Kim Sutton-Rainey
    12.29.2022

    5 stars
    Thank you for being here!

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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.