How to Cook Lentils

By Jessica Hylton -

Learn how to cook lentils perfectly every time with tons of flavour! These tips and tricks will keep all your lentils from getting mushy for soups, salads, and side dishes.

Bread dipped into a pot of lentil stew.

I love love love lentils!! I avoided using lentils for no good reason, and now I LOVE them! They are known as a power legume due to how long they’ve been around (all the way back to 8,000 BC) and their high protein content. They’re also incredibly versatile: Whether you have them plain, on a salad, in chili, or as a meat replacer in meatloaf!

There are many different colours of lentils — black, red, brown, green and yellow. The different colours are cooked for different times. So no, they aren’t very easily exchanged. If you see a recipe asking for red lentils, I definitely recommend using red lentils since you’ll have to completely adjust the cooking times and may end up with too mushy or rock hard lentils instead.

What Are Lentils?

Lentils are a super nutritious and easy side dish, but what are the little pods of flavour, anyway?

They’re actually part of the legume family like peas, peanuts, and beans. Also known as pulses, they’re most popular in Indian cuisine. I love them because dried lentils can last for years in an airtight container in the pantry.

Even cooked lentils are safe up to 1 week in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer. There’s no easier healthy meal prep option!

A large cast iron skillet of brown lentils garnished with parsley next to a wooden spoon

What Is the Ratio of Lentils to Water?

Whether you’re making a single serving or feeding an army, it’s so easy to double or triple a lentil recipe!

For every 1 cup of lentils, you’ll want 2 cups of water. If you want to add a little extra flavour, use vegetable broth to keep it vegan or any other broth if you’re not on a plant-based diet.

I don’t recommend salting the lentils before cooking since the reducing liquid can get overly salty. Just salt when you’re done!

Is It Best to Soak Lentils Before Cooking Them?

While you need to soak dried beans before cooking, lentils don’t need a soaking time.

Since they simmer in liquid, they should come out perfectly tender without getting mushy.

A gold sauce pot of raw red lentils on a white granite countertop

How to Cook Lentils

This is truly the healthiest way to cook lentils with just 2 ingredients — lentils and water!

Before you cook lentils, it’s important to run your fingers through them and look to check for any small stones — AKA “sorting your lentils.” Yes, I’ve found a small stone before! Remove any other debris, then give them a quick rinse in a sieve or fine mesh strainer.

Mix 1 cup of lentils with 2 cups of water in a sauce pan over medium heat. Make sure all the lentils are covered in water. Bring to a rumbling simmer, then reduce the heat and simmer about 20 minutes.

Like rice, lentils absorb water while they cook. If the water level drops below the lentils, add a little more liquid to keep them moist. You want the lentils softened but not mushy. I always add salt and any other seasonings when they’re done cooking.

Different Kinds of Lentils (and Varying Cook Times)

There are actually four kinds of lentils! The cook time often varies for each lentil, so be sure to watch them based on the type. Here they are below (and neatly in the recipe for convenience too).

Red/Orange/Yellow Split Lentils –

Orange/Yellow Split/Red Lentils are the “softest” kind of lentils and take the quickest to cook, about 15 to 20 minutes. They’re lovely in dahls and soups! Somethings they disintegrate completely! 

Brown Lentils & Green Lentils –

Brown and green lentils are the most similar kinds! They have a nice shape/purpose that’s why they’re preferred for dishes like vegan meatloaf and stews. Also great for like burgers, sandwiches, taco fillings. They take about 25 to 30 minutes to cook! If they’re overlooked they can get mushy. 

Black Lentils –

Black lentils are amazing and not as commonly found. They take about 20 to 25 minutes. I had it in an Indian Dahl in London (check out my what to eat in London guide to check out the restaurant) once and it’s the best I’ve ever had! 

French Lentils –

They’re like blue green! I haven’t used these personally yet, but will one day! They keep their shape the MOST so best in salads. Also would be great in like shepherd’s pie! Usually when a recipe calls for one type, the only real substitute you can do is green for brown and brown for green. Otherwise you may end up with red lentils gone too soft, or too tough!

Tips and FAQs

Whether you’re new to this legume or looking for the best way to make lentils, here’s a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way:

  • Keep them moist. If you don’t want dry, hard lentils, make sure to keep a little liquid in the pot! You can always add a little more if the water is evaporating faster than they cook.
  • Skip the soak. Lentils definitely don’t need any soaking before they’re cooked. Save time and skip the soaking! You do want to rinse them briefly and check them for stones or debris, though.
  • Season at the end. Nothing is worse than overly salty lentils, quinoa, or rice. I don’t use any seasonings, including salt, until they’re done cooking so I can taste as I go.
  • Add any flavour! Lentils have a great earthy flavour, but they can take on any flavours you want! Try cooking them in veggie or mushroom broth. Or, add some carrots, onions, garlic, celery, or herbs to the pot!
A broth-based vegetable soup packed with kale, carrots, and lentils in a white bowl

Easy Lentil Recipes You’ll Love

Bread dipped into a pot of lentil stew.

How to Cook Lentils

Learn how to cook lentils perfectly every time with tons of flavour! These tips and tricks will keep all your lentils from getting mushy for soups, salads, and side dishes.
by: Jessica in the Kitchen
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 5 servings
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Universal
Ingredients
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 2 cups water
Instructions

Instructions

  • Add lentils and water to sauce pan over medium heat. Ensure water is covering lentils. Bring to a rumbling simmer, then lower heat to a regular simmer.
  • Let lentils cook for around 20 to 30 minutes (see time variations below), or until soft and chewy but still firm. If water level drops below lentils before they're cooked, add a little more liquid.
    Lentil Cooking Times per Variation:
    Red/Orange/Yellow Split Lentils: 15-20 minutes
    Brown and Green Lentils: 25-30 minutes
    Black Lentils: 20-25 minutes
    French Lentils: 25-30 minutes
  • When finished, add salt to taste and season lentils.
NOTES
Before you cook lentils, it’s important to run your fingers through them and look to check for any small stones — AKA “sorting your lentils.” Yes, I’ve found a small stone before! Remove any other debris, then give them a quick rinse in a sieve or fine mesh strainer.

Different Kinds of Lentils (and Varying Cook Times)

There are actually four kinds of lentils! The cook time often varies for each lentil, so be sure to watch them based on the type. Here they are below.

Red/Orange/Yellow Split Lentils –

Orange/Yellow Split/Red Lentils are the “softest” kind of lentils and take the quickest to cook, about 15 to 20 minutes. They’re lovely in dahls and soups! Somethings they disintegrate completely! 

Brown Lentils & Green Lentils –

Brown and green lentils are the most similar kinds! They have a nice shape/purpose that’s why they’re preferred for dishes like vegan meatloaf and stews. Also great for like burgers, sandwiches, taco fillings. They take about 25 to 30 minutes to cook! If they’re overlooked they can get mushy. 

Black Lentils –

Black lentils are amazing and not as commonly found. They take about 20 to 25 minutes. I had it in an Indian Dahl in London (check out my what to eat in London guide to check out the restaurant) once and it’s the best I’ve ever had! 
 

French Lentils –

They’re like blue green! I haven’t used these personally yet, but will one day! They keep their shape the MOST so best in salads. Also would be great in like shepherd’s pie! Usually when a recipe calls for one type, the only real substitute you can do is green for brown and brown for green. Otherwise you may end up with red lentils gone too soft, or too tough! These cook for about 25 to 30 minutes.
TIPS & FAQ
Keep them moist. If you don’t want dry, hard lentils, make sure to keep a little liquid in the pot! You can always add a little more if the water is evaporating faster than they cook.
Skip the soak. Lentils definitely don’t need any soaking before they’re cooked. Save time and skip the soaking! You do want to rinse them briefly and check them for stones or debris, though.
Season at the end. Nothing is worse than overly salty lentils, quinoa, or rice. I don’t use any seasonings, including salt, until they’re done cooking so I can taste as I go.
Add any flavour! Lentils have a great earthy flavour, but they can take on any flavours you want! Try cooking them in veggie or mushroom broth. Or, add some carrots, onions, garlic, celery, or herbs to the pot!
Lentils can also be cooked in vegetable broth.

Nutrition

Calories: 136kcal | Carbohydrates: 23g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 7mg | Potassium: 367mg | Fiber: 12g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 15IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 24mg | Iron: 3mg
by Jessica

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Recipe Rating




2 comments

  1. ted says:

    5 stars
    It would be so handy for everyone if you would post the different cooking times for the four main kinds of lentils. Thanks.

    • Hi Ted,

      Excellent point – thank you so much! I actually had this information tucked away in a note, no idea why I didn’t include it :). I just added it into the post in full detail, but also in short detail in the recipe!

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