How to Cook Lentils
Lentils, a staple in soups and stews around the world, provide protein and fiber. Furthermore, they’re packed full of essential vitamins and minerals like iron, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
No matter if you’re cooking lentils as a side dish or for incorporation into soups and stews, it is essential to know how to properly cook them.
Lentils are an accessible plant-based source of protein, fiber and minerals that don’t need to be soaked before cooking. Unlike beans, they can be added directly into soups and stews without the need for draining beforehand.
Lentils come in a range of flavors and textures, each having its own distinct taste and texture. Some are milder than others and can be used to make many dishes such as soups or salads.
Yellow lentils, for instance, are often employed in Middle Eastern cooking due to their milder flavor than red and smaller size.
Red lentils (also referred to as split lentils) lack a seed coat and cook quickly, creating a soft puree that’s ideal for thickening soups and stews.
Green lentils, on the other hand, retain their shape after cooking and can be enjoyed as a side dish or added to salads. French green (Puy) lentils boast an aromatic peppery taste and crunchy texture perfect for salads; although more expensive than other cooking varieties, these varieties are considered superior in both texture and taste.
Cooking lentils can be done several ways, but the most popular way is to boil them. This method works great for prepping them to use in soups, salads, side dishes or meatless main dishes.
Before boiling the lentils, rinse them to remove any debris or dirt. Then add them to a pot with water and salt, cover, and bring to a rapid boil.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer until tender, stirring occasionally. Green lentils require longer cooking times than red or yellow varieties so don’t overcook them!
For extra flavor, add garlic and/or onions to the water before bringing it to a boil. These add an earthy depth to the lentils. Other spices like curry, cumin, turmeric, chili powder can also be used to give this dish added depth of flavor. Garam Marsala or olive oil make excellent accompaniments during preparation as well.
Simmering is an elegant cooking technique used for soups, stews and sauces. It’s especially suitable for grain-based foods like barley, quinoa, farro or millet as well as legumes like beans or lentils.
Simmering, unlike boiling, is a gentle method that submerges food in water at a consistent temperature. It can be used for cooking vegetables, grains and even meat or poultry while also being an ideal method for poaching or braising.
For this cooking method, mix 1 cup of dried lentils with 3 cups of liquid (water, broth). Feel free to season the liquid as desired with garlic, bay leaves or aromatics before bringing it to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and continue simmering for 20-25 minutes or until lentils are tender but not mushy. Taste the lentils, adjust liquid amount accordingly, and then serve.
Lentils are an excellent source of protein, but can cause stomach issues like bloating and gas if not rinsed and soaked first. Soaking lentils will remove any anti-nutrient compounds that might make them difficult for some people to digest.
When cooking lentils on the stovetop, begin by heating up a large amount of water or stock (depending on how many you plan to cook). Bring this to a boil then add your lentils, turn down the heat and simmer until tender.
A quick taste test can help you determine whether more liquid should be added as the lentils cook. The consistency of lentils varies depending on their type and how you’re using them; generally speaking, firmer for salads and softer in soup or stew dishes. Once your desired consistency has been reached but they remain creamy and not completely broken down, feel free to puree with a hand blender for more soup-like results.