How to Cook Lentils
Prepare a batch of lentils and enjoy them several ways throughout the week. In this post I share my two favorite lentils and how to cook them.
It would feel like breaking food blogger protocol not to share a healthy recipe after the first of the year but don’t let me fool you–banning indulgences like wine, pasta and cake were absent from my New Year’s resolutions this year.
I’ve taken to treating myself to a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream, too, after dinner, hopefully justified by the relatively healthy meals I have been trying to put regularly on the table. All in moderation, right?
My husband and I have been on a legume kick lately, in keeping with our goal to limit animal protein during the week and it’s been working out deliciously, thanks to tofu and lentils. And whenever lentils are on the menu he likes to remind me that when grains and legumes are eaten together they form the perfect protein. They’ve been such a regular part of the meal-rotation that I’ve developed a special liking to certain lentils over the varieties that I used to stock up on.
Types of Lentils and Cook Time
There are several varieties of lentils you can buy, some more suitable for certain preparations than others.
- Split Peas: They are actually a different variety of legume than lentils. They have a soft, creamy texture and cook in about 20 minutes. Split peas are perfect for soup (you can find my Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup recipe here).
- Brown Lentils: The most common variety, brown lentils range in color from pale green to dark brown. They are popular in Mediterranean dishes and cook in 20-30 minutes.
- French Green Lentils: These lentils have a mottled appearance with a firm texture after cooking. They require a longer cooking time than other lentils (35-40 minutes) but they hold their shape beautifully. You might see French lentils labeled as Puy lentils or Lentils du Puy but only those actually grown in the Puy region of central France qualify for that title (though they are the same variety, the Puy designation just making them more expensive).
- Beluga Lentils (Black Lentils): Regarded as the most nutritious of all lentils, they’ve earned their name because of their resemblance to caviar. They’re smaller than other lentils but also retain a firm texture after cooking (30-35 minutes).
My Favorite Lentils
Of the varieties listed above, I’ve lately favored Beluga lentils and French lentils over the rest for their versatility. Even with a slightly longer cooking time required for them I love that they keep their firm texture. This makes them suitable for various dishes and the best part is that you cook them once then you enjoy them several different ways.
Basic Lentil Preparation
One of the best things about lentils is that you don’t have to bother with soaking them before you cook them. You can jump right to the cook stage and this involves nothing more than a quick sauté and short simmer.
To optimize the flavor of cooked lentils you just need aromatics, spices and liquid. This recipe keeps things simple with onions, celery and carrots and everyday spices like curry powder and ground cumin. If you’re not a curry fan I hope you’re not put off by this recipe. The curry flavor is not forward here but it adds a lot of depth to the lentils. If you must omit it, just use a larger amount of cumin.
As for the liquid, water would work just fine but substituting your favorite stock for even just half of the required liquid would be better. If you opt to use all water just be mindful that you might have to adjust the seasonings accordingly.
Ways to Serve Lentils
Once the lentils are cooked you can enjoy them all week with rice, tossed in a salad (or crisped up in the oven like these Roasted Chickpeas as a topper), in soup or even in a lentil burger.
The last image below is a teaser for my favorite way to enjoy these lentils. It’s a Mediterranean classic but made much easier.
How to Cook Lentils
Prepare one batch of lentils and enjoy them several different ways all week.
- 1 small shallot (or 1/4 large onion), finely chopped
- 1 rib celery, finely chopped
- 1 small carrot, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon curry powder (See Note)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 cup dried lentils (French, Beluga or brown)
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- pinch kosher salt
- Olive oil
- 2 cups liquid (water, vegetable stock or combination)(See Note)
- chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
Heat two to three tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a skillet or medium pan. Add the shallot, celery and carrot at the same time and cook for about three minutes. Season with a pinch of salt.
Add the curry powder and ground cumin and cook for one to two minutes. Add another splash of olive oil if your pan is too dry.
Add the lentils, lemon juice and two cups liquid. Bring to a boil then cover the skillet/pan with a lid and reduce the heat to simmer. Cook until the lentils are mostly tender but with just a little bite still to them. This will take about 35-40 minutes and you may need to add additional liquid while they cook. Add the additional liquid in 1/4 cup increments as needed–you may need to add an additional 1/2 – 3/4 liquid in addition to the two cups noted in the recipe.
Once the lentils are done, serve with rice or toss in a salad when cooled. They will keep refrigerated for several days.
Curry Powder: If you’re concerned about a pronounced curry flavor in this dish don’t worry. The curry powder adds depth but barely detectable curry flavor. You can also omit and just replace with another 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin and 1/2 teaspoon chili powder.
Liquid: It’s fine to use just water but I recommend using half water and half your favorite vegetable stock. If you’re not vegetarian, use your favorite chicken stock. If you’re using all water, bump up the salt and spices a touch.