How To Cook Lentils

Cooking Lentil

Cooking Lentils

Lentils are a healthy and versatile food. They are also inexpensive, making them a great staple for anyone interested in healthy, frugal living. They are probably the fastest cooking of all the legume family, and they don’t require soaking making their preparation faster still. They are nutritious too. Rich in antioxidants, selenium, and B vitamins, all of  which boost the immune system. Like the other pulses, they contain anti-carcinogenic phytochemicals. They are also packed with protein, high in iron and folate and very high in fiber, which is good for your digestive and heart health.

Lentils come in a variety of types, usually described by the color. Red lentils are by far the fastest cooking and are often used in Indian cuisine. However the green and brown varieties of lentils are more nutritious than than red variety.

Ingredients:

1 cup dried lentils
2 cups water
1/4 to 1/2 teas sea salt (to taste)

Instructions:

Rinse the lentils under running water and pick through them to remove any bits of soil or rocks. Add lentils and water to a saucepan (with a lid) and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low and cover to let the lentils simmer, but leave the lid ajar a bit so that they don’t boil over. Check on them occasionally to make sure the water has not boiled down below the level of the lentils and add more as needed. When the lentils are tender and can easily be mashed with a fork, they are done. It usually takes about 30-45 minutes for them to cook (older lentils take longer to cook, so it’s best to just test them to decide when they are ready), or 20 minutes if using the split red lentils. Add salt in about the last 15 minutes of cooking time, so when you think the lentils are starting to get soft. Cooking often neutralizes the taste of the salt, so if you add it at the start you end up having to add more salt to get the same flavor.

When they are finished cooking, take the saucepan off the heat and cover tightly with the lid. Leave to sit for 5-10 minutes. The lentils will absorb more of the water making them juicier and more tender. It’s not essential to do this, but I really like the way they turn out when I do.

Makes about 4 cups cooked lentils.

Variations:

  • Add some diced potatoes or sweet potatoes, they will cook in the same time it takes the lentils to cook. You’ll probably need to add more water to compensate for what the potatoes will absorb, but you can add it as needed while it’s cooking.
  • Add spices in addition to the salt. Curry powder, ground cumin, garlic, cayenne or chili powder, and cilantro all go really nicely with lentils.

Kitchen Tip:

Here’s a tip from Cori at Well Being Universe (see the comments), to reduce flatulence add 2-3 cloves to the boiling water when you are cooking your lentils.
I can’t wait to try this, I love the taste and smell of cloves and I bet it adds a beautiful, subtle flavor to the lentils.

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DISCLAIMER: The statements enclosed herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products and information mentioned on this site are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information and statements found here are for education purposes only and are not intended to replace the advice of your medical professional.

42 Responses to “How To Cook Lentils”

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  1. Cori says:

    In my country, lentils are one of our staple diet. It’s healthy and inexpensive, the only problem is that most people complains about having flatulence after eating them: to avoid this problem, you can add 2 to 3 cloves to the boiling water.

    • Donna says:

      Thank you for that tip Cori! I bet the cloves add a beautiful flavor too. I’m going to add that tip into the post itself, I hope that’s okay with you, I’ll link it back to your site too. Thank you!

      • DaughterOfSnape says:

        I just wanted to let you know that the cloves did help. This is the first time I have eaten lentils without the digestive issues. I ground my cloves and added them with a little turmeric. It was delicious. I also chopped up a carrot and a sweet potato, and added some tomato paste. The clove added a perfect flavor that blended well with the other stuff.

    • Mechef145 says:

      Cori, Thanks for the tip. Has any one tried cooking lentils in a natural-clay pot. I love the taste of food cooked in these pots. The far infrared heat emitted from the pot takes the spices deeper making it so much more tastier. I got mine from miriamsearthencookware.com (online). They do a great job in my kitchen. The food tastes amazing and no fear of metals or chemicals getting into my food.

  2. Hi, I would like to know if I can cook this recipe in a rice cooker in the microwave. Please reply, Thanks

    • Donna says:

      Hi Aurora. I wouldn’t recommend cooking anything in a microwave. Microwaves are actually quite harmful. They change the food in a way that makes it harmful, it’s not just the microwaves they emit if you are standing to close to them.

      But if you want to you could probably cook lentils in a rice cooker in the microwave. I’m not certain, because you won’t be able to get the water to boil or simmer in a microwave, not without it boiling over and making a mess. If you do try it the time and water ratio in the recipe won’t be the same, so you may have to experiment and adjust the time and water amount. It won’t necessarily cook faster in a microwave either. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a lot longer, so you may want to soak the lentils for a few hours first. Normally you don’t have to soak them if you cook them on the stove or in a slow cooker. Lentils may be okay, but you want to be careful of cooking other legumes/pulses in a microwave. Most legumes have some slightly toxic chemicals in them, (or very toxic in the case of kidney beans) that make them hard to digest, and when you boil them this toxin gets neutralized, making then safer to eat and easier to digest. Water doesn’t actually boil in a microwave though, cooking beans this way won’t neutralize the toxin. While it may seem like it would be faster and more convenient to cook legumes in a microwave, it’s not.

      About the dangers of microwaved food: I have heard that a popular school science experiment has been to have 2 plants, same kind and size. One gets watered with ‘normal’ water (probably tap water in most cases (which is not a healthy option either), and one gets watered with water that has been microwaved and then allowed to cool. The plant that gets watered with the microwaved water dies, it’s that harmful.

      • Maria C says:

        A bit of science here, please: the microwave is NOT the reason the plants died! As water is being boiled (in a microwave as well as in a pot on the stove), dissolved oxygen moves off into the air. Soil needs oxygen to support the many enriching microbes that live in it. Plant roots also obtain oxygen from the water that flows into the soil. The boiled water (microwave OR stove) contains no oxygen, so the soil organisms and the plants die.

        A scientific test would use a number of nearly identical plants divided into three groups: 1) room temperature tap water; 2) water boiled on the stove and allowed to cool to room temperature; 3) water boiled in the microwave and allowed to cool to room temperature. Scientifically, all plants should be in similar containers, have similar soil, be watered the identical amount on identical schedules, etc., so the only true variable is the water.

        The test described above absolutely disproves the myth that the microwaves caused the plant to die! This is not new science; it has been done repeatedly. I hope this helps get the truth out.

        Maria

        • Donna says:

          Thank you Maria, I can absolutely see the sense in what you are saying and I agree. I still don’t think microwaves are good to use, and cooking in general significantly alters the food in a way that is less healthy than eating raw, although there are foods we definitely are not meant to be eating raw either. But thank you so much for pointing those things out, I found it really interesting, I didn’t think of the oxygen being removed from the water as a result of boiling it. So I suppose then that even drinking boiled water vs not boiled would have an effect on our bodies too. Do you know of any studies that have been done around that? I’d be really interested in looking into them.

          • Maria C says:

            You’re welcome, Donna. I am a retired life science teacher and I just like to set the record straight sometimes; I did not mean to be critical. I have no idea about how water lacking in oxygen would affect us in a negative way since we are not plants, do not have living cells absorbing oxygen from the water in the soil, and do not depend on the survival of microoganisms that enrich that environment. Animals obtain their oxygen from the air they breathe and not from water they drink. Many people mistakenly believe that plants and animals are opposite in the gases they require, but that is not true. Both plants and animals require oxygen to “burn” their food to release energy to power our cells. We differ in that we eat our food whereas plants make their own food using carbon dioxide in photosynthesis. We still both have to get the energy out of our food; for that we all need oxygen in every cell of our beings. On another note, I just successfully — and I believe, healthily — cooked dried lentils in my microwave rice cooker and they came out perfect! I have also previously cooked quinoa in it. Thank you for your patience with my comments!

            Maria

    • Cori says:

      I agree with Donna about cooking lentils in a microwave. If you want to cook the lentils faster, it’s better to use a pressure cooker (if you have one). It usually takes half of time to cook the lentils or any kind of beans in a pressure cooker: just to minimize foaming add a tablespoon of oil in the water.

      • Donna says:

        Oh yeah, great suggestion Cori! I haven’t had a pressure cooker in so many years I forgot about them, but they do an incredible job with beans. Probably has to be one of the best ways to cook beans. Actually I think I used to make millet in my pressure cooker too, and it was the best millet I’ve ever tasted – always cooked perfectly and tender.

  3. Ryan says:

    When would you add the spices in? When they are soft at the end?

    Thanks.

    • Donna says:

      Hi Ryan. You can add the spices at any time, but the sooner you can add them the nicer and stronger the flavor will be. Thanks for you question.

  4. Ashley Hansen says:

    Thank you for your straight forward way to cook lentils. I didn’t want to read another recipe about cooking lentils with ham hocks or a specific salad!! I’ve never cooked or eaten lentils, but I think I’ll make some today and try potatoes like you suggested as an add in. Thanks!

  5. Donald says:

    I hope this dont sound stupid…but do u mean garlic cloves??? Thanks

  6. Patty says:

    So, I’m still waiting =) Anyone try the cloves to see if it reduces flatulence? I guess I could try it myself. Thanks, P

    • Donna says:

      Hi Patty, I know that the addition of cloves tastes great, I add it to my lentils now just because I love the flavor. But I don’t have a flatulence problem with lentils, they seem to digest really well for me, so I can’t really confirm or deny it. It may be one of those things that you have to test out for yourself to see if it works for you. It may be different for different people. Let us know if it works for you :)

  7. wendy applebee says:

    just looking for an alternative to tinned lentils, time always a problem here. thanks for recipe, looks easy as. i will do them in pressure cooker then add other ingredients to make my vegetarian bolognaise sauce and make moussaka. i will add the cloves …

    • Donna says:

      Hi Wendy, thanks for your comment. Lentils cook pretty fast, but even faster if you soak them before hand (you don’t have to, not like you do with other beans). You can use a crock pot to cook them, which you don’t have to supervise. I just got an electric rice cooker for the first time and used it tonight. I think they should be able to cook lentils too, you would just have to get the ratio of lentils to water right so they get cooked enough. A pressure cooker should be fast. If you can, let me know how long you had to cook them for. And the little split red lentils will cook fastest of all lentils. The others are slightly better for you, more fiber, but if time is an issue the split red lentils are still very good for you.

  8. Shannon says:

    Thank you for the simple instructions! I have a 7 month old baby and am slowly introducing solids. We aren’t feeding him meat just yet, so I need to find alternate iron sources. I’m excited to start using lentils. I just bought a bag of green lentils and am going to cook them for the first time. I assume the preparation would be the same for an infant? I also found the rest of the comments very informative, thank you everyone!

    • Donna says:

      Thank you Shannon! I’m not sure about infant food. But lentils cook down to be very soft and mushy, which I think would be good for infants. I believe prunes are also very high in iron, you could soak them, then blend with something not so intensely sweet, like apple maybe. Many leafy greens also are high in iron, calcium and all that good stuff.

  9. Shannon says:

    Thanks for your feedback Donna!

  10. Joanna says:

    Thanks for the tip about the clove – does add subtle flavour. Now to see if it helps with the gas. After cooking the lentils for about half an hour, I put some into another small pot and added a bit more water, some frozen butternut squash, some sweet curry, salt, cinnamon, salt, dried onion flakes, New Mexico Chili powder and cooked for about 5 minutes. I mixed it in with some leftover basmati rice, a bit more salt and DELICIOUS. I even tried one serving with a couple of drops of honey. That was good too, for those who like it sweet or whose kids might prefer it that way. Next time I will try with potato or sweet potato.

    • Donna says:

      Thanks for posting Joanna, the way you cooked them sounds delicious! Let me know if it helps with the gas or not.

      • Joanna says:

        Donna, I only used 1 clove for 1 cup of dry lentils and it did help. Next time I will try 2 cloves. I was a little hesitant this first time because I didn’t know how strongly it would flavour the lentils. I see that I put the word “salt” in my comments 3 times by mistake, but I didn’t really oversalt the food – we are salt-conscious here at my house. The sweet curry powder I used is from a store/company called Penzeys, based in Wisconsin, USA I believe. Very tasty and high quality. They do have a catalogue if anyone is interested.
        I tried to subscribe to your site but have not received the email confirmation back so I will try again.

  11. Joanna says:

    Hi again,
    I just wanted to recommend 2 different ways of cooking lentils that I find very tasty. Both recipes can be found on the Allrecipes.com website. One is “Curried Lentils” made with coconut milk – I used Patak’s curry paste in a jar rather than curry powder. It worked very well & my whole family liked it.
    Another is “Mujaddara Arabic Lentils and Rice”. Everyone seems to make it with variations, including me. I included mine on a review (I post as Cloudfall1 on that website). It’s best to read them and then decide for yourself what you are going to change or keep the same. It’s very forgiving and depends what you already have on hand. The caramelized onions are an absolute must, even if you don’t add yogurt.
    Hope someone finds this helpful
    Cheers,
    Joanna

  12. Liz says:

    Lentils also have some anti-nutritional factors, such as trypsin inhibitors and relatively high phytate content. Trypsin is an enzyme involved in digestion, and phytates reduce the bio-availability of dietary minerals.[9] The phytates can be reduced by soaking the lentils in warm water overnight.

  13. I blog likewise and I am publishing a little something alike to this blog post, “How To Cook
    Lentils | The Healthy Eating Site”. Do you care in cases where I actuallyapply a number of of your tips?
    Many thanks ,Nicole

    • Donna says:

      Hi Nicole, thanks for asking. I link back to my site would be appreciated. As long as you don’t copy the whole article, recipe, or images on your site that is fine if you want to post some tips and say you found them here. Thank you.

  14. marlee says:

    I am cooking some lentils now can’t wait till they are finished. I know the benefits from lentils. I am making the red ones added some turkey bacon chopped up onions carrots added some garlic powder and salt it should be done soon.

  15. pat says:

    I am cooking lentil soup in slow cooker and after on low for 8 hours they are still hard…what do I do?

  16. Franchesca says:

    It’s amazing in support of me to have a website, which is helpful for my experience.

    thanks admin

  17. Ammi says:

    I’ve never cooked lentils before and I really want to be able to throw them in the crock pot so that at dinner time my husband can finish cooking the chicken and serve this with it. However, I’m not sure where to start, for a 1lb bag of lentils how much water should I add, 8 cups? What spices would go well and how much of each spice, as I’ve tried curry and my children didn’t care for it much…Lentils scare me, and in my home (my son who is 11 has never had lentils unless they were in a store bought soup) lentils have never been introduced.

    • Donna says:

      Hi Ammi, it’s great you’re going to try lentils. They are a great food, and very versatile. There are many different types of lentils and they are all a bit different, but in general they will about double in volume when they cook. So it’s a good idea to put that much water that they can double in size and then add about an inch extra for evaporation during the cooking process. Even if you have extra liquid after they finish cooking it makes a nice broth and you can add tomato paste, some miso (after they have finished cooking) or whatever spices you want to the lentils and make them really delicious. They don’t need to be soaked, but if you do they will cook more quickly. Just be sure you discard the soak water and use fresh water to cook them in. They go will with many spices, Moroccan spices, Italian spices, what I think of as ‘warm’ spices like cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, garlic. They are nice with some tomato paste mixed in (you can do this at the end when they are almost finished or afterwards. I use Kirkland mixed organic herb and spice mix that you may be able to find at Costco or click that link and you can mail order from Amazon. Whatever I make with that spice blend comes out nice. For a 1 lb bad I’d put a heaping tablespoon in. For how much you really just have to experiment and see what tastes good to you. I like a lot of flavor so I’m heavy on the herbs and spices. If your son doesn’t like ‘exotic’ spices you could start with using a heaping teaspoon each of garlic, powdered ginger, cinnamon, half a teaspoon of cumin, and a pinch of clove powder and a 1/4 teaspoon of mustard powder (optional). Add some tomato paste towards the end and mix it in well. Add a little water if necessary so you have a thick sauce. Add a teaspoon of honey, maple syrup or brown sugar if you want… that combination will make something similar to baked beans in taste. It might be an easier way to get your son eating lentils. I hope that helps, and your first attempt at cooking lentils is a success. :-)

  18. Mary B says:

    I used to cook beans in a pressure cooker, until one day in 1978 the vent clogged with bean foam, and the over-pressure plug blew out and spewed beans all over my 11 X 18 foot kitchen. From that one little approximately 3/8 inch hole beans splattered on the ceiling, the floor, & everywhere in between in the kitchen, and partly into adjoining rooms. The light fixture was especially difficult to de-bean.
    I had just barely walked out of the kitchen when it blew. If I had been in there, I am sure hotter-than-boiling beans would have landed all over me, too – maybe even in my eyes.
    My pressure cooker lid went in the trash and the bottom became a very nice, very heavy, but plain, sauce pan. I’ve never bought another one, though I hear the more modern electric ones with thermostats are lots safer.

  19. Daniel Soo says:

    Lentils are awesome; especially lentils soup.

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