A complete tutorial for how to cook lentils (French, green, brown, black and red lentils). Plus tips for how to season and store lentils, and lots of my favorite lentil recipes!
I’ve been getting so many requests for this post lately, so I’m happy to say that it’s finally ready to go.
Here is my complete guide to cooking with LENTILS! ♡
It’s no secret that I’m a mega fan of cooking with lentils. We keep a few varieties stocked in our pantry at all times, and love adding them to everything from soups to salads, curries to tacos, veggie burgers to pastas, and so much more. I especially love cooking with lentils because they are packed with good-for-you fiber, protein and minerals. But mostly, lentils are one of my favorite ingredients because they are versatile, inexpensive, hearty and so delicious!
That said, I get a lot of questions on here about the differences in various types of lentils, and how each type should be used and cooked correctly. So today, I have a new tutorial with everything you need to know about how to use and cook the most popular types of lentils (brown/green, French, black and red lentils). Plus, I’ve included tips for how to season and store your cooked lentils, answers to many of your lentil FAQs, and most importantly, I have included a list of my favorite lentil recipes to hopefully give you some inspiration to put these legumes to delicious use.
Lentils are a powerhouse ingredient to have in your pantry right now. So stock up, and let’s get to cooking lentils together!
What Are Lentils?
Lentils are tiny little legumes whose name (fun fact) stems from the latin word for “lens,” because they look like tiny little lenses. They are believed to have originated in the Middle East, but are now cultivated all over the world — especially in Asia, Africa and Europe.
As I said above, I cook with lentils regularly in my kitchen because they are incredibly versatile, cheap, nutritious, and a fantastic pantry staple. And while you can add lentils to any dishes, I especially love using them in vegan and vegetarian cooking because they add some satisfying heartiness to those dishes. Lentils are also low-fat and a rich source of protein, fiber, potassium, folate and iron.
You can typically find lentils in the beans section of your grocery store. Or you can order lentils easily on Amazon too. And while there are over a dozen types of lentils to choose from, most stores sell these basic four types of lentils:
Here’s a quick overview of these four types of lentils, so that you can know which to choose for your next lentil recipe.
Brown / Green Lentils
Standard brown or green lentils (not French green lentils) are the lentils most commonly sold — and typically, the most inexpensive lentils — at the grocery store. They have a mild, earthy, peppery flavor, and come in a variety of sizes and have a pale greenish or brownish color when raw. They hold their shape fairly well when cooked and have a creamy texture.
Brown or green lentils need about 20-30 minutes to cook.
French Lentils (Lentils de Puy)
French lentils (grown in North America) or Lentils de Puy (grown exclusively in France) are my favorite kind of lentil to cook with! They have a rich earthy, peppery flavor and a lovely marbled olive color when raw. And they hold their shape and have a nice firm texture when cooked.
French lentils need about 25-30 minutes to cook.
Also called “beluga lentils” because they look like caviar, black lentils have a delicious, deep, earthy flavor. They are tiny, round and jet-black when raw, and hold their shape nicely and have a soft texture when cooked.
Black lentils need about 25-30 minutes to cook.
Red lentils (which cook up to have more of an orange/yellow hue) have a mild, slightly-sweeter flavor. They can range in size and color, and are sold either split or whole. They tend to lose their shape and texture the longer they cook, giving them more of a soft pureed-like consistency.
Red lentils cook the fastest and only need about 12-15 minutes to cook.
Basic Lentils Ingredients:
Alright, so let’s talk about the basic ingredients required to make a batch of lentils. You will need
Lentils: Uncooked lentils of whichever variety you prefer.
Water: Or you can use vegetable or chicken broth, for extra flavor.
Sea salt: To bring out the flavor of the lentils.
(Optional) Aromatics: Such as bay leaf, garlic, fresh herbs or other seasonings.
How To Cook Lentils:
Here is my favorite basic method for how to cook lentils! Simply…
Inspect, rinse and drain the lentils. Use your fingers to sift through the dried lentils and pick out any rocks or stray bits that might be hidden in there. Then rinse and drain the lentils using a strainer.
Simmer. Add the pre-rinsed lentils, water, salt (plus any optional aromatics) to a saucepan and heat until the water reaches a simmer. Cover and continue cooking over a low simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy (see cook times below).
Drain. Drain the lentils completely through a strainer.
Serve warm. Serve and enjoy!
See the full recipe below for detailed ingredient amounts and recipe instructions.
Lentil Flavor Boosters:
If you would like to kick up the flavor of your lentils, feel free to use one or more of these flavor boosters too:
Add aromatics to the water: I almost always add a bay leaf to my lentils for extra flavor, plus maybe a clove or two of fresh garlic. But you can also add in any other fresh herbs that go with your recipe, chicken or veggie bouillon, or any of your favorite spices or seasonings.
Season the lentils after they have cooked: I also often like to add a few twists of freshly-cracked black pepper to my lentils after they have cooked. But feel free to also add in any fresh or dried herbs that you love too.
Are lentils gluten-free? Yes, lentils are gluten-free.
Are lentils keto? No, lentils are not keto. They have too high of a carb count for the keto diet.
Do you need to pre-soak lentils? Nope, it’s not required and I never do! That said, you are welcome to soak your lentils if you would like to reduce the cooking time or make them a bit more easily digestible.
Do you have to rinse lentils? It’s not required, but I always do to rinse off any dust that may be coating them.
How do you know when lentils are fully cooked? Honestly, the best way to tell if lentils are done are to taste them. They should be tender to the bite, with some varieties of lentils being a bit more firm and others more soft. That said, if you would like your lentils to be softer, just simmer them a few minutes longer until they reaches your desired consistency.
How do you freeze lentils? It’s best to spread lentils out in a shallow layer on a baking sheet, then place the baking sheet in the freezer for 2 hours until the lentils is frozen. Then you can remove and transfer the lentils to a food storage container or ziplock, so that the lentils do not freeze together as one large brick.
Lentils nutrition facts? Here are a few quick stats! One cup of cooked green lentils includes: 280 calories, 24g protein, 46g carbs, 1g fat, and 18g fiber.
Favorite Lentil Recipes:
If you’re looking for some delicious lentil recipes for inspiration, here are a few of my faves:
Optional aromatics: To add more flavor to the lentils, feel free to add a bay leaf, 1-2 whole cloves of fresh garlic, chicken or veggie bouillon, and/or any of your favorite herbs or spices to the water. (Then be sure to discard the aromatics before serving the lentils.) Or you can also simply use chicken or vegetable stock in place of water.
Picking over your lentils: Before you rinse the lentils, use your fingers to sift through them to see if there are any small stones or stray bits that need to be discarded. Then rinse and drain using a strainer.
Larger batch instructions: Feel free to increase the size of your batch. You will just need approximately a 1:4 lentils to water ratio.