There are many reasons to love lentils. These versatile and inexpensive legumes are protein powerhouses, making them an essential part of any vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. If you want to include more plant-based meals in your diet, lentils are an excellent choice. They’re simple to prepare, and they have a delicious earthy flavour perfect for a variety of dishes. Read on to learn how to cook lentils.
What are lentils?
Lentils are the tiny, round, dried seeds of the lentil plant. They grow in pods, making them part of the legume family. Lentils are also referred to as 'pulses'. Because they're high in fibre, carbs and protein, and packed with nutrients, lentils are a great addition to vegetarian and vegan diets. They are low in fat and are also gluten-free. There are many types of lentils with different colours, shapes, sizes and tastes.
Lentils originated in the Middle East, but they are now grown worldwide. They can be used to make soups and stews, salads and side dishes, and play an essential role in Indian cuisine, especially as the main ingredient in dal.
Do lentils need to be soaked and washed?
Occasionally, you'll find small rocks or debris mixed in with dried lentils. To avoid eating them, thoroughly rinse the lentils in cold water in a fine mesh sieve and pick them over to remove debris or shrivelled lentils, then drain. Lentils do not require soaking.
How do you prepare lentils?
Lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking. Cover them with liquid, bring the pot to a boil, cover and simmer until they absorb the liquid and soften. The cooking time varies depending on the variety.
Bring a pot of water to a boil, cover tightly, reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender. For whole lentils, the cooking time is typically 15-20 minutes. For split red lentils, the cooking time is typically 5-7 minutes. It is important to season the lentils with salt after cooking – adding salt before cooking will result in tough lentils.
How to boil lentils
Cook on a stovetop using 3 cups of water or broth to 1 cup of dry lentils. Add garlic or bay leaves (but don't add salt yet), and bring to a boil. Use a large saucepan, as the lentils will double or triple in size.
Reduce heat to low and cover the saucepan. Cook the lentils until they're soft but not falling apart. Refer to the cooking times below to determine how long to cook each type of lentil:
Strain the lentils, return them to the saucepan and salt to taste.
How to steam lentils
Put a steamer basket in a saucepan with just enough water to cover the bottom. Add the rinsed lentils to the basket and cover it with a lid. Bring the water to a boil and keep the heat on medium-high. Steam the lentils for 12-15 minutes until they are tender (you should be able to squish a cooked lentil between your fingers). Make sure not to overcook. Your lentils will turn mushy if overcooked, so keep an eye on the timer.
How to cook lentils in the Instant Pot
Some lentils cannot be cooked in the Instant Pot or pressure cooker. Red, yellow and orange lentils become mushy when cooked in an Instant Pot due to their softer texture. For all the other types of lentils, follow these instructions:
Mix 2 cups of liquid in the inner pot for every 1 cup of dried lentils. Season to taste.
Close the lid and seal the pot.
Set the pressure valve to the sealing position and cook on high pressure. The following are the cooking times for each type of lentil in the Instant Pot:
6-7 minutes: black lentils
8-10 minutes: brown lentils and green lentils
Release the pressure. Once the timer goes off, allow a 10 minute natural pressure release. Then turn the pressure valve to the venting position to release the remaining pressure.
Open the lid and stir the lentils. They will have some extra liquid – allow them to soak it up as you stir and serve.