How To Cook Lentils

Tips on How to Cook Lentils

People who seek alternative low fat proteins for their diet often seek advice on how to cook lentils so as to provide a number of different recipes using this healthy and delicious legume.

What they are

Legumes are a classification of vegetable matter including lentils, beans and peas that are considered to be some of the most nutritious food humans can eat.  Very low in fat with no cholesterol, they are a very healthy food.  They are good source of protein that can be used as an alternative to meat in any diet.

Lentil plants are annuals that are hardy to cool weather conditions.  They grow to approximately 2 feet tall, branching out thinly.  Flowers appear and develop into pods which develop over the course of the growing season.  After about 3 months of growth, the pods mature by drying when they can be harvested.

There are a number of different varieties of lentils, but in general can be categorized as either large lentils or small lentils.  Most common types found in grocery stores are flat brown, small yellow or large pea shaped lentils.  Any of the types are equally as nutritious as the next.

Benefits of lentils

As with any dried bean, lentils are an excellent source of dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble.  High fiber foods are beneficial for the digestive tract and also have proven to be highly valued as a heart healthy food as eating them greatly reduced the likelihood of coronary heart disease.  Lentils are also high in magnesium and folate, both of which contribute to improved heart function.  They are also valuable in stabilizing blood sugar and replenishing iron stores.

How to prepare

Lentils are an easier food to prepare than other dried beans or peas because they do not require presoaking.  They should, however, be well sorted and rinsed before using.

Even a beginner cook can quickly learn how to cook lentils.  A rule of thumb is to use 1 part lentils and 3 parts water.  To prepare, bring three cups of water to a rolling boil over high heat; add one cup of sorted and rinsed lentils.  Bring the water back to a boil; reduce heat to simmer and cover the pot.  Depending on the type of lentil, completion of cooking will take between 20 and 45 minutes.  Red lentils require less cooking time than either green or brown varieties do.  It is important not to add salt to the water at the beginning, as this can make the lentils tough.  Instead, if salt is desired, add it near the end of the cooking time.


Lentils are a very versatile food.  They can be made as soup, chilled and used in salads or used as a side dish.  Vegetarian burgers can be fashioned using lentils as a base element.  Many cultures depend on the legume as a staple in their diet, often serving lentils as a main dish.  As an appetizer, cooked lentils can be made into small cakes after combining with onion, cheese, garlic, eggs and bread crumbs and baking them until golden and crunchy.  Served with salsa, these small cakes are a Mexican favorite.

When preparing lentils as a side dish, the legume should be cooked until tender but not mushy.  They should still be able to hold their own shape for both visual appeal and palate pleasure.  Adding lentils to soups or stews should be done within the last 20 minutes of cooking until you wish to thicken the mixture with lentils; if so, add them about 10 or 15 minutes earlier.

Lentils are a nutritious and delicious food, and so easy to prepare that even beginners can learn how to cook lentils as a main dish, side dish or appetizer.