Lentils are an amazing member of the legume family. They're excellent in soups, salads and side dishes, and they pair well with many other flavors. According to the Mayo Clinic, they're also low in fat and high in protein, B vitamins, iron and fiber, which makes them an excellent source of nutrition as well. Combine all this with the fact that lentils are inexpensive and very easy to cook, and you simply have to give them a try.
Stove Top Method
The most common way to prepare lentils is to cook them in a saucepan. Using a 2:1 ratio of cold water to lentils tends to yield the best results, but you can always add a little more water if needed. Before cooking, rinse the lentils and sort through them to remove any field debris that might have been gathered with them.
- Pour 2 cups of cold water into a saucepan.
- Add 1 cup of dried lentils.
- Bring the pan to a boil and continue to boil for two minutes.
- Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover with a lid, but make sure that it's cocked just enough to let out excess steam.
- Let the lentils simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking.
- Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Remove the pot from the heat, let sit for 10 minutes with the lid on, and then they're ready to eat or add to other recipes like vegetarian burgers or meatloaf.
Pressure Cook Method
If you need your lentils in a hurry, try pressure cooking them. Once you've made a batch, you can decide if your cooking time needs to be adjusted to reach your idea of perfect tenderness.
- Stir together 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 cup of lentils, and 2 cups of water in your pressure cooker.
- Close and lock the lid, and heat the pressure cooker on high.
- When the pan achieves pressure, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 12 minutes.
- After 12 minutes, remove the pressure cooker from the heat.
- Allow the cooker to to reduce pressure on its own by letting it sit on a cool burner for approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
- When the pressure has dropped, you can open the cooker and use the lentils in whatever recipe you like, such as making baked lentils or lentil and rice cakes.
Ideas for Flavoring Your Lentils
Lentil are great straight out of the pot with a little added flavoring. Salt and pepper are always favorites, but you might also want to try adding some of the following ingredients.
- Curry powder: This classic Indian spice blend is perfect with red lentils.
- Minced onion and garlic: Add these during the last 10 minutes of cooking so the flavors have a chance to bloom and blend.
- Crushed tomatoes and lemon juice: Tomatoes and lemon give lentils a delightfully tangy flavor.
- Chili powder and jalapeño: These flavorings are for anyone who loves a little taste of the southwest.
Choose the Right Type of Lentils
You get slightly different results when you cook different types of lentils, so choose the right type for whichever dish you plan to make.
- Red lentils cook fast and make great purees, especially for Indian dishes.
- Brown lentils are a great choice for soups and stews, and they can act as thickening agents as they cook down.
- Green lentils hold their shape better than other lentils even after they're cooked. This makes them the perfect lentil to use in a variety of Middle East salads.
Additional Tips for Cooking Lentils
Even though lentils are extremely easy to cook, there are a few things you should know about them before you begin. These tips will help you make great lentils every time.
- Never mix an old package of lentils with a new package. Lentils continue to dry as they age, and they'll take longer to cook. If you mix them with newer lentils, they'll cook at different rates, which means you'll wind up with tough lentils mixed amongst the tender ones.
- Always cook your lentils until they're tender before adding acidic ingredients like lemon juice, tomatoes, or vinegar. The acid actually slows down the cooking process.
- Don't add salt to your lentils until after they are tender because salt will make them tougher if you add it too soon.
- Since different types of lentils cook at different rates, always check your lentils for tenderness rather than simply timing them. Red lentils cook quickest, followed by brown and then green.
Too Good to Pass Up
If you haven't made lentils before, there's no excuse to wait any longer. They taste great, they're good for you, and they're incredibly easy to cook. So instead of passing them up, cook some and pass them around the dinner table instead.