A Complete Guide to Lentils

BY : PUBLISHED : September 8th, 2021 UPDATED: September 9th, 2021

Within this guide to lentils you’ll learn about the different types of lentils, and how to store, cook, season, and enjoy this low-budget nutritional pantry staple! In no time, you’ll be cooking up large batches of this protein-dense pantry staple for salads, soups, stews, burgers, sides, and more!

A Complete Guide to Lentils (Cooking, Storing, Using)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a vegan that doesn’t have a collection of legumes in their pantry, including lentils, whether tinned or dried. They’re packed with protein and nutrients, are super low-budget, and a single large bag can be stored for more than a year in your pantry!

Unlike beans, lentils are also quicker to prepare; not needing to be soaked in advance and ready in as little as 10 minutes depending on the variety and cooking method. However, they’re also one of those ingredients that can be left forgotten in the pantry because of not knowing how to cook/use them. 

Luckily, there are several varieties to choose from, and they’re all super versatile. So whether you want to add them to soups, stews, casseroles, burgers, or salads – there are tons of ways to add them to your diet, meaning no more having to worry about wasting them in the back of your pantry!

Oh and, if you’re looking for more cooking 101 guides, you might also like this guide to tofu, quinoa, zucchini, avocado, and brown rice

The Types of Lentils

Fun fact: Lentils are a type of legume (like beans and chickpeas), named after a Latin word meaning ‘lens,’ thanks to their lens-like appearance. 

Like beans, there are several varieties of lentils, with five main types (though hundreds within those), including:

Red and Yellow Lentils (split lentils)

The mildest, sweetest, and most ‘tender’ of the lentil varieties, red and yellow lentils are popular for use in soups and stews, especially when you want a soft texture. Unlike other varieties, these don’t hold their shape (or texture) well when cooked as the seed coat has been removed, which is why they’re often used in pureed soups and sauces (particularly within Indian -like dal- and Middle Eastern cuisine). 

Green Lentils (French Lentils)

Unlike red/yellow lentils, green lentils hold up well after cooking and have a nutty, peppery flavor. However, it’s also important to note that they take the longest to cook. However, thanks to their texture, green lentils make for a green addition to salads and flavoring to serve as a side. 

Within this category, there are also Puy Lentils (French lentils) referred to as the ‘original green lentil’ from the French region Le Puy. These lentils are unfortunately fairly expensive, though. 

Brown Lentils

One of the most common (and budget-friendly) varieties, brown lentils are easy to use, have a mild yet earthy flavor, and don’t lose their texture upon cooking. These are a bit like the all-purpose lentil – use them within salads, as a base to burgers and patties, in soups, stews, etc. 

Black Lentils (Beluga lentils)

With a savory, earthy flavor (similar to black beans), black lentils are nicknamed ‘beluga caviar’ for their visual similarity to caviar. Luckily, though, this pulse is 100% vegan! Thanks to the robust flavor, these lentils pair well with meaty veggies and marinated proteins like mushrooms, tofu, and seitan. 

Best of all, black lentils are the most nutritious variety of lentils, boasting the highest amount of protein, plus high levels of calcium, potassium, and iron. 

Health Benefits of Lentils

mediterranean lentil salad in a white bowl against a white background

When it comes to lentils, we at PBOAB will happily label these a ‘powerhouse’ of nutrition; packed with various vitamins, minerals, and health benefits – including:

  • Lentils are protein-dense: Roughly 25% of lentils are made up of protein. A single cup of cooked lentils holds between 20-28g of protein, depending on the variety eaten! Helping to fuel your day and essential for growth and muscle development. 
  • High fiber: Lentils contain considerable amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber, essential to gut/bowel health.
  • Potassium: A single serving of lentils holds more potassium than a large banana. Potassium is excellent for reducing the damage of excess sodium.
  • Folate: A single cup of cooked lentils supplies around 90% of the RDI (recommended daily intake) of folate, which is important for building new red blood cells and proper nerve function. This B vitamin is also particularly important for pregnant women.
  • Iron: You will eat almost 30% of your RDI iron in a single cup of cooked lentils. Iron is critical for the formation of hemoglobin in the blood.
  • Low fat: In fact, they are practically fat-free (just 1g fat per one-cup serving), meaning that you can pair them with fattier ingredients (like avocados – or olive oil) without feeling guilty. 

Lentils also have high levels of copper, manganese, and phosphorus and moderate levels of several other vitamins and minerals like zinc, magnesium, niacin, thiamine, etc. Plus, the polyphenols found in lentils contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

mediterranean lentil salad in a white bowl against a white background

How to Store Them?

Store dry lentils in an airtight container in a cool, dark location (like a pantry or kitchen cupboard) for up to a year for the best results. I recommend labeling the container with the date too. 

While the lentils don’t ‘go bad’ after this time, they start to lose flavor. Lentils can be perfectly fine even after 3 years when stored properly. 

How to Cook Lentils (3-Ways)

The Ingredients and Substitutes

  • Lentils: Use the lentils of your choice, rinsed and drained
  • Liquid: You can use either salted water or vegetable broth. The amount used will vary based on which cooking method you use. 

Use 1 cup lentils to 1 ½ cup liquid (for pressure cooker/stovetop) OR 4 cups liquid (for slow cooker)

The estimated cooking times:

  • Red/Yellow lentils: 15-25 minutes – sometimes as low as 10 minutes. 
  • Brown lentils: 25-35 minutes (Usually around 30 minutes. For soups and stews, increase this to 40 minutes)
  • Green lentils (and Puy lentils): 30-45 minutes.
  • Black lentils:  25-35 minutes

Note: The below methods are based on brown/green lentils. Therefore, please adjust the cooking times accordingly. 

Also, be mindful about sifting through the lentils (in a fine-mesh sieve) to remove any potential stones/debris before the following methods.

Creamy Curried Butternut Squash Lentil Soup in a white bowl with a white background

Pressure Cooker Method

  1. Add the lentils and water or broth to your pressure cooker, seal the vent, and cook on high pressure for 8 minutes (up to 10 for more tender results).
  2. Then release the pressure. Once it’s fully released, remove the lid and check for doneness. If they’re not done, simply return the lid and sit to steam for a while to continue cooking. 

Red/Yellow lentils will take just 2-3 minutes in a pressure cooker but will also turn to mush, so it’s only recommended when making soup/dal. 

Stovetop Method

  1. Add the lentils and water or broth to a saucepan (with a lid)
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. 
  3. Once boiling, cover the pot with the lid, reduce the heat to low, and allow it to simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Check at the 30-minute mark and increase as needed. 

Slow Cooker Method

  1. Add the lentils and water or broth to your slow cooker.
  2. Cover and cook on low for between 6-8 hours, until tender. Check on the lentils at the 6-hour mark and if they’re still tough, cover and continue to cook in 30-minute increments until tender. 

Bonus: Oven method

  1. Add the lentils and water or broth to a Dutch oven or another oven-safe dish with a lid. 
  2. Place the covered pot in a preheated oven at 325F/_C on the middle rack and bake for 30 minutes or until tender. I recommend checking at the 30-minute mark and increasing in 5-minute increments until tender. 

How to Store Cooked Lentils?

Fridge: Store the cooked lentils in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

Freezer: Allow the lentils to cool before separating into smaller containers (Easier to defrost as needed) and freeze for up to four months. Allow the lentils to thaw in the fridge overnight before using. 

Be careful when reheating the thawed lentils, as they’re more likely to ‘split.’ 

How to Use Lentils?

Two Lentil Tacos on a white cutting board with ingredients in the background

Top Cooking Tips and FAQs

  • Do you need to soak lentils? No – it’s not essential. However, if you’re someone who feels particularly bloated (or gassy) after legumes, it’s recommended. Soaking lentils will help to deactivate the anti-nutrients within (thus increasing the mineral absorption rate), which can cause digestive upset. As a bonus, soaking also helps to break down the amylase within, which makes them easier to digest.
  • How to soak lentils? As lentils are small, they don’t need as much time as larger legumes. I recommend rinsing them first. Then combine the lentils and enough cold tap water to cover them with at least a couple inches. Soak for a minimum of 2 hours, up to 24. After soaking, drain, then rinse once more before cooking.
  • Can you eat raw lentils? No – please don’t. Like other legumes, uncooked lentils can be toxic to humans and cause severe stomach upset.
  • Dry to cooked lentil size? Lentils approximately grow 2-3x their size when cooked. Usually, I find they double in size – plus a little extra.  
  • For extra flavor: To lightly flavor cooking lentils, place additional ingredients directly into the pan. A Bay leaf, garlic, onion, salt, other herbs (like oregano or a bouquet garni), etc. Even a little vegan white wine would work. 
  • Don’t overboil the lentils: As soon as the mixture is boiling on the stovetop, reduce the heat to low. Otherwise, they’re more likely to fall apart and become mushy. 
  • Adjusting the cooking time: The amount needed to cook the lentils will depend on their variety, age, and how tender you’d like them to be. For that reason, use the above recommendations as a guideline and adjust if needed. 
  • Choosing the best lentils: The lentil you select depends on the recipe. While brown lentils are fairly ‘all-purpose,’ red/yellow lentils are best for soups and stews where their mushy texture works well. In comparison, green and brown lentils maintain their shape after cooking and are great for salads, casseroles, side dishes, etc. 

More Vegan Legume Recipes

About Toni Okamoto

"They say you are what you eat, so I strive to be healthy.
My goal in life is not to be rich or wealthy,
'Cause true wealth comes from good health and wise ways...
we got to start taking better care of ourselves " - Dead Prez

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