A Complete Guide to Lentils (2024)

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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!

Table of Contents

  • A Complete Guide to Lentils (Cooking, Storing, Using)
  • The Types of Lentils
  • Health Benefits of Lentils
  • How to Store Them?
  • How to Cook Lentils (3-Ways)
  • How to Store Cooked Lentils?
  • How to Use Lentils?
  • Top Cooking Tips and FAQs
  • More Vegan Legume Recipes

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

A Complete Guide to Lentils (1)

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.

A Complete Guide to Lentils (2)

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.

See Also
Lentils

A Complete Guide to Lentils (3)

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/160C 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?

  • Combine with other grains as part of a side/grain bowl or for Rainbow-veggie lentil fried rice
  • Add to casseroles and stews – like this rustic root vegetable and lentil stew or red lentil and vegetable stew
  • Add to soups – like Potato lentil turmeric soup and Butternut squash lentil soup
  • Use in curries and curried dishes (like dal)
  • Use as a protein replacement for chili, nachos, lentil tacos, etc.
  • Sprinkle over salads (warm or cold) – like this Mediterranean lentil salad, lentil chickpea salad with tahini dressing
  • Turn into a side dish with herbs and spices.
  • Use as a baked potato (or sweet potato) filling
  • Serve over spaghetti as a hearty lentil Bolognese or to make red lentil meatballs
  • Make into burgers and patties – like these red lentil amaranth patties, hearty lentil burgers, easy lentil sliders, and Kichari patties (spiced red lentil and rice).
  • Or use as the filling for a vegan shepherd’s pie
  • Turn the lentils into a simple dip (yellow lentil ‘hummus’), spread (spicy lentil kalamata spread), or pate
  • Dry and season for a crispy snack (like roasted chickpeas)
  • Use in brownies (yes, you read that right!)
  • Add to a delicious vegan meatloaf
A Complete Guide to Lentils (4)

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

  • Instant Pot pinto beans
  • Pot beans (frijoles de la olla)
  • Homestyle baked beans
  • Oil-free chickpea salad
  • Chickpea ‘tuna’ salad
  • Black bean onion pilaf
  • Black bean ‘meatballs’
  • Everyone’s favorite bean salad

A Complete Guide to Lentils (6)

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

More about Toni Okamoto

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A Complete Guide to Lentils (2024)

FAQs

Which color lentil is healthiest? ›

Black Lentils (Beluga lentils)

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.

What's the healthiest way to eat lentils? ›

The Bottom Line

Lentils are a nutritious food that's low-fat and high in protein and fiber. While they make a delicious addition to a soup, stew or salad, you should not eat them raw. No matter which type of lentils you buy, you can easily cook them by boiling your lentils in water on the stove.

Can you eat lentils every day? ›

Eating half a cup of cooked lentils gives you lots of essential nutrients and their high fiber content makes you feel full. However, the fiber in lentils can be hard for your body to break down. Eating too many lentils can cause gas, bloating, and cramping.

What to mix with lentils to make a complete protein? ›

The combination of wheat or rice with beans or lentils is referred to as complementary because they create a nutritionally complete protein.

Are lentils a carb or protein? ›

Lentils are high in fibre, and complex carbohydrates, while low in fat and calories. Their high protein content makes lentils a perfect option for those looking to boost their protein intake. They are naturally gluten-free, making them a delicious staple in a gluten-free kitchen.

Are lentils anti-inflammatory? ›

Overall, lentils are a highly nutritious food with various health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. The fiber and protein content in lentils make them beneficial for weight management, blood sugar regulation, and supporting overall gut health.

Do lentils burn belly fat? ›

Lentils and beans are rich in soluble fiber, which is the single best carbohydrate to help you burn belly fat. "Soluble fiber forms a thick gel when it binds with water in the body," Tracy said. "This gel that forms therefore slows digestion in the body, which keeps you feeling full for longer!

Do lentils clean your gut? ›

Lentils are rich in a type of fiber that helps your digestive system work as it should and fuels good bacteria in your gut. Fiber may also help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. “Fiber plays an important role in regulating our bowels and protecting the immune system,” says Homan.

Do lentils cleanse the liver? ›

Detox Value and Health Benefits of Lentils

Lentils are one of the most nutritious foods that cleanse the liver. In fact, their detox properties aren't the best thing about this particular legume.

Are chickpeas better than lentils? ›

Chickpea and lentils both only contain what scientists consider "good fats." Therefore, Chickpeas are better as they have more "good fats." Lentils have more dietary fiber than Chickpeas. Fiber is a strange nutrient. It doesn't provide calories and doesn't stick around your body.

Which country eats the most lentils? ›

In India, where roughly half of the world's lentils are consumed, cultivation dates back to 2500 B.C. Today, more than 50 different varieties are grown. Nearly every traditional Indian meal includes at least one lentil dish, and they are an important source of nutrients for millions of vegetarians on the subcontinent.

Are lentils a superfood? ›

Lentils are a nutritional powerhouse. A 1/2 cup serving is an excellent source of folate, fiber, and manganese, and a good source of protein, thiamin, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and copper. Folate is required to create DNA and other genetic material.

Do lentils need rice to be a complete protein? ›

As opposed to animal proteins, most vegetable proteins do not contain a complete set of essential amino acids. However, vegetables like lentils are high in fiber and other nutrients. Lentils can be combined with other ingredients like rice to form a “complete protein” with a full complement of amino acids.

What is the best thing to eat with lentils? ›

If you have a few root vegetables hanging out in your fridge, those are also great with lentils, like in this warm lentil and root vegetable salad with parsnips and carrots. Lentils are particularly nice with cheese, as in this grilled halloumi and lentil salad.

Are green or brown lentils better for you? ›

Experts consider green lentils healthier than the other varieties. One-half cup of cooked lentils has: Calories: 140. Fat: 0.5 grams.

Are red or yellow lentils healthier? ›

Yellow lentils are richer in iron than red lentils, whereas red lentils are richer in sodium and potassium. Potassium is both a mineral and a crucial electrolyte that the body needs in order to control electrical pulses. It also regulates hydration, water balance, and central nervous system activity.

Which is healthier green or red lentils? ›

In terms of nutrition, both red and green lentils offer similar benefits. While red lentils tend to have a slightly higher protein content, green lentils boast higher levels of certain minerals such as potassium and magnesium.

Why are black lentils the healthiest? ›

Unlike green lentils, black lentils such as Beluga possess anthocyanins – the same powerful antioxidant found in dark berries like blueberries and blackberries. These antioxidants are great at preventing damage to cells by free-radicals.

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