Why You Shouldn’t Throw Away the Liquid from Cooking Lentils

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Jessica Goldman Foung)

For many home cooks, lentils have officially crossed over from the world of unfamiliar legume to common pantry staple, earning a coveted spot on the shelf between rice and beans. Red or green, tender or toothy, hot or cold — lentils can be used in an endless variety of dishes. And no matter how you plan to eat them, they usually start with a simple boil and drain.

But here’s a tip: Don’t toss that cooking liquid.

What to Do With Lentil Cooking Liquid

If you plan to strain your lentils (turning them into a soup or leaving them to magically dissolve into dal), be sure to save the tasty, liquid leftovers. The lentils give the water an earthy, savory flavor that is so good, I’ll admit, I sometimes drink it like tea.

And more often, I save it for future recipes that call for stock, especially of the vegetarian variety.

(Image credit: Jessica Goldman Foung)

How to Save It

To save the lentil cooking liquid, let it cool to room temperature and, for a clearer “stock,” strain it again with a fine mesh sieve to remove any frothy, starch-like residue (or skip this step if you’re like me and are impartial about lentil froth).

Then, transfer the lentil stock to an airtight container. Label it with the date and keep it in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Or better yet, freeze in ice cube trays for ultimate recipe flexibility.

(Image credit: Jessica Goldman Foung)
(Image credit: Jessica Goldman Foung)

When to Use It

Use lentil stock in any recipe that calls for chicken or vegetable stock, like risottos, gravies, casseroles, or the base of your next bowl of curry-spiced ramen.

And pat yourself on the back for getting more from your ingredients and your time at the stove.

Waste Not

This column will show you how to use more of every ingredient you buy, boosting creativity, flavor, and bucks in perhaps surprising ways.