How To Cook Perfectly Tender Lentils on the Stove
Dried lentils are a year-round staple in my pantry, essential for rounding out salads during hot weather and hearty soups in the winter months. Regardless of the season, their quick-cooking, no-soak-required nature makes them ideal for healthy weeknight meals. Worried about mushy lentils? I have a trick for that, too.
Which Lentils to Buy for Weeknight Meals
For weeknight meals, I like keeping green or brown lentils in our cupboard. These cook quickly and evenly without becoming mushy and are the most versatile for our recipes. Yellow, red, and orange lentils are fantastic, but since they tend to get mushy when cooked, they are usually best added to soups and sauces rather than cooked on their own.
It’s also important to buy the freshest lentils you can find and then use them within a few months. Older lentils take longer to cook and tend to shed their skins during cooking. You may also see tiny white flecks where the lentil started to sprout. They’re still tasty and entirely edible, but just not as presentation-worthy.
Avoiding Mushy Lentils
After trying many different cooking methods for lentils, I have found that the most reliable way to cook perfectly tender lentils is to bring them to a rapid simmer, then reduce the heat to low for the rest of cooking. You want to see just a few bubbles in the water and some gentle movement in the lentils. They will plump up nicely without splitting their skins or becoming mushy.
The other trick is to wait to add the salt or any acidic ingredients until the lentils are done cooking. These ingredients can cause the lentils to stay crunchy even when fully cooked. If you stir in the salt while the lentils are still warm, they will absorb just enough to taste fully seasoned.
Using Your Lentils
Once cooked, your lentils are ready for any kind of culinary action you want to throw at them. They can be tossed into both green salads and grain salads, used in sandwich wraps, added to soups and chilis, or even made into veggie burgers. Some nights, I love a simple bowl of warm lentils tossed with good olive oil and vinegar with a poached egg to complete the meal.
Prep time 5 minutes to 10 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes to 30 minutes
Makesabout 2 1/2 cups
- 1 cup
dried green, brown, or French lentils
- 2 cups
bay leaf, garlic clove, or other seasonings (optional)
- 1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon
Strainer or colander
Rinse the lentils. Place the lentils in a strainer or colander. Pick over and remove any shriveled lentils, debris, or rocks. Thoroughly rinse under running water.
Combine the lentils and water. Transfer the rinsed lentils to a small saucepan and add the water. Add any seasonings being used, but do not add the salt yet.
Bring to a rapid simmer, then reduce heat. Bring the water to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. You should only see a few small bubbles and some slight movement in the lentils.
Simmer the lentils. Simmer uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes. Add more water as needed to make sure the lentils are just barely covered.
Salt the lentils. Lentils are cooked as soon as they are tender and no longer crunchy. Older lentils may take longer to cook and shed their outer skins as they cook. Strain the lentils and remove the bay leaf, if used. Return the lentils to the pan and stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt. Taste and add more salt as needed. Season them with olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, fresh herbs, or eat them on their own. Lentils can also be added to soups, salads, or other recipes.
Storage: Cooked lentils can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Get the Kitchn Daily in your inbox.