How to Cook Lentils Perfectly Every Time

Tip: Don't Add Salt Too Early

gather lentils

The Spruce

Lentils are small, round legumes that come in many colors and sizes. Because they're inexpensive, highly nutritious, and can be stored for a long time without refrigeration, lentils are a staple in many cuisines across the globe. And, as an added bonus, the high-protein content in lentils makes them an excellent meat substitute.

Once you're comfortable cooking them, lentils are likely to be a favorite on your menus at home.

Tips for Cooking Lentils

Below you'll find tips for working with lentils in the kitchen. Give them a try and enjoy!

Lentils need no pre-soaking and cook much more quickly than other dried legumes. Simply pick over to remove debris or shriveled lentils, then rinse and drain them. Cover the lentils with water or broth and boil for 2 to 3 minutes (to aid in digestion). Reduce the heat and simmer until tender. Depending on the variety and age, cooking time may take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. 

Factors That Affect Cooking Time

Older lentils will take longer to cook because they have lost more moisture. Do not mix newly-purchased lentils with old ones because they will cook unevenly. Acidic ingredients, such as wine or tomatoes, can also lengthen cooking time. You may wish to add these ingredients after the lentils have become tender.

Salting and Seasoning Lentils

Adding salt to the cooking water will toughen the beans, so only do so once the lentils are completely cooked. For the best flavor, liberally season your lentils with your preferred spices.

Recipe Tip

  • If using a pressure cooker to cook lentils, add a teaspoon of oil to keep the scum from blocking the safety valve.