Lentils are seriously underrated. They may seem boring and tasteless, but with a little bit of love, they can become tender and flavorful. Besides that, they are packed with plant-based protein, fiber, iron, and potassium, making them a nutritional powerhouse. Another perk is that lentils are one of the most inexpensive foods out there, and for those seeking to eat a more healthful diet, you’d be remiss if you didn’t include lentils.
Whether you’ve never tried lentils before or you think they’re extremely dull, read on to learn more about how to cook this humble legume and incorporate it into countless dishes.
1. Cook the Lentils on the Stovetop
Perhaps the easiest and no-nonsense way to prepare lentils is by cooking them on the stovetop. It’s sort of like cooking pasta, except easier! Just add some cool water to a pot, place it on the stove under medium-high heat, and cover. Wait until it comes to a boil, add your lentils, and reduce the heat to low. When in doubt, add more water than you think you’ll need to avoid burning the lentils. Even if there is leftover water, you can just drain it from the lentils. To make things more savory, you can substitute the water for a broth of your choice, such as veggie or chicken.
You want to simmer your lentils, not boil them, because they tend to break down at very high temperatures and turn into mush. After about 20 minutes, check on the lentils by carefully taking one and chewing down on it. Again, you can use pasta as a reference point here; the lentils should be cooked, but not too mushy. Once they’re done, just drain them and give them a good rinse.
2. Using a Rice Cooker
Rice cookers aren’t just for rice, you know! Lentils cook up nice and easy in this contraption, and all you need to do is make sure you use a ratio of equal parts lentils and water. Just like stovetop cooking, it should take about 20 minutes or so for the lentils to cook. The nice thing about a rice cooker is that it will automatically stop and let you know when the lentils are done. Then, drain, rinse, and you’re ready to eat.
3. Make a Lentil Soup
Who needs the canned stuff when you can easily whip up your own lentil soup at home? Use red or brown lentils for this recipe, along with soup-friendly veggies, such as celery, onions, and carrots. Sauté the vegetables in a saucepan with a bit of olive oil and garlic to get them nice and soft. At the same time, grab a large pot and add two cups of lentils, eight cups of broth, and 1½ cups of diced tomatoes. You can also add in your choice of spices and seasonings, such as black pepper, thyme, parsley, basil, or cumin. Once the veggies are tender, add them to the mixture for a delicious and hearty lentil soup.
4. Try Eating Them Cold in a Salad
Lentils don’t have to be warm for you to enjoy them. In fact, why not toss them in a salad for an extra protein kick? This is a great use for any leftover lentils you have sitting in the fridge. If the idea of cold lentils scares you, then you can always add them to a warm salad. For instance, try adding ½ cup of cooked red lentils to a bed of wilted spinach along with sautéed red onions, zucchini, and bell peppers. A balsamic vinaigrette and some crushed black pepper bring all the flavors together.
5. A Traditional Indian Lentil Recipe
If you’ve ever gone to an Indian restaurant, you may have seen dal on the menu. This is a traditional dish consisting of lentils, onions, and tomatoes cooked in a hearty broth and spices such as coriander, cumin, garam masala, mustard seed, and turmeric. There are several variations that you can try out, or you can experiment in the kitchen. Maybe add potatoes, cauliflower, or broccoli to the mix.
6. Use Lentils as a Substitute for Hummus
Hummus is great, but if you’re tired of the same old flavor, you can actually make your own lentil dipping spread. Cook a cup of red or green lentils on the stovetop, this time ensuring that they get mushy. Then, you can dump them into a blender or food processor along with a dollop of tahini, a couple of cloves of garlic, and a sprinkle of herbs such as cilantro or parsley. The result will be a delicious and healthy spread you can eat with crackers or sliced veggies.
When looking for lentils at the grocery store, be sure to check the package for the expiration date and for any debris or residue hanging out among the lentils. While you will need to rinse the lentils before cooking them, you don’t want to be picking out sediment and dirt. Unlike dry beans, which need to be soaked overnight, you can get away with giving the lentils a nice, clean rinse prior to cooking. This makes lentils so convenient, and they don’t give you the same gassy outcome as beans.
You might be a bit confused while perusing the different lentil varieties out there, so here’s a quick run down:
- Red lentils have a sweet, nutty flavor and get very soft the longer they cook. This is why they’re mostly used in Indian dal and soups.
- Yellow lentils are very similar to the red variety. In fact, they’re actually red lentils, just in a lighter hue. You’ll notice that they’re very small and have their hulls removed for easy cooking.
- Green lentils have a peppery flavor and hold their structure as they cook, although they take a longer time, usually about 45 minutes. You’ll most likely see these lentils in salads.
- Brown lentils fall somewhere in the middle in terms of texture, but they’re also the most versatile, with a savory, earthy flavor.
Now that you know, you can choose the right lentils and cook up some awesome nutritious meals!