How to Cook Lentils

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Learn how to cook lentils on the stovetop and in the oven with tips to make them have a tender bite. Brining the lentils produces a creamy texture and helps to retain their spherical shape. The earthy flavor of lentils pairs well as a side dish or combined with other ingredients for a complete meal.

Spoon holding cooked brown lentils over a stove top

Lentils are a versatile pantry staple that provides nutritional value and interesting textures to dishes. There are about 12 different types of lentils which allow for an abundance of taste options. No matter what variety of lentil you select, learning how to cook lentils properly is an essential technique that’s not hard to do.

Often lentils can become mushy in texture with outer skins that burst easily, making for not a very attractive or tasty recipe. One step that can help keep the surface intact with creamy centers is to brine the lentils. Cooking the lentils on a low simmer on the stovetop also helps to reduce the mini-explosions that can occur. These simple steps will allow you to make lentils that will shine on the plate!

How to Prepare Lentils

Prepping lentils is easy:

1) Sort

Small dish overflowing with brown lentils

Measure out 1 cup of lentils and place them in a fine-mesh strainer. Check for discolored or broken lentils. Remove them from the batch and discard.

2) Rinse

Water from a faucet washing brown lentils in a colander

Similar to the process of preparing quinoa, rinse the lentils for about 1 minute under cold running water to wash the legumes and remove any excess dirt.

3) Brine (Optional Step)

Pyrex glass measuring cup with lentils brining in a salt water solution

Brining is the key to help lentils better hold its shape, as the process softens the outer shells and makes it more pliable, reducing the chance of bursting. If you have time, definitely do it, but if time is limited, you can skip the brining step. To brine lentils, transfer to a medium-sized bowl and soak in 4 cups of warm salt water (110°F/43°C) for 1 hour.

PLEASE NOTE: Brining is NOT recommended for all types of lentils. Only brine green, brown, French green, Lentilles du Puy, and black lentils; overall the ones that have not been hulled. Do not brine red or yellow lentils! Their protective skins have been removed, and typically those are used for stews and soups that you want the legume to break down into a puree-like consistency. I have personally found that French green lentils and Lentilles du Puy are the best to brine.

How to Cook Lentils on the Stovetop

Cooking lentils on a stovetop

Place lentils in a medium-sized pot. Add 3 cups of water and bring the cooking liquid to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer. Keep an eye on the liquid level and add a little bit more as needed, making sure to keep the lentils completely submerged.

  • Brined lentils should cook for about 10 to 15 minutes over very low heat and minimal agitation. The hour given to absorb the brine hydrates the legume, so it takes a shorter time to cook.
  • Lentils that are not brined should cook until tender and will have a little chew, about 20 to 40 minutes depending on the varietal.
  • Red and yellow lentils only need 15 to 20 minutes to cook and do not require brining, as they are more delicate in texture.

If you want to infuse more flavor, you could simmer in broth, stock or wine, and add some aromatics like sprigs of thyme, rosemary or bay leaf. Season water with salt to make the lentils taste less bland.

How to Cook Lentils in the Oven

Closeup photo of lentils cooking in a Dutch oven

Instead of simmering the lentils, you can bake them. This method provides an even gentler cooking process as the indirect heat evenly surrounds the entire Dutch oven. Baking in the oven at 325°F (163°C) takes more time than on the stove (30 to 60 minutes). I’ve found the best results from baking Lentilles du Puy (featured above) and French green lentils.

Things to remember

Overall you have a few options for cooking lentils. The first to decide is brine or not brine, and the second is to use a stovetop or oven. If you want to minimize the bursting of lentils, then baking is your best bet.

Stovetop simmering has more agitation because it’s being cooked directly under a heat source, so some skin breakage may occur but not as much if you brine. If you’re not as concerned with the appearance of the lentils and short on time, the stovetop is for you. If you’ve got time, then do the brine! Bake if you can wait. Got it? Good!

More Lentil recipes

Why brining helps keep lentils intact

Lentils are tiny circular legumes with thin skins and more surface area than other dried beans. This means that they cook fast, but are also more prone to broken skins when cooked. One way to reduce this problem is by soaking the beans in a saltwater solution. The sodium ions in the salt weaken the pectin in the skin of the lentils, which allows more water to permeate. The skins become more pliable, therefore reducing breaking when heated.

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How to Cook Lentils

Learn how to cook lentils on the stovetop and in the oven. Brining the lentils produces a creamy texture and helps to retain their spherical shape.
Pin Print Review
4.2 from 10 votes
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time1 hr 15 mins
Servings 4 servings
Course Side
Cuisine Mediterranean

Ingredients

Lentil Brine

  • 1 cup dried lentils, green, brown, French green, Lentilles du Puy, black
  • 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 7 cups water, divided

Lentils (no brine)

  • 1 cup dried lentils, green, brown, French green, Lentilles du Puy, black, red, yellow
  • ½ teaspon kosher salt
  • 4 cups water, 3 cups for stovetop, 4 cups for baking method

Instructions 

Lentil Brine

  • Add 1 cup lentils to a fine-mesh strainer. Sort and then rinse with cold water.
  • Add 1 teaspoon salt and 4 cups warm water (110°F/43°C) to a medium-sized bowl, stir to dissolve the salt.
  • Add lentils to the brine and allow to sit for 1 hour.
  • Drain using the strainer and rinse with cold water.
  • Lentils can be stored in the refrigerator up to 2 days after brining before cooking.
  • Cook lentils by the stovetop or baking method.

Stovetop Method

  • Add lentils to a fine-mesh strainer. Sort and then rinse with cold water. Skip this step if already brined.
  • Transfer lentils to a medium-sized pot. Add 3 cups of water and ½ teaspoon salt.
  • Bring water to a boil over high heat. Once it just begins to boil, reduce to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Minimal agitation is the goal.
  • Add more water as needed to the pot, keeping the lentils submerged.
  • Cook until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes for brined lentils, or 15 to 30 minutes for unbrined lentils. Time varies based on the type of lentil.
  • Drain the cooked lentils through a fine-mesh strainer and transfer to a bowl or container.

Baking Method

  • Set the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat to 325°F (163°C).
  • Add lentils to a fine-mesh strainer. Sort and then rinse then rinse with cold water. Skip step if already brined.
  • Transfer lentils to a medium-sized ovenproof pot or Dutch oven.
  • Add 4 cups of water and ½ teaspoon salt.
  • Cover pot and place in the oven.
  • Bake for 30 minutes. Check for doneness, continue to bake and check every 5 minutes until tender. Bake up to 60 minutes. Time varies depending on the type of lentil.
  • Drain cooked lentils through a fine mesh strainer and transfer to a bowl or container.

Notes

  • After brining, you can drain and store the lentils in the refrigerator for up to two days.

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Nutrition Facts
How to Cook Lentils
Amount Per Serving
Calories 150
% Daily Value*
Sodium 85mg4%
Carbohydrates 27g9%
Fiber 7g28%
Sugar 2g2%
Protein 11g22%
Calcium 40mg4%
Iron 2.7mg15%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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13 Comments Leave a comment or review

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I’ve found that different types if lentils have their own unique taste and texture. However they typically have a light earthy and subtly sweet flavor, and the texture can vary between delicate and creamy or more firm. They are kind of like tiny kidney or black beans, with a thicker skin.

    • Nicole says

      it is natural test and typically infused with spices you might like. one thing to note those are much easier to digest then any other larger beens.

  1. Michael says

    I was looking forward to trying this method, since I love brown lentils but have always been disappointed by how easily they disintegrate. But I think the ratios you’ve provided are way off for brown lentils. I followed the instructions for brining and baking, and after 30 minutes they had basically turned into watery mush.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I appreciate your feedback, Michael! I’ve found baking to work best for lentils du put or green lentils because they are more sturdy. Perhaps next time check sooner for the brown lentils. I would try 15 minutes, then every 5 minutes after.

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