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