3 Ways to Use Lentils

Whether you’re interested in how to use cooked lentils or how to cook dry lentils, we have some ideas for you. The best lentil recipes are often deceptively simple — yet pack some great flavor and nutrition!

  • By Leila Kalmbach
  • April 14, 2020

We’ve all been there: Staring at the lentils at the grocery store, knowing they’re good for us and maybe even tasty, but having absolutely no idea how to use them. If you grabbed a bag of lentils during a pandemic stock-up, don’t worry. They won’t go to waste! Read on for our favorite ways to use lentils — and best of all? These ideas couldn’t be simpler. 

How to Cook Lentils

But first things first: How to cook them. If you bought pre-cooked lentils, simply open the package or can and skip down to our suggestions. Most common, though, is dried lentils. 

Start by rinsing your lentils and glancing through to remove any discolored pieces or even small stones. If you have the time, soak the lentils in water for two to four hours before cooking them; this will help neutralize the anti-nutrients on the surface, which makes for easier digestion. Soaking will also reduce the amount of time lentils take to cook. No time for soaking? Totally fine to skip this step!

Drain the lentils, then put them in a stock pot or large sauce pan with a ratio of 3:1 liquid to lentils — in other words, three cups of water or stock for each cup of lentils you’re cooking. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and bring the lentils to a boil, then turn the heat down to low. Consult the package instructions; depending on the type, cooking time can vary significantly. When they’re soft, add some salt — and you’re ready to go!

Types of Lentils

So how many types of lentils are there, anyway?! Well, in technical terms, “lots.” But for most culinary purposes, lentils are divided into a few basic categories:

  • Brown lentils: The most common type of lentil, the brown variety is a compromise between many aspects of the other types of lentils. They’re mild-flavored, hold up well, but can be mashed or blended when needed. Brown lentils cook for 20 to 30 minutes until firm, or up to 45 minutes for a softer, mashable lentil.
  • Green lentils: With a peppery flavor and grayish-green color, these lentils cook for the same amount of time as brown lentils. They’re ideal in salads and side dishes. Puy lentils, also called French lentils, are used in similar ways to green lentils.
  • Black lentils: Also known as beluga lentils for their resemblance to beluga caviar, these tiny, firm lentils are the most nutritious type of all. Their earthy flavor and the fact that they hold up well when cooked (around 20 to 25 minutes) makes them ideal for salads or as a bed for cooked proteins.
  • Red lentils: Fast-cooking and soft, red lentils are best used in soups and stews, where they help to thicken dishes in which they don’t need to stay intact. They’re ideal in Mediterranean or Indian cooking, and cook for only 15 to 20 minutes whole, or just five to seven minutes split. 
  • Yellow lentils: Typically used in Indian cuisine, yellow lentils are similar to red in that they cook quickly (about 20 minutes) and are soft and mild; the main difference is — believe it or not — their color! They’re mild-flavored and slightly nutty, perfect for curries or dahl.

1. Lentils + Carrots + Marinara = Pasta Sauce

An easy vegetarian option for bulking up your pasta sauce, simply add lentils to your marinara along with your veggies of choice — we love how the sweetness of carrots complements the savoriness of lentils and the tangy-ness of marinara, but use what you have and what you like. Spoon it over your favorite pasta, and you have a complete meal! Up your game by:

  • Sautéing garlic and onions before adding the marinara 
  • Add thyme, basil, and oregano (or Italian seasoning) 
  • Swap out the carrots for sautéed zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, or bell pepper

Add cooked lentils, marinara sauce, and any additional seasonings / ingredients, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes to let all the flavors come together. And we certainly wouldn’t fault you for a sprinkle of parmesan cheese at the end!

2. Lentils + Taco Shells + Cheese = Tacos

Lentils make a great ground beef substitute, especially when they’re seasoned the same way you would beef. Combine them with some cumin, chili powder, coriander, and red pepper flakes for a great meatless taco night. In its simplest form, lentils and cheddar cheese can be put into warmed taco shells for classic crunchy tacos. Want an even better meal? Some great add-ons include: 

  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa 
  • Cilantro
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage

3. Lentils + Couscous + Yogurt = Grain Bowl

Lentils and yogurt provide the protein and couscous brings the carbs in this simplest of grain bowls. Add your veggies of choice and you have a complete meal! For next-level flavors, lemon juice and za’atar seasoning in the yogurt can’t be beat, and we like to cook the couscous in stock. 

Pretty much any veggies will work here, but we particularly like the following:  

  • No-cook veggies / fruits: avocado, tomato, cucumber, or mixed salad greens
  • Quick-cooking veggies: spinach, kale, or zucchini
  • Jarred veggies: roasted red peppers, olives, or artichoke hearts
  • Root veggies: roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, butternut squash, turnip, or rutabaga

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3 Ways to Use Lentils | Cook Smarts3 Ways to Use Lentils | Cook Smarts3 Ways to Use Lentils | Cook Smarts

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