You might not consider lentils a basic food (not everyone grows up familiar with them), but they are a great food to get to know and add to your repertoire.
Lentils cook in about 15-25 minutes, are high in fiber, are an inexpensive source of protein, and taste really good! They have a hearty, rich, nutty flavor that holds up to lots of seasoning. Lentils are not only great in soups, but can also be eaten hot or cold, as a hearty main or side dish. They are very popular in French, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine.
Buying & Storing Lentils
Lentils fall into the category of food called “Pulses”, which includes peas and beans as well. As with the peas and beans, there are many types of lentils. Except for the color variations they all look pretty much the same, although some are a bit smaller than others.
The brown ones (pictured above) are the most common and the least expensive. You can also buy green, red, orange, black, and white lentils. French green lentils, sometimes called Puy, can cost about 3 times more than the brown lentils.
Lentils should be kept in a cool, dark place, (not the refrigerator) and can be stored for up to 12 months. If you have different types of lentils store them separately. They all require slightly different cooking times so you don’t want to jumble everything together.
Once cooked, lentils should be stored in the refrigerator, covered, and should be eaten within 3 days.
Cooking Lentils — The Basic Approach
Lentils do not need to be soaked for any length of time before cooking them.
You can cook lentils by themselves in just water or stock and then eat them as is. Here’s how:
- Measure out about 8 ounces (by weight) of lentils, or 1 ¼ cups. We are going to combine that with about 1 ¾ cups of liquid.
- But first, sort through the lentils to make sure there are no small stones or bits that should not be there. If need be, you can spread the lentils out on a clean kitchen towel to do the sorting.
- Then rinse the lentils under cool water.
- Bring 1 ¾ cup of stock or water to a boil.
- Add the lentils to the pot.
- Give them a stir
- Then bring the lentils back to a boil
- Cover the pot and turn the temperature down to simmer and cook for about 20 more minutes or until the lentils are tender.
- If you’ve added too much liquid and over cook them, they will get mushy! After 20 minutes most of the liquid will have been absorbed.
- There may still be a bit of liquid on the bottom, which is fine.
Taste them. You may want them to be a bit more tender, in which case continue cooking until all the liquid is absorbed. (About 5 more minutes)
These are general cooking directions. Be sure to check the directions on the back of the package of lentils you have bought. Cooking times and amounts of liquid may vary slightly.
Different types of lentils require different cooking times. If you are eating them as a side dish or in a salad be sure not to over-cook them. If they are going in a soup, you may want to cook them a bit longer.
If you need to season the lentils with salt, do not add it until after the lentils are cooked and removed from the heat as it can toughen the lentils if added during the cooking process.
If you choose to add anything acidic (such as tomatoes, lemon juice, or vinegar,) do so after the cooking is completed as well.