How To Cook Red Lentils

Red lentils are small, circular-looking legumes that are quick-cooking and easy to prepare. They are versatile and can be a key ingredient in a number of healthy meals whether you’re short on time or want to try something new.

Taste-wise, red lentils have a mild and subtly sweet flavor to them. They are the milder cousins to black and brown lentil varieties. 

Red lentils also break down as they cook, which means they are a great component of savory dishes and can be used in stews, soups, curries, and even dips. They can even be eaten on their own or roasted with veggies. The possibilities are practically endless for this legume!

Red Lentils

Credits: Monika Grabkowska

You cook red lentils easily by simply adding them to your favorite dishes or adding them to boiling water. The way you cook red lentils will vary on the recipe you put them in, but generally, they are quick and easy to prepare and only typically have to cook for as little as 5 minutes up to 15 minutes. 

Do You Have To PreSoak Red Lentils?

No, you do not have to presoak red lentils. Unlike most dry bean varieties, lentils can be cooked directly without having to soak them first. 

Lentils are in the legume family, which also contains soybeans, edamame, chickpeas, kidney beans, and more. Many of these bean types do have to pre-soak for hours or even overnight to remove lectin. 

Although you do not have to soak lentils, you should at least rinse them before cooking them. You can soak red lentils in lemon juice or vinegar to aid with cooking times or digestion but keep them from getting mushy in texture when cooked. 

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Are Red Lentils Healthy?

Red lentils are packed with a variety of nutritional benefits and are a healthy plant-based protein. In fact, they are often used as a meat replacement by vegetarians and vegans in recipes such as sloppy joes, chillis, and veggie burgers. 

Red lentils are also a good source of fiber, with one serving meeting 32% of the fiber you need each day. Fiber makes you feel fuller longer and can lower your cholesterol as well as protect you against type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. It can also aid in digestion and help you digest your food quicker. 

Other nutritional benefits of red lentils include folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Potassium can counterbalance the negative effects of salt while folate protects your heart.

The nutritional values of a ½ cup of lentils are found in the table below based on USDA information:

Saturated Fat0g
Unsaturated Fat0g
Fiber 8g
Protein 9g
Sugar 2g
Added Sugar0g

Where Can You Find Red Lentils?

Typically, you can find red lentils in the same section you will find dried beans at your grocery store or Asian market. 

What Are Different Ways You Can Cook Red Lentils?

How To Cook Red Lentils

Credits: Frédéric DupontHire

Red lentils are easy and quick to prepare and can be cooked through a variety of methods. You can start with a simple stovetop method. Add 1 cup of lentils to 3 cups of water. Make sure you have 2 to 3 inches of water above the lentils. 

Bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the water to a low simmer.

Cover and cook the lentils for between 5 to 12 minutes, depending on your desired end texture. The lentils will absorb the water, so don’t be alarmed if most of the water is gone. 

You can also cook lentils in an Instant Pot. Add 1 cup of lentils to 2 cups of water for this method, but still ensure that the lentils are covered with 2 to 3 inches of water left on top. 

You can also use vegetable broth instead of water. 

Do You Cook Whole Lentils Differently Than You Cook Split Lentils?

Yes, you cook whole lentils and split lentils differently. Whole lentils are cooked for a longer period of time. 

Split lentils gained their name because the seed coat has been removed and split. This means they are less dense than whole lentils; therefore, split lentils cook faster than whole lentils. 

Split lentils are often used in purees and soups as they are easier to blend. Whole lentils tend to keep their shape better which means they are used more often for things such as curries, vegetable burgers, and salads

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Tips For Cooking The Best Lentils 

If you can, purchase your red lentils in the bulk section of your grocery store. This will ensure that they are fresh and haven’t been sitting on a shelf for too long. 

It’s important you cook fresh red lentils. If your lentils are bad and you cook them, they will not only take longer to cook but could have a bitter taste. 

Rinse your lentils before you cook them. This ensures that debris and other objects are removed before you cook them. 

Don’t forget to add a little spice to your lentils or serve over jasmine rice for the best results. 

How To Add Flavor To Red Lentils

As stated previously, red lentils have a mild and subtle flavor. If you want more a flavorful option, you have a few options. 

Spices. There are a wide variety of spices that you can use to add flavor and spice to your lentils. You can add spices before and after cooking lentils. Spices that are a great match for these legumes include curry, cumin, chili, coriander, and garam masala. 

Herbs. Herbs also make a great addition to lentils. The best include cilantro, dilly, and parsley. 

Garlic/Onion/Vegetables. You can also saute onions, garlic, and other veggies or ginger to add to your lentils. Just make sure to saute them before you put the water and lentils into the saucepan. 

What Is The Difference Between Red And Yellow Lentils? 

The biggest difference between red and yellow lentils besides their color is their cooking time. Red lentils cook faster than yellow lentils and have a softer texture.

Also, red lentils have more potassium than yellow lentils, but yellow lentils have more iron. 

How Do You Store Lentils?

You can store red lentils in the refrigerator and the freezer. You can store cooked red lentils in the fridge for up to 5 days. Make sure they come to room temperature before putting them in an airtight container and then placed in the fridge. 

You can also freeze red lentils by allowing them to cool to room temperature, placing them in a freezer-safe container, and labeling them with the date of freezing. Lentils can stay good for up to a month frozen. 

For fresh lentils, they can typically last for up to a year dry or canned. Yes, you can purchase – or prepare your own – canned lentils. To learn more about how you can can store your own lentils watch this video. Making your own canned lentils means you can reduce the sodium content. Store-bought canned lentils have a higher sodium content due to the amount of salt they need to preserve the lentils. 

What Are The Best Red Lentil Recipes

Red lentils can be used in a variety of dishes from soups and veggie burgers to curries and salads. 

Simple Red Lentil Curry One of the most popular dishes that use red lentils are curries. This is a simple red lentil curry that is easy to put together but super delicious!

Coconut Red Lentil Dahl This is a delicious vegan recipe that has just a few simple ingredients. This makes it a quick and easy, but super delicious and creamy, meal option. 

Red Lentil Chili This one-pot chili has a thick, stew-like texture that is full of lentils, black beans, and corn. It’s also a great source of fiber. 

Red Lentil Carrott Soup This carrot soup is under 30 minutes to make and mixes unique flavors together for an almost bisque-like texture. 

For less traditional, but just as delicious, red lentil recipes. Try these:

Apple Cinnamon Red Lentil Muffins Red lentils are a great addition to baked items, adding fiber and mild flavor. 

Moroccan Lentil Meatballs These meatballs are kid-friendly and are great for meal prep. They can also be made with pantry staples and are budget-friendly. 

Red Lentil Veggie Burgers These burgers are packed with nutritious veggies and are super delicious! They are packed with fiber and protein and have a little spicy. 

What Are The Types Of Lentils?

Red lentils are not the only type of lentils out there. 

Type of LentilDescription
Red and Yellow Lentilshese are the most similar, offering a sweeter flavor and They lose their texture faster than other lentil types. They are the most popular types of lentils in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. You can find them both split and whole. 
Black LentilsBlack lentils are also called beluga lentils. These lentils have a more earthy flavor that is great paired with meat or vegetables. They have a little bit of a longer cooking time with up to 25 minutes. 
Brown LentilsThis type is the most common in the United States. They also have a mild, earthy flavor but hold their texture better than other varieties when cooked. They are also inexpensive and easily accessible.
Green LentilsGreen lentils are very close to brown lentils but have a slightly peppery taste. 

General Guidelines For Cooking Times Different Types Of Lentils

Type Of LentilCooking Time
Red and Yellow Lentils15 to 20 minutes
Brown and Green Lentils20 to 30 minutes
Freench Green Lentils25 to 35 minutes
Black Lentils20 to 25 minutes 

A key thing to keep in mind is that generally, the longer you cook your lentils the softer they will become. The type and variety of lentils do influence this factor. 

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Can Red Lentils Be Harmful?

Generally, red lentils and all varieties of lentils are safe to eat cooked. The danger zone is when you try to eat red lentils raw. 

You have to remember that lentils are legumes. They are in the same family as chickpeas, soybeans, kidney beans, and peanuts. 

Like other legumes, uncooked lentils contain a protein called lectin. When consumed raw, you are consuming this dangerous protein that can bind to your digestive tract. When lectin bonds to your digestive tract you can experience some dangerous symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. 

Lectins are heat sensitive so when you cook legumes or lentils, you’re cooking out and breaking down this dangerous pest.

Because lentils cook quicker, you don’t have to presoak beans to remove this dangerous protein. They also contain a smaller amount of lectin than other legume types. 

What Are The History Of Lentils?

Lentils are an ancient grain that is actually the world’s oldest cultivated legume. They are believed to be first grown and utilized in the Medditieran or Near East. In fact, they are one of the earliest domesticated crops that archaeologists can claim dating back to 8,000 B.C. 

There is even evidence that the Egyptians and Romans even ate these legumes. They are even mentioned in the Christian Bible. 

The word lentil comes from the Latin word lens, which is due to the similarities in their shape. 

Currently, there are more than 50 varieties of lentils that have been cultivated for food over the years. They come in a variety of colors such as red, brown, black, and green. 

How Are Lentils Produced?

As stated above, lentils have been cultivated for thousands of years by humans to enjoy their taste. But how are they produced today?

Lentils are produced the best in colder weather. That means in North America they are produced in the Pacific Northwest, Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho, and Western Canada. They are typically grown within a crop rotation with wheat. This has occurred as long as beginning in the 1930s. 

If you decide to grow your own lentils, plant them in the Spring. You can even plant them in very early Spring, as early as 2 to 3 weeks before your area’s last frost date.

Jess Smith
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