Lentils are thought to be the oldest domesticated legumes, cultivated for thousands of years alongside wheat and barley. They're just as nutritious as their cousins, the peas and beans, but don't require pre-soaking. Their flat shape also ensures they cook quickly. Large green and brown lentils are simmered until tender and eaten whole, like beans. The smaller red and orange lentils break down rapidly, and are usually cooked until they dissolve and form a puree. Depending on the consistency this can form a main dish, a soup or a sauce.
Things You'll Need
- Cutting board or wax paper
- Oil or butter
- Saucepan or deep skillet
- Onions, garlic and spices as directed in your recipe
- Water or broth
- Fork or immersion blender
Spread the lentils a cup at a time on a clean surface, such as a cutting board or a sheet of wax paper. Carefully pick out any small stones or blackened lentils. When you're done transfer them to a colander, rinse the lentils thoroughly under cold water and let them drain.
Heat a small amount of oil or butter in a saucepan or deep skillet. Use this oil to saute your recipe's onions, garlic or spices until they're fragrant.
Add the lentils to your pan and stir them, so they're well-coated with the flavorful oil. Add water or broth, and adjust the heat until it's barely at a simmer.
Cook the lentils gently for 45 minutes to an hour, until they've dissolved and thickened your cooking liquid. You can speed the process once they're softened by mashing them with a fork or pureeing them with an immersion blender.
Finish the dish by adding any late flavorings, as specified in your recipe. Legumes are notorious for muting other flavors, so cooks in India often heat spices in a small amount of butter and drizzle them over their lentil dishes at the last minute to provide bright, fresh flavors.
Tips & Warnings
- If you want to keep a few lentils intact for use in salads or grain dishes, begin testing them after 12 to 15 minutes. When they're barely tender, remove the lentils from your cooking pot with a slotted spoon and let them cool. They begin to break down quickly once they're soft, so this requires close attention.
- The quantity of liquid in your recipe determines whether it finishes as a thin soup, a sauce or a thick paste resembling refried beans.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Recipe Tips: All About Lentils
- Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Valueline/Getty Images
- Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking; Devi