Cooking With Legumes: Lentils

Cooking lentils is simple and fast. There are as many varieties of lentils as there are ways to enjoy them. One of the smallest legumes, lentils resemble flat, round discs and range in color from green to brown, black, red, yellow and orange. Some of the more popular and unique varieties are red (masoor dal), common brown, French Green (Le Puy) and black Beluga lentils.

Some lentils, like Le Puy, hold their shape extremely well, and make an excellent addition to salads and other dishes where the texture of whole beans is desirable. When cooking lentils, others, such as red, yellow and brown lentils, cook down completely into a thick paste perfect for hot soups, stews and dals.

You’ll often see lentils paired with rice, as in the traditional Middle Eastern dish mujaddara (also referred to as mejadra, mudardara and megadarra), a simple yet delicious mixture of lentils, rice and caramelized onions that is a staple in Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian, North Saudi and Israeli cuisines.

Lentils are an ancient food, thought to be one of the first crops ever cultivated, and their seeds have been found in sites across the Middle East dating back to 6,000 BC. In terms of high-protein plant foods, lentils (at 18 grams per cup, cooked) are surpassed only by soybeans and hemp seeds. The same quantity of lentils also provides 37 percent of the Daily Value for iron, which increases energy by transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron is especially important for pregnant or lactating women.

Cooking time: Red/yellow lentils, 15-30 minutes; green lentils, 30-45 minutes

Liquid per cup of legume: 2 cups

How to cook lentils: Unlike most other dried legumes, lentils do not need to be presoaked prior to cooking. Too cook lentils, combine in a pot with fresh, cold water for cooking. Place on stove and bring to a boil in a pot with a lid. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer, tilting the lid slightly to allow steam to escape, and leave to cook for 15-45 minutes or more, depending on the variety of lentil and desired consistency.

Try lentils in these recipes: Lentil Soup and Pink Lentil Curry

Share Dr. Weil's expertise with your friends & family

Read more tips, recipes, and insights on a wide variety of topics from Dr. Weil here.