Lentils are relatively nutritious, tasty legumes that you can add to salads, soups, pasta, or just about any different type of dish.
Although using lentils might seem daunting at first, they’re actually very easy to assimilate into your cooking.
The key is to understand how to properly work with them for the best effect.
Lentils’ taste can change depending on what you pair them with, but they generally take on the flavor of what you cook them with.
Vegetarians and vegans use lentils to bulk up their dishes and add a little bit of extra protein, but carnivores can certainly enjoy them as well.
Below are some of the most common questions and concerns regarding lentils.
Lentils are legumes.
They’re related to beans, peas, and chickpeas and are also known as “pulses.”
Lentils tend to be reasonably healthy, are easy to grow, and thrive in plenty of different climates.
There are several different varieties of lentils, all with different consistencies and flavor profiles.
Are lentils vegetables?
Lentils are definitely vegetables.
Often people ask, “is lentil a bean?”
While lentils and beans come from similar roots, the two foods are not the same.
Interestingly enough, beans are technically a fruit, although cooks worldwide use them as vegetables.
Types of lentils
Before you start cooking with lentils, it’s essential to understand what the different types of lentils are and how you can use them best in your cooking.
Your lentils texture can vary dramatically, and some lentils are better for certain types of dishes.
If you love to cook, it’s a good idea to have several different types of lentils on hand.
That way, you can always bulk up a stew, soup, or pasta with nutrient-rich lentils.
1. French green lentils
Suppose your recipe calls for Puy lentils; it’s referring to French green lentils, one of the most common types of lentils and a great addition to lentil soup or salad.
French green lentils tend to be oval-shaped, which helps them maintain their texture, even during rigorous cooking.
As a result, you’ll get a substantial amount of crunch and texture with these lentils, making them ideal ingredients in Buddha bowls or pilaf dishes.
Use French green lentils in these dishes:
- Tossed with spice as a side dish
- As part of a salad
- In a Buddha bowl recipe
2. Black lentils
If you love strong, robust lentil flavor, get some black lentils.
These are very potent and tend to hold their shape really well.
As with Puy, or French green lentils, you can use black lentils in salads, soups, or as part of a side dish.
Also, they’re pretty common and inexpensive. Black lentils are also excellent as a base for lentil burgers.
Use black lentils in these dishes:
- In various curries
- Molded into a lentil burger
- Mixed with rice
3. Red lentils
Red lentils are slightly smaller and flatter than both black and French green lentils, and they don’t really hold their shape well when you cook them.
Nevertheless, they’re great for purees and hearty stews, and they can even mimic milk or cream in certain types of curries.
In addition, red lentils have a much milder flavor than other lentils.
Use red lentils in these dishes:
- Pureed soups
- Curries and potato dishes
- Mashed vegetables
Now that you understand what makes each type of lentil unique, it’s time to learn how to cook them properly.
How to cook lentils
Since you can’t eat raw lentils, it’s essential to understand how to cook them properly.
First, you need to clean your lentils properly.
Rinse them off with cold water before cooking.
Sometimes lentils, especially bulk lentils, will have stones, dirt, or seeds mixed in with them.
Rinsing them properly will get rid of all of this additional debris.
Then, you need to cook your lentils.
First, cook them in cold water with salt and spices, then boil them.
Your cooking time will vary depending on the type of lentils you’re using.
For example, you need to cook black and green lentils for about half an hour, but smaller varieties of lentils, like red lentils, only take about 15 minutes.
You don’t want to over-cook your lentils, so make sure that you keep a good eye on them.
Discover the doneness of your lentil by sampling one or two and making sure that the texture and flavor are to your liking.
Other things to keep in mind are what you’re using the lentils for.
For example, if you’re using your lentils in a salad, you’ll want them to have a slightly crunchier consistency.
On the other hand, soup lentils, or lentils for curry, can be softer.
Although dry lentils can last for years if you properly store them, cooked lentils only last for about a week in your refrigerator.
What do lentils taste like?
All lentils taste different.
French green lentils and black lentils tend to be earthier and robust, whereas red lentils tend to have a mild nutty and sweet flavor.
They can also take on the characteristics of ingredients that it’s cooked with, like tofu or rice.
How to store lentils
If you store dry lentils properly, you can keep them for years.
That’s one of the critical things that makes them such a great pantry staple.
Make sure that your lentils are in a sealed container in a dark place, like a cupboard.
Don’t store them in your refrigerator or leave them out on your counter.
Cooked lentils will stay good for about a week in your refrigerator, and you can freeze lentil soup and other lentil dishes for several months.
Lentils vs beans
Lentils are not beans, although they come from similar roots.
Like lentils, beans come from legumes, and there are tons of different varieties out there.
Both foods are very nutrient-dense and have tons of protein.
Since both lentils and beans have relatively mild flavor profiles, you can mix the two in salads, soups, or even pasta dishes.
Can you eat lentils raw?
You should not eat raw lentils because uncooked lentils have lectin.
Lectin can cause very unpleasant reactions in people, like diarrhea or vomiting.
Fortunately, cooked lentils are perfectly safe to eat and only take a small amount of time to prepare.
These lentil recipes are easy, healthy, and downright delicious.
Feel free to customize them to suit your preferences or needs.
Lentil Sweet Potato Salad is an exceptional dish that combines delicious sweet potatoes, mustard, and plenty of tasty lentils, all tied together with a bright dressing.
The best thing about this dish is that it’s relatively easy to make, and you can use it in various ways.
Enjoy lentil sweet potato salad all on its own or as part of a healthy grain bowl or salad.
You’ll want to use French green lentils or black lentils for this recipe because they have a bit more of a crunch.
You’ll also need a few sweet potatoes, garlic, tahini, mustard, lime, red pepper flakes, and some maple syrup.
Make sure that you use pure maple syrup in this recipe, as pancake syrup will not give you the desired effect.
Vegan Mushroom Lentil Bolognese is an excellent dish for plant-based people who still want to get those classic bolognese flavors into their diet.
It’s also suitable for those who are cutting back on meat or want to eat some extra vegetables.
Bolognese is a very hearty dish, which is why lentils and mushrooms work so beautifully in it.
They replace the meat and offer an interesting texture.
Plus, it’s absolutely delicious.
You can serve it vegan or sprinkle the dish with a bit of extra Parmesan cheese for the perfect meal.
The recipe calls for brown rice noodles, but you can use whatever pasta you have on hand.
You can also spice the bolognese however you’d like.
For example, some people prefer to add a dash of hot sauce or some red pepper flakes to really round out the dish.
Although it’s technically a vegan recipe, you can certainly add in some meat if you want.
Simply adjust the portions of lentil and mushroom accordingly so that you have enough sauce to cover everything.
Lentil Stuffed Butternut Squash is an innovative and creative way to use lentils.
Although the recipe calls for French green lentils or black lentils, you can also use red ones too if you want a more creamy consistency.
Plus, it’s a great way to use up some of your leftover vegetables and clear out your pantry a bit.
Basically, the butternut squash acts as the vessel for the lentils and the rest of the vegetables.
Since it’s roasted, you’ll get tons of sweet caramelized vegetable flavor.
The key things that really make this recipe sing are the fresh herbs.
Sage and rosemary lend an earthy, rich flavor to the dish that works well with the miso paste and tahini.
Although there are plenty of steps in this recipe, you certainly won’t be disappointed with the results.
4. Lentil Salad
Lentil Salad is perhaps one of the easiest ways to make the most out of your lentils and use up the vegetables in your refrigerator.
This salad is packed with tons of different flavors and textures, and it will keep for several days in your refrigerator.
Green lentils are ideal for this dish because they tend to hold up their consistency better than other varieties.
Although you can use any vegetables that you want, red pepper, cucumber, and plenty of fresh herbs will make it into something truly spectacular.
The homemade dressing has plenty of spice and zing, plus a little bit of sweetness.
Feta cheese pairs perfectly with the chopped veggies and gives the salad the right amount of tartness.
If you can’t find feta, you can always swap it out for another robust, soft cheese like goat cheese.
With its intense and delicious flavors, lentil salad is great for parties or a quick weekday lunch.
One of the best aspects is that the flavors will intensify over time, so it is only better the next day.
Coconut Lentil Curry is a great vegan dish that is amazing over rice.
As with many of our top lentil recipes, the flavors tend to intensify over time, so it’s also great the next day.
You won’t even miss the dairy, thanks to the coconut milk.
Although this particular curry calls for lentils, cherry tomatoes, and garlic, you can easily add in other vegetables.
Sweet potatoes go really well with lentils and curry.
You can even toss in some green or yellow squash or cooked carrots for more heft.
Savvy cooks may also adjust the amount of cayenne powder that they use, adding more or less according to your taste.
Finally, although the fresh cilantro brightens up the dish, you can omit it if you’re not a cilantro fan.
6. Lentil Soup
One of the most popular and delicious ways to use lentils is in a hearty Lentil Soup.
Lentil soup is not only nutritious, but it’s a great way to use up leftover vegetables.
It freezes well, doesn’t take long to make, and you can customize it to your tastes.
For example, adding a little bit of citrus or vinegar at the end can take the soup to the next level and open up some of the flavors.
This particular recipe calls for pureed and whole lentils, which will give the soup a velvety texture that mimics heavy cream.
It’s an excellent option for vegans or vegetarians, but you can certainly add in some sour cream or even fish or chicken if you’d like.
Lentils are one of the most delicious and nutritious foods on the planet.
Once you learn how to prepare and cook them properly, you’re well on your way to making mouthwatering curries, soups, and salads in no time.
Use these recipes as a springboard for creating your lentil masterpieces.
You’ll understand why lentils are one of the most popular foods around the world, thanks to their versatility and long shelf life.