Lentils are a staple in many parts of the world and it’s no wonder, they’re nutritious, affordable and versatile. They’re a fantastic way to add more beans to your diet without the time and work that comes along with them.
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What are lentils?
Lentils are small, lens shaped legumes and they’re packed with protein, fiber, iron and minerals. There are four general categories for lentils: brown, green, red/yellow and specialty.
Brown Lentils: are the most popular variety, they can be found at just about any supermarket. They’re small, disk shaped and, as their name suggests, have a light brown color. They hold their shape well and have a mild earthy flavor.
Green Lentils: are similar to brown lentils, with a stronger flavor. They come in different sizes and are usually pale green to spotted green in color.
Puy Lentils: also called French lentils are grown in Le Puy, France. They have have a bluish-pale-green color and hold their shape when cooked. They have a rich, peppery flavor.
Black Lentils: also called beluga lentils, are tiny and black. When cooked they kind of look like caviar (which explains their nickname). They have an earthy flavor.
Red/Yellow Lentils: are popular in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. They can be red, yellow or orange-ish in color. Red lentils come split, so they do not hold their shape during cooking. Red and yellow lentils have a mild, nutty flavor.
Do you have to soak lentils before cooking them?
Most beans benefit from soaking in that it reduces the cooking time. Unlike most beans, lentils do not need to be soaked prior to cooking. Depending on the variety they take about 20-30 minutes to cook, so they don’t really need soaking. They do, however, need to be sorted and rinsed thoroughly before cooking.
Sorting is the process of going through beans and removing substandard beans and anything that doesn’t belong. Sometimes foreign objects like stones, tiny twigs and debris inadvertently get packaged with the beans.
To sort the lentils, pour them on a large, flat surface. A sheet pan, large cutting board, or kitchen towel on a counter will all work well. Arrange the beans so they’re in a single layer and pick through them removing any foreign objects and misshaped, oddly colored beans.
What is a good seasoning for lentils?
Lentils can be flavored with a wide range of seasonings and it really depends on the application. Salt is a must of course, also cumin, paprika, oregano and a bay leaf are all good. Then there are onions, garlic, celery, tomato paste and olive oil; these all enhance the flavor of lentils.
Now, if you’re not going the vegetarian route, try bacon and lentils. It’s a match made in heaven! Any smoked pork, sausage and chicken work really well too.
How long do you need to cook lentils?
The cooking time will depend on the type of lentil, what they will be used for and the consistency you prefer. It also depends on the freshness of the legume. The fresher they are, the faster they will cook.
Here’s a basic guide for lentil cooking times. The lower time range will get the lentils to al dente. Any softer will just require more cooking time.
- Brown Lentils: 20-30 minutes
- Green Lentils: 20-30 minutes
- Lentils de Puy: 25-30 minutes
- Black Lentils: 25-30 minutes
- Red/Yellow Lentils: 15-20 minutes, these dissolve into a mush so only use them for soups
If you’re making lentils for a salad, leave them al dente because you’ll have to drain and rinse them. They should have a little bite in the middle. If the lentils are too soft they’ll fall apart and become mushy.
If cooking the lentils in a soup, then you have a little more flexibility. Cook them to the desired tenderness.
Remember, the fresher they are – the quicker they’ll cook. Check them after the first 15 minutes; pick out 3 or 4 lentils with a spoon and taste. Then, gauge the remaining cooking time from there.
- Sort the lentils – Arrange them in a single layer on a flat surface. Pick through them removing any foreign objects and misshaped, oddly colored beans
- Rinse them – Pour the lentils in a fine mesh strainer and rinse them with cold water until the water runs clear.
- Add liquid – Use water, chicken or vegetable broth to cook lentils. How much liquid to add will depend on whether they are for a salad, for rice/grains or for soup. Use at least 2-3 cups of liquid per 1 cup of lentils. For soup you will need at least 4-6 cups of liquid.
- Add flavor – Onions, garlic, herbs, spices, etc.
- Bring to a boil
- Reduce to a simmer (or keep at a low boil) and stir occasionally. Stir more frequently as the liquid starts to reduce and evaporate to keep the lentils from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
- Cook until they reach the desired tenderness: al dente, tender or soft.
Alright, now that we know the basics, here are some delicious lentil soup recipes for inspiration!
Chicken Lentil Soup – Lentils and chicken thighs cooked with onions, carrots, celery, garlic and spices. Then the chicken is shredded and the soup is finished with the shredded chicken and fresh greens.
Lentil Vegetable Soup – For this vegetarian soup, lentils are cooked with tomatoes, a combination of spices and mixed vegetables.
Lentil and Andouille Sausage Soup – This lentil soup is flavored with andouille sausage and vegetables. Since the andouille is so flavorful we can keep the rest of the ingredients to a minimum.
Bacon and Lentil Soup – In this recipe, bacon is cooked until crispy, and then onions, carrots, celery and garlic are sautéed in the drippings. Add a few spices and you’ll have a hearty and flavorful pot of lentils.
Lentil Sausage Soup – Lentils, sausage and vegetables are cooked in a flavorful broth. For the sausage, use smoked or polka kielbasa, the fully cooked variety. They will flavor this lentil soup beautifully, keeping the ingredients list short and simple.
Italian Sausage Lentil Soup – This soup is loaded with Italian sausage, lentils, carrots, celery, onions, potatoes and spinach. It’s a hearty soup that’s sure to please.