Learn how to cook perfectly tender lentils, every time, with this foolproof recipe. Lentil cook times vary by variety and age—you’ll find starting points and guidance in the instructions. One cup dry lentils yields about 3 cups cooked, so multiply as necessary.
1 cup dry lentils (any variety)
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
Optional flavor enhancers: 1 bay leaf and/or 1 large clove garlic (peeled but left whole) and/or 1 to 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fill a medium-to-large saucepan with water, leaving several inches of room at the top. Bring it to a boil over high heat.
Meanwhile, sort through your lentils for debris. I do this by slowly pouring the lentils into a fine-mesh sieve, keeping a careful eye out for any tiny rocks or extraneous materials. Sift through the lentils with your fingers to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Then, rinse your lentils under running water until the water runs clear. Set aside.
Once the water is boiling, add the rinsed lentils. Add the salt, and the bay leaf and/or garlic, if using.
If you’re cooking red lentils, set the timer for 6 minutes. For regular green lentils, set the timer for 13 minutes. For black lentils, set the timer for 16 minutes. For French green lentils, set the timer for 18 minutes.
Meanwhile, reduce the heat as necessary to prevent overflow and to maintain a lively simmer. Once your timer has gone off, use a fork to scoop out a few lentils and test for doneness (careful, they’re hot). Your lentils are done when they are pleasantly tender throughout (not mushy or falling apart) and taste nicely earthy (undercooked lentils tend to taste somewhat metallic). If your lentils aren’t fully cooked yet, retest every 1 to 2 minutes until they are.
Once cooked, immediately strain off all the excess water. Pour the lentils back into your pot, off the heat. If you added a bay leaf, discard it now. If you added a garlic clove, use a fork to smash it against the side of the pot, then stir it into the lentils.
Taste, and add a pinch or two of salt if necessary. If you’re using these lentils as a component in another recipe, they’re ready to go. If you’re serving them on their own or as an element in a salad, you might want to stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil to prevent sticking and add some luxurious flavor. Enjoy.
Storage suggestions: Leftover lentils will keep well in the refrigerator, covered, for 4 to 5 days. For longer storage, freeze leftover lentils for up to 6 months. Since lentils are somewhat delicate, it’s best to defrost them in the refrigerator. If you’re in a hurry you can gently microwave them, stirring often.
▸ Nutrition Information
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