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5 Tips for Cooking With Lentils

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Now that we’re offering lentils (plus other staple grains and beans) in your Imperfect boxes, we wanted to share some practical advice on how to cook with lentils at home so you can make the most of them alongside your veggies in the kitchen. Here are the answers to your top 5 questions about cooking with lentils.

Do I need to soak my lentils?

If you have time, yes! Soaking your lentils for 2-4 hours before cooking will help them cook faster and also make them easier to digest, since lentils do have a reputation for causing gas, at least according to this one friend we have.

What’s the difference between all the different colors of lentils?

  • Red lentils have a mild, sweet, and nutty flavor, cook in 15-20 minutes, and will end up mushy after they’re cooked, making them ideal for dal, curry, or thickening a soup.

  • Brown lentils have an earthy flavor, cook in 20-30 minutes and hold their shape after being cooked, making them ideal for veggie burgers or salads.

  • Green lentils have a strong, peppery flavor, take 45 minutes to cook, and stay very firm even after being cooked, making them ideal for veggie side dishes.

How do you cook lentils without having them turn out mushy?

Pick the right variety for your end goal. For example, red lentils will more easily turn mushy after they’re cooked, which is great for curry, but not ideal for salads. Regardless of what variety you choose, if you’re looking to avoid mushy lentils, make sure you don’t over boil your lentils. Instead, bring your cooking liquid to a rapid simmer, and then cook on low heat until they’re tender. To ensure a firm texture, avoid adding salty or acidic ingredients until the very end, as these can soften the lentils during cooking.

What’s the best way to season lentils?

Lentils pair well with flavors like bay leaves, garlic, carrots, celery, peppers, thyme, cumin, and vegetable stock. Lentils also benefit from smoky flavors like paprika or bacon or sausage, if you eat meat. Try drizzling them with a little lemon juice or sherry vinegar before you serve them for extra flavor and a refreshing contrast!

I just need a lentil recipe! What’s a good one to start with?

We love this quick and flavorful lentil salad recipe from our friend Maren Ellingboe. Try it out and let us know what you think.


  • Leah Moreno
    April 8, 2019 at 8:06 pm

    For lentil soups using brown lentils, I also like adding sweet ingredients to balance out all that earthiness! Parsnips are one of my go-to pairings because they turn so sweet and tender in the soup; or stir in chopped pears at the end.

    • Imperfect
      April 8, 2019 at 9:53 pm

      Hey Leah, thanks so much for sharing your lentil knowledge with us! The idea to balance out the earthiness of the lentils with a sweet component is a really great recommendation.

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