Welcome to the world of lentils! This comprehensive guide to lentils includes descriptions of different varieties, cooking instructions, recipe ideas, and more!
Lentils are definitely one of my favorite vegetarian proteins. They're unprocessed, they're quicker to make than dried beans (no soaking required!), and they just have a nice, earthy flavor that works so well in a variety of dishes.
One of my go-to easy lunches is a bowl full of lentils and whatever veggies I have on hand, tossed with garlic, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Easy and delicious!
And not only are lentils delicious in their own right, but they also make a great meat substitute--I often use them in place of ground beef in recipes.
All About Lentils - from The Essential Good Food Guide!
I recently received a copy of The Essential Good Food Guide and rather than write a traditional review of the book, I thought I'd share an excerpt. (With permission, of course.) An excerpt on lentils!
You can get your own copy online from Amazon. It's a great resource for healthy eating!
Lentils are the world’s oldest cultivated legume, likely domesticated around 7000 BCE.
The botanical nomenclature Lens culinaris means “cooking lens.” And our word for the optical instrument no doubt comes from its similarity in shape to the small, round, flat shape that distinguishes all varieties of lentils.
Colors range from slate green, brown, and black to reddish orange, coral, and gold, with all varieties having unique, delicious flavors and textures but a similar nutritional profile.
One of the easiest beans to digest, lentils also rate as a favorite because of their short preparation time and versatility. Unlike other beans, no presoaking is required.
Pressure-cooking is not recommended for any variety of lentils, as the foam that they create during the cooking process can clog pressure vents. Nor is it generally necessary, as most varieties cook quite quickly using the boil and simmer method.
Varieties and Cooking Guidelines
Lentils are marketed in four general categories: brown, green, red/yellow, and specialty. In turn, within each category are several varieties, which makes for fun discovery and experimentation.
In general, the brown and green varieties retain their shape well (some more fully than others), whereas the hulled and, most particularly, split red and yellow lentils tend to disintegrate and, therefore, are best for soups or in applications where they’ll be pureed.
Specialty lentils, in which I place those that are especially distinctive in flavor, shape, and origin, largely fall within the brown and green categories.
Brown lentils sold in bulk or in a package that is labeled simply as “lentils” with no delineation of specific variety will typically be the “regular” lentil, also known as brewer lentils.
Those that are marketed just as green lentils will be in one of three classes according to size. If large, they may be the Laird lentil or one of several similar varieties. If the green lentil is medium in size, it will be the Richlea lentil or the like. The classic small green lentil variety is the Eston lentil.
Fortunately, when cooking, you won’t have to struggle with which is which as these basic brown and green varieties have similar cooking times and water-to-lentil proportions.
Still, learning more about each lentil’s characteristics enhances the enjoyment both in cooking and in dining.
Black Beluga Lentils
Use 2¼ cups water to 1 cup lentils. Boil and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
These are tiny black lentils that look remarkably like shiny, glistening caviar when cooked.
Their rich, earthy flavor and soft texture is perfect in salads and soups or featured with pasta, rice, or sautéed vegetables.
Not only does their deep black color present a dramatic, striking contrast when cooked with a variety of colorful green and red vegetables, but it also indicates they are high in the antioxidant anthocyanin.
You can buy black beluga lentils here.
French Green Lentils
Use 2½ cups water to 1 cup lentils. Boil and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes.
Known for their distinctive rich, peppery flavor, French green lentils are further distinguished by their slate green color with bluish black undertones, and their small size, about one-third the size of green lentils.
They are also rich in antioxidant phytochemicals similar to those in blueberries and black grapes and in minerals, particularly iron and magnesium.
While French green lentils are grown using the same variety of lentil as the famous Puy lentils, since they are grown in North America or Italy rather than the Puy region in central France, they are never referred to as lentilles du Puy.
Nonetheless, they can be substituted in any recipe that calls for Puy lentils, not to mention being less expensive, as well.
As French green lentils hold their shape well, use them as a side dish in accompaniment with vegetables and pasta, in salads, in a light soup, or as a focal point in a meal. They are wonderful in this Mushroom, Lemon, and Lentil Salad
You can buy french green lentils here.
Use 2½ cups water to 1 cup lentils. Boil and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes.
Also known as lentilles du Puy, these lentils are slate green in color with bluish black undertones and about one-third the size of green lentils.
Grown in the volcanic soils of the Le Puy district in the Auvergne in central France for nearly the past two thousand years, Puy lentils offer exceptional quality, flavor, and nutritional content, most notably mineral contents and particularly iron and magnesium.
As a source of anthocyanins, their dark color, similar to that as found in blueberries and black grapes, provides valuable antioxidants. Look for the AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) label to ensure authenticity.
Known for their distinctive rich, peppery flavor, Puy lentils are traditionally served as a side dish, in salads, as a focal point in a meal, or even as a foundation for meat, fish, or game. They are perfect in this Mango Lentil Salad.
You can buy Puy lentils here.
Use 2½ to 3 cups water per 1 cup lentils. Boil and simmer for 45 to 55 minutes.
When buying lentils and there is no other descriptor on the label, regular lentils—the name of an actual variety that is about as straightforward a name as it gets, otherwise known as the brewer lentil—is the most common type of lentil available in North America.
Distinguished from other lentils by their mottled khaki color, regular lentils have a mild, somewhat earthy flavor.
Commonly used to make hearty soups, stews, and side dishes to serve along with grains and pastas, this variety holds its shape well after cooking.
Still, these tender beans are also easily mashed, which is why they have long been associated with making vegetarian meat loaf and burgers.
Brown lentils and rice have similar cooking times, so they’ve long been cooked together, often with celery seed or other seasonings.
You can buy regular lentils here.
Now that you know everything there is to know about lentils (and then some!), here are some of my favorite ways to use them:
1. Lentil Mushroom Meatballs
2. Vegan Cincinnati Chili
3. Chard, Lentil & Potato Slow Cooker Soup
4. Herbed French Lentil Salad
5. Middle Eastern Lentil & Rice Soup
6. Lentil Mushroom Burgers
7. Butternut Squash, Lentil & Kale Salad with Tahini Dressing
A portion of this article is excerpted and reprinted with permission from The Essential Good Food Guide by Margaret Wittenberg, copyright (c) 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photographs (c) 2013 Jennifer Martine
Heidi @ Food Doodles says
Great post! I really need to branch out with lentils more. I have a huge supply of them and only a couple recipes I really like them in so I need to get trying some different things out 🙂
There really aren't very many lentil recipes out there, are there? Lots of salads and soups, but other than that, you don't see them too often...
For some reason, I have steered away from any recipe that includes lentils. I really like them, but thought they might be too difficult to cook with. I am going to give the mushroom lentil burger a try this weekend!
They are so easy! The trickiest thing about them is that sometimes they'll start breaking down a little bit before the cooking time is up, so you have to keep an eye on them.
I have a recipe for French green lentils. Can I use another type? I don’t know where to get them.
Amanda Gilds says
I really need to start using more lentils....
I need to dive in! I picked up some French ones during my last Whole Food's trip..2 months ago.
Put them in a salad! The French ones are so good in salads. 😀
Courtney @ The Fig Tree says
Great guide! I adore lentils and trying out different kinds in recipes.
this is awesome, but guys, where are the red ones?
I originally included more varieties, but the post was way too long and I had to cut some of them out. 🙂
Ricardo Garcia says
I buy mine at Indian Store
Amy @ The Little Honey Bee says
This is the perfect post as I begin my lentil experimentation!
Woo hoo! I love experimenting with lentils--they are one of my favorite things to cook with! 🙂
I love lentils & was hoping that a comprehensive guide would have a perfect, foolproof strategy for eliminating pebbles, since I always seem to miss one...
Unfortunately, I don't think there's a fool proof way to do it!
I have substituted lentils for beef when making tacos and added a little paprika, it's one of my favorite uses!
Kiersten Frase says
That is a great idea - I love lentils as a ground beef substitute!
terry short says
what calories are there in red lentils?
We have made some of your lentil recipes this fall and everyone has loved them! Unfortunately, I have had stomach/abdominal pain after eating them. No one else has complained of any discomfort and it makes me sad to think I can't enjoy lentils! Do you have any suggestions on how to remedy this? We used "regular" lentils for the recipes. I really elsewhere that the green ones may be easier to digest? Would it work to substitute them? Thanks for the help!
I have found the same with regular lentils but not with red or yellow lentils.
Sprouted lentils are easier to digest. You only want to wait till they have a single tail that is as long as the width of the lentils. It only takes a few days. When they reach that point, they are ready for cooking. And they only take about 4-5 minutes to cook, when they are sprouted. They are also more nutritious. You can find a lot of videos on Youtube that will show you how to do it.
Going to try lentils and kale today!
Thanks for the recipes.
What about red and yellow lentils? there are also some great Persian recipes with rice and lentils. I once had a honey and lentil recipe that my kids love, but I lost it. Have you heard of one? Lentils are high in carbs. Do any of them have a lower carb. count?
The title is not appropriate since this is NOT a "comprehensive" guide. Not one type oflentil from the Indian Subcontinent (which accounts for the bulk of lentil consumers in the world ) is listed.
Your pages are SO LIGHT I cannot see or read them. How about a darker,larger font? HELP!!!
I just put some in a pot with coconut oil dried onion tumeric salt and pepper frozen assorted vegetables and cook.
What a timely post! I found a recipe for Lentil Loaf this week that I plan to make and was concerned about whether I had the "right" lentils! Also, if anyone hasn't tried the beluga lentils... Yum! They are by far my favorite.
Katie Trant says
Beluga lentils are my favourite as well!
Keith Harvey says
Kiersten, I'm so pleased you promoted the humble but wonderful lentil! As you had to leave out red lentils (masoor dal) for space reasons, might I put in a word for these remarkable little pulses? I often make dal/daal/dahl with them. They cook amazingly quickly yet are really tasty and a perfect base for a delicious, spicy treat, blending beautifully with the 'masala' and coriander (US: cilantro). Rinse a few times before cooking, lift away any white froth from the top of the cooking water, and they will be fine. Crispy red lentils kebabs are wonderful, by the way.