If you're a little unsure of the best method for how to cook red lentils, you've come to the right place! I give you all the cooking tips you need to know for cooking these tiny reddish-orange gems and making healthy and easy red lentil recipes.
How to Cook Red Lentils
What are Red Lentils?
Red lentils (Hindi ~ masoor dal) are affordable, versatile, and an excellent plant-based protein and fiber source. They taste milder and sweeter than other lentils, such as green and French du Puy.
Red lentils are the quickest-cooking type of lentil variety as they have been hulled and split in half during the drying process. This halving process means they break down faster than other lentils when cooked, and their texture quickly becomes soft. This soft texture makes them versatile for soups, stews, dips, and curries.
Do Red Lentils Need to be Soaked Before Cooking?
It is unnecessary to soak red lentils before cooking as they already cook so fast. Soaking is a common method for speeding up the cooking time of many other dried legumes, such as dried peas, beans, and some lentils.
Ingredients - How to Cook Red Lentils
Here is everything you need to know about 'how do I cook 1 cup of red lentils?'
- 1 cup red lentils - Cooking red lentils is not that different from cooking other lentils or pulses. However, red lentils cook more quickly and break down more easily than other lentils as they are hulled and split in half.
- 3 cups of water - In place of water, you can use stock or broth for the cooking liquid. You can use either vegetable broth, chicken stock, or any broth of your choice. Note: whatever liquid you add to the red lentils is what flavors them. Read further down in this article for different ways to flavor your red lentils.
What is the Best Way to Cook Red Lentils?
There's probably nothing simpler than how to cook red lentils; just put them in water, boil them, and ta-da! There is, however, always the best way to do something, isn't there? Here's my version of how do you cook dried red lentils - no soaking needed!
- RINSE LENTILS - Just like cooking other dried legumes or beans, it is essential to rinse red lentils in cold water until the water runs clear. At the same time, you can sift through and remove any discolored lentils, debris, or dirt that made its way into the packet of lentils.
- ADD LENTILS AND WATER - Add the red lentils and water, or another liquid of your choice, into a medium saucepan or pot on the stovetop.
- SIMMER - Bring the red lentils to a boil, reduce the temperature to low and simmer until the lentils are cooked. Cooking time can take 9 to 12 minutes, depending on the desired texture.
- DRAIN AND USE - Drain the lentils and let them cool. If you like your lentils a bit mushy, you can also leave them in the boiling water for a few minutes longer. Your lentils are ready to use!
How Long Should Red Lentils be Cooked?
|Red Lentil Texture||Cooking Time|
|Soft and tender||9 - 10 minutes|
|Very soft||11 -12 minutes|
How to Cook Red Lentils 5 Other Ways
Now that you know how to cook red lentils on the stovetop, here are some other cooking methods:
Can you Cook Red Lentils in the Microwave?
You can cook red lentils in the microwave. Rinse 1 cup of red lentils in cold water, place them in a microwave-safe bowl, and cover them with 3 cups of water. Microwave for 9 to 12 minutes, depending on the desired texture.
Can I Cook Red Lentils in an Instant Pot?
You can cook red lentils in Instant Pot or a Pressure Cooker. Note: If you cook red lentils in an Instant Pot, they can quickly turn mushy.
For how to cook red lentils in an Instant Pot, combine the red lentils, liquid, and seasoning. Seal the lid, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes with 15 minutes natural release; open the pot, stir, and taste. Note - always check the instructions of your Instant Pot, or other branded pressure cookers, as all models vary in recommended water amount and cooking time.
Do you need to soak lentils before pressure cooking? No, there is no need to soak red lentils before pressure cooking as the intense heat cooks lentils faster than cooking them on the stovetop.
Can you Cook Red Lentils in the Oven?
How to cook red lentils in the oven - You can cook red lentils in the oven for a gentler cooking process. Rinse 1 cup of red lentils under cold water and place in a Dutch oven with 3 cups of water or stock. Bake at 325°F |163°C for at least 20 minutes. Taste the baked red lentils and adjust the cooking time as required.
Can you Cook Red Lentils in a Slow Cooker?
You can cook red lentils in a slow cooker. Rinse 1 cup of red lentils in a sieve under running water. Place the lentils in a slow cooker with 3 cups of water, broth, or stock. Add aromatics, meat, and vegetables if desired. Cover with the lid and cook on low for 4 hours or until the lentils are tender.
Do you have to soak lentils before slow cooking? No, it is unnecessary to soak red lentils before putting them in the slow cooker.
Can you Cook Red Lentils in a Rice Cooker?
You can cook red lentils in a standard rice cooker. Place 1 cup of red lentils in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Add lentils, aromatics, and water to the rice cooker. Press start and cook until the lentils are tender.
How to Flavor Lentils
What Can I Add to Lentils?
- Broth or stock - Broth or stock is the best way to add flavor to your red lentils. You can use any broth that you prefer, whether homemade or store-bought. I like using chicken stock because that's what I always have in my freezer, made from leftover bones. You can also use beef stock or even concentrate or bouillon. Alternatively, you can use water and add meat bones to the cooking water - this is a popular way if you use a ham bone or leftover ham. If you want to keep it vegan or vegetarian, use vegetable broth as your cooking liquid.
- Spices - Depending on what cuisine you want your red lentils to be inspired by, there's no limit on what spices you can add. My favorite added spices for red lentils are cumin seeds, paprika, garam masala, or curry powder. Whatever spice you choose, make sure you toast them first to extract the flavor and build flavor to your dish.
- Aromatics like onions and garlic - There's a reason we add different types of onions and garlic to so many dishes; adding any member of the allium family will add a layer of flavor to your cooking, even if it is just ever so subtle. Sauté chopped onions and garlic before adding spices and the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt and black pepper.
What is the Best Way to Eat Lentils?
Here are some ideas for recipes with red lentils:
- Easy Red Lentil Dal - Dahl is probably the most popular red lentil recipe. In reality, dahl means both split pulses (which includes lentils and peas) and the type of dish that involves stewing these said pulses into a lovely creamy consistency. There's hardly any recipe for one type of dal because every cook has their preference. And technically, any dish that involves stewing split pulses can be called dal!
- Red Lentil Stew - Because of its starch, adding red lentils will help thicken and add nutrition to your stew. Add red lentils to your stew when you add the liquid/broth, or add mushy cooked lentils towards the end of your cooking time. This is especially useful if you don't have time to simmer your stew for an extended amount of time slowly.
- Pureed Red Lentil Soup - Other than how quickly they cook, another thing I love about red lentils is their texture and mild flavor. They will pick up whatever flavor you cook them in. But this doesn't mean that you can't enjoy red lentils with a smooth consistency. For a nice and smooth lentil soup, blend your cooked soup using a handheld blender. Read my article for 27+ ideas of what to serve with lentil soup.
- Red Lentil Patty - Move aside black beans because red lentils also make great plant-based protein-packed veggie burgers. To make a lentil patty that is firm but not mushy, you can combine red lentils with mashed beans, chickpeas, and even ground nuts like walnuts.
- Red Lentil Hummus - Amp-up a traditional hummus recipe by substituting the chickpeas with red lentils. A gorgeous red color, this red lentil hummus dish tastes as good as it looks!
- Red Lentil Salad - Create a delicious summer salad featuring red lentils with a lemon vinaigrette.
- Red Lentil Tacos - Make plant-based tacos featuring red lentils for the taco filling. Season the red lentils with sauteed onion, garlic, and spices such as cumin, paprika, chili powder, and oregano. Serve with corn taco shells or flour tortillas.
Substitute for Red Lentils
- Yellow lentils substitute - Yellow split lentils are a popular type of lentil that can sometimes be mistaken for red lentils due to their color. Yellow lentils are the closest substitute to red lentils for their size, texture, and cooking/prep time.
- Split peas - Split peas are field peas that have been dried, peeled, and naturally split in half, hence the name. Like red lentils, split peas do not need to be soaked first. Learn how to cook split peas with different cooking methods and use them in healthy and easy recipes.
- Dried whole peas - Dried peas are the un-split version of split peas. They are just as tasty and nutritious as split peas but take longer to cook. Refer to the cooking times of dried peas, both soaked and unsoaked, in this how to cook dried peas article.
- Brown vs red lentils - Dried brown lentils are one of the most common and come in a few different shades of brown — from light brown to almost black. You can use brown lentils in place of recipes calling for red lentils, but increase the cooking time.
- Whole green lentils - Dried green lentils are readily available and widely used because they hold their shape well when cooked. They also take longer to cook than red lentils, so adjust the cooking time of the red lentils recipe. Learn how to cook green lentils, boost their flavor, and use them in various dishes.
- Beans - If you're out of lentils, you can substitute them with dried beans, which are also rich in health benefits. Which beans, though? It depends on what you have in your pantry and what you are making. For soups, chilis, and stews, pinto beans, kidney beans, and cannellini beans are popular choices. Borlotti and black beans are great to toss into salad bowls, tacos, or wraps.
- Grains - In some recipes, you can substitute red lentils with nutrition-packed grains such as bulgur, millet, barley, buckwheat, or even types of rice like brown or black rice. These alternate grains work well if you use them in salads or even soups.
- Nuts and seeds – In many recipes, red lentils make a meal more nutritious and thicken the texture. Instead of red lentils you can use certain types of nuts and types of seeds. Seeds such as chia or flax seeds work well to add body to your soup. Cashew nuts are often used to enhance the taste and thicken the texture of a south Asian-style chicken curry with tomatoes, red onions, yogurt, green chili, and coriander. Yum!
How to Cook Red Lentils - Storage
Uncooked Dried Red Lentils
- Pantry - Dried red lentils that are kept in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dry place will keep for years.
- Freezer - Maximise the lifespan of dried red lentils by storing them in an air-tight container in the freezer for later use.
Cooked Red Lentils
- Refrigerator - Cooked red lentils will keep in the fridge for up to one week in an air-tight container.
- Freezer - Transfer the cooked red lentils into an air-tight container and store them for up to 3 months in the freezer.
How to Cook Red Lentils - FAQs
How to Cook Split Red Lentils - Are Red Lentils Good for You?
Are red lentils healthy? Red lentils are a healthy and versatile ingredient and have health benefits to add to plant and meat-based dishes.
What is the Difference Between Lentils and Split Peas?
Although they look similar, lentils and split peas are different types of legumes and come from two different varieties of plants. For more information on their taste and texture, and how to substitute and use each type, read my split pea vs lentil article.
What is the Difference Between Red and Yellow Lentils?
Red lentils are a bit sweeter than yellow ones, though both are milder in flavor than other lentils. Otherwise, they cook in relatively the same amount of time and have similar nutritional value.
How to Cook Red Lentils - Do you Have to Cook Lentils Before Eating?
Yes, you need to cook lentils before eating them. Do not eat raw or undercooked lentils.
How Can you Tell if Dried Red Lentils are Bad?
Check the appearance of the dried lentils to ensure that they look regular and that there is no mold growing or insects. Another good thing to check is the smell; that the lentils do not have a strange odor.
Do you Have to Pre Cook Red Lentils?
You must cook lentils before adding them to a dish, such as a dip or a salad. If you are making a soup or curry, cook the lentils in the cooking liquid that will be the base of your dish.
Do Lentils Have to be Soaked Before Using?
- Do I need to soak lentils before cooking? It is unnecessary to soak lentils before using them, but it can speed up the cooking time of some varieties, such as green lentils.
- Can I soak lentils overnight? Yes, you can soak lentils overnight. Some lentils, such as red lentils, do not need to be soaked overnight as they already cook so quickly.
- What happens if you don't soak lentils? If you don't soak lentils beforehand, they will take longer to cook.
- How to soak lentils? Put the lentils in a bowl of cold water - ensure the water is at least 2 to 5 inches above the lentils. How to soak lentils overnight? Place the bowl of soaking lentils on the kitchen bench and leave overnight. Strain and cook them the next day.
- How long to soak lentils before cooking? Minimum 6 to 8 hours, or overnight.
- How long to soak red lentils? It is unnecessary to soak red lentils. Refer to the table at the beginning of this article for 'How to Cook Red Lentils - Red Lentils Cooking Time' without soaking.
- Quick soak lentils. There is no such thing as a quick soak. The good thing about red lentils is that they are extremely fast to cook, so there is no need to soak them.
- Do lentils need to be soaked before making soup? It is not necessary to soak lentils before making soup, but it will speed up the cooking process.
- Can you soak lentils too long? Soak lentils for the recommended time of 6 to 8 hours, or overnight. More than this is not necessary. Also, do not soak lentils for more than 24 hours; longer and they can ferment.
How do you Prepare Red Lentils?
- How to sort lentils? - Place the lentils in a sieve or spread them onto a plate. Sort through for any broken, brittle pieces or debris, such as small stones. Also, check that the lentils are all a uniform color and size to ensure an even cooking time.
- How to rinse lentils? - Place the lentils in a sieve under cold running water and rinse thoroughly. Alternatively, put the lentils in a bowl filled with water. Move the lentils around with your hand to release any dirt and dust. Discard the dirty water and repeat the process until the water is clear.
How to Cook Red Lentils - What is a Portion of Dried Red Lentils?
Do lentils expand when cooked? A portion of lentils is about ¼ cup of dried lentils per person. This ¼ cup of dried lentils will expand to two to three times the size when cooked.
- How much does ½ cup dry lentils make cooked? Half a cup of dried red lentils will make 1 to 1.5 cups of cooked lentils.
- How much does 1 cup dry red lentils make? One cup of dried red lentils will make 2 to 3 cups of cooked red lentils.
What is the Ratio of Water to Red Lentils?
Although you can get away with cooking red lentils with a 1:2 red lentil to water ratio, I think it is safer to cook red split lentils with 1:3 red lentils to water ratio. That is 1 part lentils to 3 parts water.
Do you Boil Water Before Putting Lentils in?
No, you don't need to boil your water before adding the red lentils. You can add the red lentils directly into the cold liquid and let them cook together.
How to Cook Red Lentils - Do Red Lentils Need to be Boiled?
Bring the water to a boil, immediately turn the heat down to low, and continue to cook the lentils on a gentle simmer. Rapid boiling can cook the lentils too fast and make them mushy quickly.
Do Red Lentils Go Mushy When Cooked?
- How do you cook lentils so they don't fall apart? Bring the cooking liquid to a boil and then immediately reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Keep an eye on the timer, and don't cook longer than the recommended time, as overcooked lentils can fall apart.
- Should cooked lentils be firm? Lentils should be tender but firm in shape if you want to use them, for example, in a salad. If making dahl, you will want the texture of the lentils to be very soft and mushy.
- How long does it take to cook red lentils? Anywhere from 9 to 12 minutes, depending on the desired texture. Refer to the 'How to Cook Red Lentils - Red Lentils Cooking Time' table.
- Should red lentils be soft when cooked? Red lentils should be soft and tender for many dishes, which will take about 9-10 minutes. Other dishes require the red lentils to have a mushy consistency which will take 12+ minutes.
- How long does it take for red lentils to soften? Red lentils will take approximately 9-10 minutes to soften.
- How do you know when lentils are fully cooked? I always say to taste the cooking lentils as you go. For some dishes, you will want them a bit more firm and other dishes softer.
- What happens if you overcook red lentils? Overcooked lentils will go very soft and mushy.
- Do red lentils go mushy when cooked? Red lentils go soft, no matter what method you use to cook them. This soft texture makes them good for soups and some curries.
- How do you keep red lentils from being mushy? As red lentils have been hulled and split in half, they cook very quickly. To ensure that your red lentils do not turn mushy, check and taste them at the 9-minute mark. Continue tasting and checking every minute until they are the desired texture, Also, don't cook the red lentils on a rapid boil for more than a moment. Ensure that you turn down the stovetop to a simmer.
- How do you cook lentils so they don't get mushy? - Choose the right type of lentil for the dish that you are making. If you want firmer lentils that hold their shape, choose green, brown, French du Puy, or black beluga lentils.
How to Cook Red Lentils - Conclusion
There you go; all you need to know for how to cook red lentils. By following a few simple pointers, you'll have the most flavorful and tender red lentils for whatever dish you make. The sky is the limit when it comes to different ways to cook red lentils!
How to Cook Red Lentils
- 1 cup red lentils
- 3 cups water
- Rinse 1 cup of red lentils in a sieve under cool water and remove any discolored lentils or other impurities.
- Add the lentils to 3 cups of water in a medium size saucepan.
- Bring the water to a boil, turn down to low, and simmer uncovered: Soft and tender - 9 to 10 minutes Very soft - 11 to 12 minutes Mushy - 12+ minutes
- Drain the lentils and use.
- Sort through and rinse the lentils before cooking as sometimes debris or tiny stones can get mixed into them.
- This is a basic recipe for how to cook red lentils. It is important that you add flavor to the red lentils by adding your favorite spices and aromatics to the cooking liquid. Remember, red lentils will soak up the flavor of the cooking liquid.