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Which Cuisines Cook With Lentils?
Lentils are a predominant ingredient in many cuisines across the globe, most notably throughout the Middle East, and across the Mediterranean. Ethnic markets and grocery stores will usually carry a wider variety.
Because they’re so flavorful on their own, lentil recipes are usually very simple.
- Lentil salad with fresh herbs and lemon juice. Combine 1 cup cooked lentils with a handful of fresh herbs like parsley, mint, and scallions with the juice of half a lemon, and ¼ cup finely chopped red onion or shallot. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve alongside seared fish, or alongside a yogurt sauce like tzatziki or raita.
- To make Indian dal, simply cook 1 cup red or yellow lentils normally. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, saute 1 small diced onion, 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced, and ½ inch fresh ginger, finely chopped in ghee or olive oil over medium-high heat (you can also add one small green chili, finely chopped, if you’d like). Add ½ tsp kosher salt, ½ tsp ground cumin, ½ tsp ground turmeric, ¼ tsp ground coriander and 1 bay leaf and cook until fragrant. Add 1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes, and reduce heat to low, cooking until thickened and well-combined, 4 minutes. Add this mixture to the cooked lentils and mix well. Season to taste.
4 Different Types of Lentils
There are many different kinds of lentils to look for. Here’s a brief primer:
- Red lentils, orange lentils, and yellow lentils. Red or orange lentils are simply yellow lentils that have been hulled and split, and are a reliable quick-cooking option as a result. These softer lentils bring a very mildly sweet and nutty character to any dish. Because they break down so well, they’re best used as a thickener in things like stews or cooked down to a smooth almost-puree, as seen in Indian dal.
- Green lentils. Typically interchangeable with the smaller, darker Puy lentils, or French green lentils, green lentils are firm with a deep peppery flavor. They take a little bit longer to cook as a result, about 45 minutes, but won’t break down when stirring into other dishes.
- Brown lentils. The most commonly found in grocery stores, brown lentils are the everyday hero of the bunch: soft and earthy in character—somewhere between the mild red lentil and the hearty, firm green lentil—with a quick cooking time.
- Black lentils. Also known as Beluga lentils thanks to their resemblance to caviar, black lentils are small and pearl-shaped with a dark black hull and light flesh.
Tips for Cooking Perfect Lentils
- Rinse them first. Packaged lentils may occasionally be hiding small rocks or debris leftover from the soil in which they grew, so do a quick sift through after rinsing under cold running water.
- Fresh is best. Dry lentils have a long shelf life (up to three years, properly stored in an airtight container) but aim for the freshest sell-by dates on the package for better texture. Older lentils may have tougher hulls.
3 Different Ways to Cook Lentils
If you’re short on time, a pressure cooker will cook lentils to tender perfection in under 10 minutes. If you have time to spare, cooking lentils in a slow cooker or on the stove top will result in a more complex overall flavor.
- Stovetop. To cook lentils on the stovetop, place lentils in a large pot with enough cooking liquid (water, or stock/broth if you prefer) to cover them—at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a very low simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 15-45 minutes (depending on varietal). When tender, remove from heat and drain thoroughly.
- Slow cooker. To cook lentils in a slow cooker, add lentils and cooking liquid (though it depends on type and desired result, a good starting place is 1 cup of lentils to 2 ½ cups liquid). Cook on low for specified time according to type.
- Pressure cooker. Avoid red, yellow, or orange lentils with this technique—the high pressure turns them to mush. Place lentils and cooking liquid of choice to the pressure cooker. Cook for 6 minutes on high, and allow the pressure cooker to release pressure naturally for about 10 minutes.
Easy Lentil Soup Recipe
- 1 cup red/orange/yellow lentils
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 leek, thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
- + carrot, sliced crosswise at an angle
- + celery, sliced crosswise at an angle
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- ½ bunch Tuscan kale, destemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
- Juice of half a lime
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- Heat olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the garlic and leeks, season with salt and pepper, and saute until just beginning to soften.
- Add carrots and celery to the pot, and stir well to combine. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Add lentils, and stock, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover the pot. Simmer until lentils are cooked to preference, 20-25 minutes.
- Add kale and stir into soup until wilted and bright green. Remove from heat, add a squeeze of lime juice, and season as needed.
Serve with crusty sourdough bread.