Learn everything you need to know about how to cook red lentils on the stove, including water ratios, cook times, and tips for adding flavor. Easy recipes and information on how to prepare them for salads and soups are included.
Red lentils are such a versatile and affordable food! They’re loaded with nutrition, including plant-based protein, iron, and fiber. Plus, the creamy texture they develop when cooked lends itself to so many applications.
You may be familiar with red lentil dal, a popular Indian curry dish. Besides curry, red lentils taste delicious in soups, dips, and baked goods. They’re also a great baby food! This post includes tips for cooking red lentils so that you can start adding this nutritious food to your meals.
The instructions are repeated in the recipe card at the bottom of the post. Here’s a preview of the steps for how to cook red lentils, followed by tips on water ratios and simmering time.
Rinse the red lentils under running water in a strainer to remove any dust or debris. Sort through the lentils to find and discard any shriveled or discolored ones.
Add the lentils to a saucepan with water (see below for ratios). Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until cooked to your liking, usually about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain excess water.
Red Lentil to Water Ratio
To cook red lentils so that they retain some of their shape but are still cooked through, use 2 cups water to 1 cup lentils.
To cook red lentils so that they break down into a puree, use 3 cups water to 1 cup lentils.
As noted, how much water you need depends on what texture you want them to have. Keep in mind that red lentils always become mushy to a certain extent when cooked. Using less water (2 cups instead of 3 cups) just prevents them from become fully mashed and allows for some of them to retain their shape (while still being cooked through). This method is good if you want to make salads with them.
How Long to Cook Red Lentils
Red lentils do not take as long as green or brown lentils to cook. In my experience, the best cooking time is between 5 and 10 minutes. Of course, cooking times can vary depending on your stove. If your lentils are still not cooked through at 8 minutes, cook them for a few more minutes until they reach your desired texture.
After you bring the lentils and water to an initial boil, reduce the heat to very low so that they don’t overcook. You should also stir them once or twice during the cooking process to promote even cooking.
If you are making a recipe that calls for uncooked red lentils to be added, such as a soup or curry, they usually still only take about 8 to 10 minutes to cook.
Dry to Cooked Amounts
Lentils will at least double in size when cooked and typically will swell to 2 and ½ times their size when dry. So, 1 cup of dry red lentils yields about 2 and ½ cups of cooked red lentils.
Keep cooked red lentils in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. You can also freeze red lentils in freezer-safe containers or bags for up to 6 months.
How to Season Red Lentils
Red lentils can be simmered in water and seasoned after cooking, or you can add seasonings during the cooking process. To give flavor to red lentils while they cook, use vegetable or chicken broth with salt, pepper, and a bay leaf. You can even add other aromatics like sprigs of thyme, smashed garlic cloves, and a cinnamon stick.
If you want to season cooked red lentils, toss them in extra virgin olive oil and add desired herbs and spices. They pair very well with fresh herbs, such as parsley, dill, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, or oregano. Spices that taste good with red lentils include cumin, curry powder, turmeric, ginger, garlic, paprika, cinnamon, and chili powder.
Here are my favorite recipes that use red lentils:
- Red Lentil Tortilla Soup
- Banana Lentil Muffins
- Red Lentil Salad with Herbs and Feta
- BBQ Lentils with Shredded Carrots (use red lentils in lieu of brown or green lentils here)
- You can also add them to blended dips, sauces, and smoothies. Add a cup of them to the Hidden Veggie Mac and Cheese, Italian Roasted Red Pepper Sauce, Vegan Carrot Banana Smoothie, or Roasted Eggplant Red Pepper Dip.
Most grocery stores sell split red lentils that are split in half and have their husks removed, which is why they cook so quickly. The cooking techniques in this post are for split red lentils. Whole red lentils still have their husks and take longer to cook, similar to brown or green lentils.
You do not need to soak red lentils before cooking. They cook very quickly and break down easily without prior soaking.
Yes, red lentils are supposed to get mushy and break down into a puree-like texture when cooked. If you want lentils that retain their shape, try cooking red lentils with a different water ratio (see above) or, better yet, choosing green or brown lentils.
Red lentils are great for soups and curry because of their mushy texture when cooked. Some lesser-known ways of using them include in baked goods, dips, smoothies, sauces, and baby food!
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Easy Red Lentils
- Saucepan or pot with lid (big enough for the lentils to double in size)
- 1 cup dry split red lentils
- Rinse the lentils under running water in a strainer. Sort through the lentils to pick out and remove any shriveled or discolored ones.
For less soft lentils
- If you want some of the red lentils to retain their shape, while still being cooked through, combine the 1 cup lentils with 2 cups water in a pot or saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring once or twice to promote even cooking. If the lentils are still not cooked through at 8 minutes, cook for a few minutes longer. Drain excess water before serving/using.
For softer lentils (puree-like)
- To cook red lentils in the typical way, so that they break down into a mushy texture, combine the 1 cup lentils with 3 cups water in a pot or saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring once or twice to promote even cooking. If the lentils are still not cooked through at 8 minutes, cook for a few minutes longer. Drain excess water before serving/using.
- Seasoning ideas: Cook the lentils in vegetable or chicken broth with a bay leaf, salt and pepper, smashed garlic, thyme sprigs, and/or a cinnamon stick. After they’re cooked, you can season them with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, curry powder, cumin, chili powder, turmeric, cinnamon, or fresh herbs.
- Storage: Store cooked red lentils in an airtight container in the fridge for 5 to 7 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months. If frozen, thaw in the fridge overnight before using or add to hot recipes directly from frozen.
- You can add cooked red lentils to soups, baked goods, sauces, and dips.
Happy cooking! – Lizzie