Guide To Cooking Lentils: Mouth-watering Dishes

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If you're like most people, you want to eat healthier, spend less money on food, and not have to slave in the kitchen to prepare your food. At the same time, you don't want to sacrifice flavor. Lentils might be the perfect option to accomplish all of this. This article will look at the humble lentil, show you the best ways of cooking lentils, and provide some mouthwatering dishes you can make with lentils.

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What Are Lentils?

Before we can get into the best ways of cooking lentils, we will explore exactly what lentils are and their different types. Certain types of lentils are often best used in specific dishes and they can often have different cooking times. Lentils are a member of the legume family, also known as pulses. They are cousins to the other members of this family including beans, peanuts, and peas.

Lentils are a staple food for many around the world, and with good reason. They are inexpensive, a good source of protein, easy to store in your pantry, quick to prepare, and they can be added to a lot of different dishes. Another reason that they are such an important part of the diet of people around the world is that they take on flavors very well. This makes it possible to have two lentil dishes with completely different flavors based on the seasoning and spices added to the lentils.

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Different Types Of Lentils

Lentils are often classified by their color, but this is not just a cosmetic difference. The different types of lentils can have completely different flavor profiles as well as cooking times. Yellow or red lentils, for example, have a sweeter taste but can also get mushy much more quickly than brown or green lentils.

Brown Lentils

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The most common type of lentils are brown lentils. If you are purchasing your lentils at a grocery store, this is most often the type they will have. They have a mild and earthy flavor and need about 20 to 30 minutes to cook in a conventional manner. There are some specialized varieties of brown lentils including German, Indian, and Spanish, but there is not much difference in their use. An exception to this is beluga lentils which are the tiniest of the lentils and have a dark, almost black color. They take only 15 minutes to cook in a conventional manner.

Green Lentils

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Green lentils have a peppery taste and compared to the other colors of lentils they remain firmer after cooking. This makes them ideal for additions to salads, or as a side dish. They often work best when cooked low and slow, to ensure that they preserve the firm texture.

Orange, Yellow, And Red Lentils

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Most commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, red, orange, and yellow lentils are often the best lentil choice for Indian daals and curries. They can be more difficult to find than green or brown lentils. If you have an Asian or Middle Eastern grocery, they might be available there or even in the bulk section of a large supermarket. When using conventional methods, cooking lentils like these takes about 30 minutes.

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How Do You Cook Lentils?

Bowls with different cereals: rice, millet, lentils, peas, buckwheat

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Once you have decided on the lentils you want to use in your dish, it is time to move on to preparing and cooking lentils. This section will go over the three most common methods of cooking lentils: stovetop, slow cooker, and pressure cooker. All three of these methods can produce wonderful-tasting lentil dishes, though with a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to prepare them. Regardless of the method you use for cooking lentils, there are some preparations that need to happen before you cook them.

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Preparing Lentils Before Cooking Them

The preparations for cooking lentils begins with choosing the best lentils to cook. Lentils have an amazingly long shelf life but older lentils take longer to cook and might not even lose their firmness. Choosing the freshest lentils possible will provide the best texture and easiest cooking.

The next step before you begin cooking lentils is to rinse and sort them. Lentils can pick up dust and debris including tiny pebbles, though that is uncommon. Regardless, rinsing your lentils in a colander and performing a quick sift will ensure that no debris makes it into your finished dish.

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What Kind Of Liquid Should You Use In Lentil Dishes?

Lentils require liquid to both rehydrate and to cook in. Water alone is an option but as the lentils are rehydrating as they cook, providing them with a flavorful cooking liquid such as a stock or even water with aromatics like onion and garlic will result in a much more flavorful dish. Avoid excess salts and acidic ingredients in your cooking water as they can increase cooking time and even toughen the skins of the lentils. Add these ingredients after the lentils have been cooked.

Cooking Lentils On The Stovetop

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Moving to the methods of cooking lentils, we start with the stovetop method as it is the only method that does not require specialized equipment such as a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. Once your lentils have been rinsed and sorted, add them to a large pot. Add your cooking liquid, remembering to limit the salts or acids, and cover the lentils with your cooking liquid until it reaches about 2 inches above the lentils.

Bring this to a boil quickly but reduce the heat to very low once it starts to bubble. Allow your lentils to simmer uncovered for 20 to 50 minutes, depending on their type. Once your lentils are cooked, remove any liquid left by straining the lentils through a mesh sleeve.

Compared to the slow cooker and pressure cooker methods, the stovetop method allows for more control while you are cooking lentils. This enables you to better judge when your lentils will have the firmness or softness that you desire. Cooking lentils on the stove takes much less time than in a slow cooker, but on the other hand, a pressure cooker does it in only a fraction of that. The stovetop method is often the best method for those who are new to cooking lentils.

Cooking Lentils In A Slow Cooker

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Cooking Lentils in a slow cooker can be a great way to allow the flavors in your cooking liquid to meld with the lentils. If you are cooking lentil stews or soups, the slow cooker will give you a hands-off cooking method that produces an amazing end product. When cooking lentils in a slow cooker, start with the ratio of 1 cup of lentils to 2 1/2 cups of liquid. If you are new to cooking lentils in a slow cooker, refer to the specific slow cooker recipes to find the best cooking time as they can vary greatly depending on the recipe.

Cooking Lentils In A Pressure Cooker

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The pressure cooker utilizes pressure to raise the boiling point of water, enabling it to cook dishes at a much faster rate than any other method. This makes it ideal for quick-cooking lentils in minutes instead of hours. As the pressure cooker utilizes pressure and prevents some evaporation, use about 1/4 of a cup less water than in a slow cooker or stovetop preparations.

The cook times for lentils in a pressure cooker can be as short as six minutes, but for green or brown lentils, 15 minutes under high pressure will provide a great result most of the time. Allow the pressure cooker to naturally release its pressure for 10 minutes before opening its valve and releasing the rest of the pressure manually.

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What Are Some Mouth-Watering Dishes You Can Make With Lentils?

There are a million and one lentil recipes that are available in a variety of different culinary styles with a multitude of different flavors. For the purpose of our article about cooking lentils, we want to provide a few recipes that utilize different cooking methods and different types of dishes with varying flavors and even textures in order to highlight the lentils' utility in the kitchen.

Lentil Soup

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Given their need for cooking liquid, lentils are a great addition to soups. the following lentil soup recipe is designed for cooking lentils on the stovetop, but it can be adapted to both slow cooker and pressure cooker use. The exact recipe can be easily modified and changed to suit different tastes.

What You Will Need:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 8 cups of water
  • 2 cups dried lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Fresh oregano and basil to taste
  • 1 cup spinach, thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Directions:

  1. 1
    Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook, stirring regularly until the onion is translucent and tender. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and fresh herbs and allow it to cook for an additional two minutes.
  2. 2
    Add the lentils to the pot and stir the mixture until combined. Then add water and the tomatoes. Bring it to a boil before reducing the heat to low and allowing it to simmer for an hour.
  3. 3
    When it is ready to serve, add the spinach and allow to continue to cook until the spinach has wilted. Finally, add the apple cider vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. The vinegar provides an acidic punch that elevates the soup. Lemon or lime juice or any other type of vinegar can be substituted should you want to change the flavor profile.

Pressure Cooker Dahl (Indian Lentils)

cooking lentils in a pot

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No article on cooking lentils would be complete without a dish from India. Lentils are a staple food of most Indians and given the spice profile of their foods, their lentil dishes are often incredibly flavorful as well as quite healthy and vegan-friendly. This recipe uses an electronic pressure cooker to produce the finished product in less than 1/2 hour. It is often served over rice, but it can also be eaten alone.

For ease, this recipe uses a simplified spice profile and most of the spices can be purchased at your local grocery store. Try to purchase spices in the bulk section as they are much cheaper and often fresher than bottled spices.

What You Will Need:

  • 1 tablespoon clarified butter or olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ginger, minced
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (more if you like it spicy)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups dried red lentils
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • The juice of one lime

Directions:

  1. 1
    Set your electronic pressure cooker to sauté and add the oil. Once the oil has come to temperature, add the onions and stir regularly, allowing them to cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
  2. 2
    Add the ginger and garlic and while stirring frequently, cook for an additional two minutes.
  3. 3
    Add the ground spices and turn off the electronic pressure cooker. Bloom the spices in the residual heat for another minute, stirring constantly.
  4. 4
    Add the water and scrape any forms that might have developed in the bottom of the pot before adding the lentils, tomatoes, and coconut milk.
  5. 5
    Put the lid on your electronic pressure cooker and set it to manual for eight minutes. Once it has completed, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes before opening the pressure valve.
  6. 6
    Stir in the juice from the lime to add a little punch of acid your completed dish.
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Conclusion

If you want to reduce your grocery bill while eating healthy without sacrificing the flavor, lentils are one of the best options available. We hope that our article on cooking lentils has provided you with the best methods to add these culinary workhorses to your diet.

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