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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

How To Cook Red Lentils

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Learn how to cook red lentils in just a few simple steps using the stovetop method or the Instant Pot for perfectly cooked lentils every time!

A bowl of red lentils with a scoop on a towel-lined wooden counter.

Red lentils, also called “masoor dal”, are a staple in vegan and vegetarian recipes. They are a healthy legume high in dietary fiber, plant-based protein, vitamins, and nutrients, often the star ingredient in meatless veggie burgers, chili, and sloppy joes.

Cooked red lentils have a mild earthy flavor, slightly sweeter than brown and black lentils, and they break down when cooked. 

If this is your first time trying lentils, they are an easy and affordable way to add protein to your meals! You can find them in most grocery stores in the same aisle as dried beans.

🙋🏽‍♀️ What Are The Different Kinds Of Lentils?

There are many other different varieties of lentils including black lentils (beluga), french green lentils, yellow lentils, brown lentils, and puy. All have their own slightly different flavor, and textures. 

Red lentils do not hold their shape when cooked like some other types of lentils, which makes them excellent to use in soups, dahl, dips, and curries.

👩🏽‍🍳  Why You’ll Love Cooked Red Lentils

  • Quick And Easy: This is such an easy red lentils recipe. All it takes is 3 simple ingredients, one pot, and less than 20 minutes!
  • Nutrient-Dense: Red lentils are a healthy protein-rich legume also high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Great Way To Meal Prep: Prepare a big pot of red lentils to eat throughout the week! 
  • Versatile: There are numerous ways to season and serve red lentils – from hearty soup and curries to salads and pasta. 
  • Allergy-Friendly: These lentils are naturally vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free, making them a great pick for almost any dietary preference!

Latest Recipe Video!

🥘 Ingredients

Cooking red lentils takes just three simple ingredients: dry red lentils, water, and salt! See the recipe card below for exact ingredient amounts, nutritional information, and detailed instructions.

All of the ingredients for making red lentils on the counter.
  • Dry Red Lentils: Red split lentils are the easiest type of lentil to cook, ready in less than 20 minutes on the stovetop! 
  • Water: Stick with water or use another type of liquid for more flavor like broth or plant-based milk. 
  • Salt: Opt for fine sea salt for the best flavor.

🔪 How To Cook Red Lentils

Here are the instructions on how to cook red lentils on the stovetop and in an Instant Pot. 

Stove Top Red Lentils 

Rinse Lentils: Place one cup of red lentils in a colander and rinse under cold water until the water drains clear. Remove any small stones or debris.

Rinsing a wire mesh strainer of lentils.

Add Ingredients To Saucepan: Place the rinsed lentils and 3 cups of liquid in a medium saucepan. Cover with water, and sprinkle with salt. Bring to a boil uncovered over medium heat.

An overhead shot of a pot of red lentils with water.

Simmer: Reduce heat, and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lentils are soft. Note: for a firm texture, cook for only 5-7 minutes. For a mushier texture, use the full recommended red lentils cook time.

An overhead shot of a pan of cooked red lentils with a black serving spoon.

Drain: Once cooked, drain any excess water from the lentils before serving.

An overhead shot of a white bowl of red lentils with a spoon and small cup of raw lentils on a cutting board on the counter.

Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Method

Rinse Lentils: Rinse lentils under cold water until water drains clear.

Add Ingredients To Instant Pot: Place 1 cup of lentils in the Instant Pot, and add 3 cups of water and salt. Stir to combine.

An overhead shot of red lentils in water in a pot.

Cook: Secure the lid, and set the valve to sealing. Set to high pressure, and cook time to 4 minutes.

Release Pressure From Instant Pot: Allow to naturally release pressure for 15 minutes, then turn the valve to quick release to release the remaining pressure. Remove the lid once all the steam has escaped.

A closeup shot of a scoop of cooked red lentils.

💭 Expert Tips

  • Fresh Is Best: If stored properly, dried red lentils will last a long time, but make sure they are fresh before cooking! Cooking old lentils will take longer and will also result in a bitter taste. 
  • Buy In Bulk: For the freshest lentils, buy from the bulk section of the grocery store instead of pre-bagged lentils that are sitting on the shelf. 
  • Rinse Before Cooking: It’s important to rinse and sort your lentils before cooking to remove any debris.

📖 Variations

  • Use Broth: Instead of water, you can cook lentils in vegetable broth or vegetable stock for a richer flavor. Alternatively, add a can of coconut milk for a creamy texture like lentil stew. 
  • Garnish With Herbs: Fresh herbs like oregano, parsley, cilantro, dill, rosemary, and thyme serve as a delicious topping. Also, try a squeeze of fresh lemon juice!
  • Add Spices: Cooked red lentils have a mild flavor, so warm spices like turmeric, chili powder, curry powder, garam masala, red pepper flakes, cumin seeds, bay leaf, and coriander amp up the flavor.
  • Add Aromatics: While your whole red lentils are cooking, saute minced garlic, fresh ginger, chopped onion, diced tomatoes, and chili peppers in olive oil. Add the mixture to the cooked lentils before serving for delicious flavor.

🍽 Serving Suggestions

Cooked red lentils are so versatile that you can enjoy them in a variety of ways! Simply serve over basmati rice, add to a pasta sauce, toss in a salad, or make a simple red lentil soup or a delicious Indian red lentil dahl!

🫙 Storage Directions

  • Refrigeration: Allow the lentils to cool completely and come to room temperature before storing them in an airtight container. Leftovers will keep stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 
  • Freezing: After the lentils have cooled completely, transfer them to a freezer-safe container. Leftovers keep stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.
  • Reheating: Reheat lentils in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are heated all the way through. Alternatively, you can reheat them in the microwave. If the lentils have thickened upon storage, you can add a bit more water.

❓FAQs

Do you need to soak red lentils before cooking?

No, you don’t need to soak red lentils before cooking like you do with other types of legumes. However, be sure to rinse them thoroughly and pick out any stones or debris before cooking.

How long to cook red lentils?

Typically, red lentils will take about 15-20 minutes to cook. However, keep in mind that if you add salt or any acidic ingredients (tomatoes, lemon juice, etc.) during the cooking process, your lentils will take slightly longer.

Should my red lentils be mushy?

Red lentils don’t hold their shape when they’re cooked so your lentils should be slightly mushy. Also, you should only have about 1/4 cup of water left (max) at the end of cooking, which should be easy to drain. If you want them mushier, cook them longer. The best way to get firmer lentils is to cook them on the stovetop instead of an instant pot so can more easily control the cooking time.

What is the ratio of water to lentils?

Typically, your red lentil water ratio is 1 cup of dry lentils to 3 cups of water (1:3). So for 1 cup of lentils, you’ll need 3 cups of water, and a dash of salt (optional). Alternatively, you could use vegetable broth in place of the water. Make sure to use a large stock pot as the lentils will double or triple in size as they cook.

What is the difference between split red lentils and red lentils?

Most of the red lentils you will find in grocery stores are split red lentils, which are lentils split in half to remove the seed coat. This makes them cook quickly. Whole lentils have their husks intact and are more similar to green or brown lentils. They take longer to cook. 

An overhead shot of a white bowl of cooked red lentils with a spoon on a cutting board.

🍲 More of My Favorite Recipes Using Red Lentils!

🥧 More How To Recipes!

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📋 Recipe Card

🎥 Watch How to Make It

https://youtu.be/be42e6tuwjo
A bowl of red lentils with a scoop on a towel-lined wooden counter.
Print Recipe
5 from 11 votes

How To Cook Red Lentils

Learn how to cook red lentils in just a few simple steps using the stovetop method or the Instant Pot for perfectly cooked lentils every time!
Prep Time2 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time17 minutes
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Indian
Diet: Gluten Free, Low Calorie, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings: 4
Calories: 159kcal
Author: Anjali Shah

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry red lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • ½-⅔ tsp salt
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Instructions

Stovetop Method

  • Rinse lentils under cool water until water drains clear.
  • Place the lentils and water in a large saucepan. Cover with water, and sprinkle with salt. Bring to a boil uncovered.
  • Reduce heat, and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lentils are soft.
  • Drain any excess water before serving.

Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker)

  • Rinse lentils under cool water until water drains clear.
  • Place lentils in the instant pot, add the water and salt. Stir to combine.
  • Secure the lid, set the valve to sealing. Set the pressure to high, and the time to 4 minutes.
  • Allow to naturally release pressure for 15 minutes, then turn the valve to quick release to release the remaining pressure. Remove the lid once all the steam has escaped.

Notes

Storage Directions
  • Refrigeration: Allow the lentils to cool completely and come to room temperature before storing them in an airtight container. Leftovers will keep stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Freezing: After the lentils have cooled completely, transfer them to a freezer-safe container. Leftovers keep stored in the freezer for up to 1 month.
  • Reheating: Reheat lentils in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until they are heated all the way through. Alternatively, you can reheat them in the microwave. If the lentils have thickened, you can add a bit more water. 
Recipe Notes 
  • 1 cup dry red lentils makes about 2½ cups cooked. 1 serving is about ⅔ cup cooked red lentils.
  • Be sure to thoroughly rinse your lentils before cooking. Sometimes tiny stones or other debris gets mixed into the lentils.
  • Add more spices! While this is a basic recipe for how to cook red lentils, you can add your favorite spices to amp up the flavor. I suggest turmeric, chili powder, cumin seeds, bay leaf, and coriander.

Nutrition

Calories: 159kcal | Carbohydrates: 27g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 302mg | Potassium: 430mg | Fiber: 14g | Sugar: 1g

28 responses to “How To Cook Red Lentils”

  1. Your post on cooking red lentils was a lifesaver! Your step-by-step guide made it so easy to prepare these nutritious legumes. I loved how you emphasized the importance of rinsing them thoroughly to avoid bitterness. Your practical tips for different cooking methods were a game-changer in my kitchen. Thanks to your guidance, I can now confidently cook red lentils to perfection every time.5 stars

  2. Super helpful advice! I’ve made the mistake of using green and red lentils interchangeably in the past and that was a huge mistake, haha.5 stars

  3. Thank you for easy to follow recipe. After cooking and draining the excess water my lentils were still pretty watered down and not fluffy like in the video. Please advise.

    • Hi Natalie! By watered down, do you mean that your lentils became mushy? Or that your lentils weren’t cooked through? If your lentils became mushy that just means you cooked them for the full time (red lentils will completely break down once cooked for a long time). If your lentils weren’t cooked through (e.g. crunchy, not soft), then you needed to cook them for longer. And if your lentils were cooked properly, not mushy, and you just had excess water, that’s ok! You can just drain the water and enjoy them as is. Hope that helps!

    • Mine came out the same way. I made them exact as directed. It looks like porridge, even after trying to drain it.

      • Hi Karen! Your lentils should be slightly mushy, red lentils don’t hold their shape when they’re cooked. Also, you should only have about 1/4 cup of water left (max) at the end of cooking, which should be easy to drain. Let me know if that makes sense and if you have any other questions!

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