How to Cook a Simple Pot of Lentils

I like how one good thing becomes another. An easy quinoa dish becomes savory little herbed quinoa cakes.  Leftover risotto fills chard rolls.  A pot of black beans leads to chilaquiles and taco salads and all kinds of deliciousness.  What I’m saying is this: make more lentils than you plan to eat in one go.  We’ll be doing something good with the leftovers tomorrow.

This recipe will work for all the lentil varieties I can think of except for red lentils, which tend to cook into a mush rather than holding their shape.  You can eat them alone or with rice, use them in a lentil salad, or serve them as a side dish.  They’re great under or alongside a simple roasted piece of fish (or probably chicken, although I’m no authority on that point).

There are two secret ingredients at play here that make this lentil preparation so delicious: the lentils themselves, which have a sweet, earthy flavor, and salt.  A splash of vinegar at the end doesn’t hurt, either. If you have a carrot and a stalk or celery, great, toss them in.  If not, don’t fret, just go ahead without them.

Personally, my favorite lentils are the tiny green French Le Puy lentils or the equally-tiny black Beluga lentils.  This recipe works equally well with a run-of-the-mill supermarket brown or green lentil, however.  Whichever kind you choose, just be sure to keep an eye out for tiny rocks or dirt clods as you pour them into a colander, then rinse them well before cooking.A Simple Pot of Lentils:  Cover 1 1/2 c. lentils with 6 c. water in a soup pot and bring to a boil.  Skim any foam off surface, then add 1 halved onion (leave the root end intact to hold it together), 2 peeled whole garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, a finely diced carrot, a finely diced rib of celery, and 1 1/2 tsp. salt.  Lower the heat and simmer until tender but not mushy, about 25 minutes for brown lentils (smaller lentils cook more quickly and old ones can take up to an hour to soften).  Reserve the broth as you drain the lentils and save it in the freezer with your vegetables for making stock.  Remove the onion, garlic, and bay leaves from the lentils.  Taste for salt and season to taste with pepper.  Stir in 2 Tbsp. olive oil, walnut oil, or butter, along with a few drops of red wine vinegar to brighten the flavor.  Garnish with chopped parsley.

This recipe is adapted from Deborah Madison’s “Basic Lentils” in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.


7 thoughts on “How to Cook a Simple Pot of Lentils

  1. shuhan

    Do you soak your lentils before cooking? I tend to, I find they cook up more easily and don’t split. Love simple food liek this(:

  2. Lauren

    Your blog is really speaking to me lately! Haha. I have been trying to figure out how to better cook lentils since messing them up so badly the last time I attempted it!

  3. leroywatson4

    Hello Emmy, I had just thought about how much I love puy lentils, but bought green lentils instead (cheaper!) and whipped up a nice stew. Your blog is wonderful as usual and all your recipes fill me with a hunger to eat and cook only the finest! Thanks you for sharing you amazing ideas, recipes and energy. Happiness, lee (

  4. Eileen

    Lentils are the greatest, aren’t they? Super cheap, easy to cook, shelf stable, vegetarian, and delicious. Puy are my favorite too–although I don’t think I’ve actually tried beluga yet. I guess they go on the list.

  5. musingmar

    Lentils cannot be over-rated. I love them! The idea of freezing the cooking broth and saving it for stock is genius. Do you ever freeze the cooked lentils?

  6. Pingback: From Lentils to Lentil Cakes ❦ What’s Not to Love? | life through the kitchen window

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