How To Cook Lentils & Pack ‘Em With Flavor! {20+ Dishes}

Here’s a versatile food item that can be used in a variety of ways and they’re a great budget saver too. Lentils are a staple pantry item for frugalites and survivalists alike since they are so inexpensive to buy and their shelf life can’t be beat.

Store them (dried, uncooked) in airtight containers or glass jars and they’ll last for years (though up to a year is best for color preservation, flavor isn’t affected that much when stored longer).

They’re loaded with iron, fiber and protein and filling too (making them a great option to bulk up light meals such as soups and salads).

Ready to try them? Here’s how they’re cooked:

To prepare, pour dried lentils in a bowl and cover with water. Pick out any bits such as rocks, empty shells, etc., then rinse with running water. They don’t need to be soaked first.

2 cups water
1 cup dried lentils
1 tsp salt

  • Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cover and simmer for approximately 25 to 30 minutes until they are tender but not yet mushy (time will vary depending on the type and size). This will yield approximately 2 1/4 cups cooked legumes.
  • For extra flavor: Add wedges of onion, a couple garlic cloves, a diced carrot, a stalk of celery (diced) while simmering. When they’re done, strain and remove the vegetable bits before serving (or refrigerate to be used later in salads).
  • Mix with prepared rice (both white and brown are suitable) and sprinkle over top a handful of fresh herbs for a satisfying, cheap and easy meal.

How simple is that! If you’re interested in trying some dishes they can be incorporated in, here are several different sure-to-be favorites you can try.


*Summaries are quotes/adaptations from the websites

  • Moroccan: To create a super tasty and quick sauce, I blended onion, garlic, and red bell pepper, spices like turmeric, paprika, and cayenne. Tomato paste adds depth, and apple cider vinegar adds a little acidity. It’s the perfect mix of bold flavors I was looking for. This would make the perfect side or addition to salads, wraps, sandwiches, rice bowls, and more. Minimalist Baker.
  • Lemony Soup: Instructions included for how to make it on the stovetop, or in the crockpot or Instant Pot. (But honestly, the stovetop route takes about the same amount of time as the Instant Pot, so just a heads up there.) I also recommend pureeing this, but you’re welcome to leave it more chunky if you prefer. Gimme Some Oven.
  • Creamy Coconut Curry: A healthy vegan recipe that makes a perfect meatless Monday dinner. It takes less than an hour (mostly hands-off time) and is packed full of delicious Indian flavors. Prepare extra and you’ll have a giant smile on your face at lunch the next day. The Endless Meal.
  • Slow Cooker Turkey Soup: Throw together a handful of ingredients in the morning, and you’ll come home to a comforting meal. If you prefer to use dried oregano instead of the fresh, reduce the amount to 1/2 teaspoon. Dried herbs are very potent; a little goes a long way. MyRecipes.
  • Baked w/Shredded Coconut: An Indian-inspired version of baked beans in which dates, coconut and spices give a rich and hearty flavor that intensifies during baking. Whole Foods Market.
  • w/Pasta Shells & Arugula: Plum tomatoes and arugula add color to this pasta. Orecchiette are small ear-shaped pasta shells; fusilli or farfalle can be used instead. You can also replace the arugula w/two cups whole fresh Italian parsley leaves. Martha Stewart.
  • w/Sweet Potatoes & Barbecue Sauce: By mixing French legumes with what are essentially barbecue sauce ingredients, these are transformed into something super satisfying. Made almost entirely with pantry items, this is the kind of recipe that lends itself to experimentation. Serious Eats.
  • Spiced w/Rice: Not spicy, this Middle Eastern-inspired recipe gets its richness from cinnamon, cloves, and cumin. Fat Free Vegan.
  • Mujadara: It is simply a mixture of rice and perfectly prepared lentils, spiked with a big dose of caramelized onions and a bit of cumin and cinnamon. It’s a vegetarian one dish meal served w/just some Greek yogurt and maybe a cucumber salad, or it can be part of a larger Middle Eastern feast. Herbivoracious.
  • Curried w/Sweet Potatoes: This is a richly flavored, spicy (in a non-hot way), aromatic dish. (As most curries are.) Find a good quality garam masala (a blend of Indian spices) and it will make all the difference. The original recipe called for the addition of leafy greens, such as Swiss chard. I suppose you could use spinach. From A Hint of Honey.
  • Stew w/Butternut Squash: Rich in vitamins A and C, butternut squash adds a subtle sweetness to this hearty, slow-cooker stew. From Delish.
  • Meat-Free Pasta Sauce: When I’m craving a quick, simple pasta sauce, I make this. Using the legumes as a meat replacement, it’s hearty without being heavy. While it won’t have you believe you’re eating meat, it will make you want to add it to your real-foods roster. Note: Don’t feel that this is just a pasta sauce; I’ve had it with vegetables, spaetzle, in an omelette- like any good sauce, it’s pretty darn versatile. Kitchenist.
  • w/Kale & Bacon: Ingredients include bacon, onion, carrots, celery, minced garlic, diced tomatoes (canned), chicken broth, chopped kale, cumin, salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Eating For England.
  • Salad w/Roast Beets & Balsamic Onions: I prefer this salad slightly warm, but it’s also great at room temperature. It’s one of those salads that can be made in advance and will sit around happily until you’re ready to eat. So perfect for picnics. The Stone Soup.
  • Soup w/Vegetables: A quick homemade batch made with carrots, onion, diced tomatoes (canned), broth, cumin and seasonings. Baby spinach is added before serving. Yields 7 1/2 cups. Delish.
  • w/Brussels Sprouts & Prosciutto: (prosciutto can be omitted for almonds, walnuts or pecans) The brussels sprouts are stir fried in garlic and olive oil then canned lentils are added and heated until warm. Red wine vinegar, salt and pepper are added then topped with prosciutto (if using). The Stone Soup.
  • Smoked Cheddar Burgers: Freshly cooked lentils are mashed then mixed with sauteed onions and carrots, shredded smoked cheddar cheese, dry breadcrumbs, fresh thyme, salt, garlic powder, paprika, freshly ground black pepper, ground red pepper and egg whites. Mixture is chilled then shaped into 8 (1/2″ thick) patties and prepared on a grill pan. MyRecipes.
  • Oven-Braised w/Sausage: Comforting and easy to prepare, this hearty dish is good for busy nights, as this is done in the oven and leaves you free to tend to other things. MyRecipes.
  • Salad w/Rice: A simple dressing of sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard and paprika boosts this salad. It’s a great way to use up leftovers. Eating Well.
  • Dahl: Onions, carrots, garlic and spices are cooked for a few minutes then water and canned plum tomatoes are added to simmer for an hour. From Just Don’t Add Kiwi.
  • w/Wine Glazed Winter Vegetables: Winter veggies are prepared separately, glazed with tomato paste and red wine, and then added to the legumes. MyRecipes.

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