Dried lentils and beans provide the protein core to Indian cooking. Due to their low price, ready availability and convenience, Indian cooks have created thousands of recipes over the years that use lentils and beans in some form. Sometimes they are the main ingredients, other times they are simply added for contrast or to enhance the gravy.
My family didn’t use dried lentils when I grew up so I had to learn, through trial and error, to cook and love them as an adult. To save you the time of doing your own research, I have prepared this guide to cooking dried lentils and beans.
General Lentil Cooking Guide
1. Pick out any debris or stones from the dry lentils. Measure the amount of lentils you need. Place them in a colander and rinse them in cool water for a few minutes.
2. Pour two or three times as much water as lentils into a saucepan and add the lentils. Bring to a boil over medium heat. When the water boils, reduce the heat to low and simmer until done. Add more water if needed. The lentils are done when they are tender but not mushy. Drain remaining water.
- As a general rule, lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking but beans do.
- Do not add any salt when you start cooking the lentils, as it will make them tough. Add it during the last minutes of cooking to add flavor.
- Skim any scum that appears during cooking.
- Simmer lentils; do not boil them as they can fall apart and the water may evaporate too quickly.
- Ensure the lentils are always covered with water during the cooking process.
- Pre-soaking is not required to cook lentils. It is just an easy way to reduce cooking time.
- To determine if lentils are fully cooked, squeeze it between your fingers. If it mashes easily, it is done.
- 1 pound dry lentils = 2½ – 3 cups dry lentils
- 1 cup dry lentils = 3 cups cooked lentils
- To make an easy lentil dish, cook some chopped onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a little oil with your favorite spices. Add your cooked lentils and then cook everything together for a few minutes so the flavors blend.
- Cooked lentils freeze well, so cook an extra batch to save time later.
- Dry lentils can be stored for many months in an airtight container in your pantry. Six months seems to be the guideline but I do have some that are over a year old that I will continue to use until they are gone. It takes longer to cook older beans.
Characteristics of Lentils and Beans
To help you determine which lentils or beans to use as you create new recipes, I have prepared the following table so you can see some of the characteristics and cooking times each lentil and bean commonly used in Indian cooking.
-mild earthy flavor
-retain shape well
|Soups, salads, side and main dishes||No||30-45 minutes|
|Green Lentils / du Puy Lentils / French Lentils||
-firm texture, peppery flavor
-retain shape well
-more expensive than others
-less availability in stores
|Soups, salads, side and main dishes, pair well with fish, game & meat||No||30-45 mintes|
|Red Lentils (Masoor)||
-sweet and nutty flavor
-break up while cooking
|Soups, purees and recipes where soft texture is desired||No||15-25 minutes|
-become mushy when cooked
|Soups, purees, sauces||No||15-20 minutes|
|Orange Lentils||-become mushy when cooked||Soups, purees, sauces||No||15-20 minutes|
|Black Lentils||-mild flavor||Side and main dishes||No||20-30 minutes|
-sweet with a slight mushroom flavor
-soft, delicate texture
|Side and main dishes, used as a meat substitute||Yes||45-60 minutes|
|Garbanzo Beans / Chickpeas||
-mild, hearty, nut flavor
-good for strong spices
|Soups, salads, pasta, main dishes||Yes||
2 hours, if not soaked
|Mung Beans / Green Gram||-mild, delicate, slightly sweet||Soups, salads, side and main dishes||No||45-60 minutes|
-hold shape when cooked
|Soups, salads, side and main dishes||Yes||60-90 minutes|
I hope this information helps you include more healthy lentils and beans in your diet as well as save some money.
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