Red, brown, green, black…lentil varieties abound, and so do their usefulness in recipes. In general, each tablespoon of cooked lentils provides about 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of fiber, and a 1/2 cup of cooked lentils gives about 3.3 milligrams of iron. Lentils are a good source of phosphorus, potassium and folate too. Green lentils work especially well in stir-fries, pasta sauces, baked recipes, granola bars, burger patties, slow cooker recipes and in shepherd’s pie!
Due to their different texture, cooking green lentils is a slightly different process than cooking red lentils. In general, green lentils take longer to cook, and tend to retain their shape better. However, it is precisely this texture retaining quality that makes green lentils extremely versatile in the kitchen. They make great burger patties, spaghetti sauces, lentil shepherd pies and also work wonderfully as a minced meat substitute in many dishes. The most simple and straightforward way to prepare and cook lentils is given below:
- 1 cup dry uncooked green lentils [176 g]
- 2 cups water [480 mL]
Measure a cup of dry uncooked green lentils into a pot.
Rinse the green lentils once or twice in cold water and then fill up the pot halfway until all the lentils are covered.
Place this pot uncovered on the stove top on a medium heat setting. Once the pot contents start to boil gently, place the lid on the pot (leaving a small opening slit) and let the pot contents continue to simmer for 25-30 minutes. Adjust the stove heat setting as needed to keep the pot contents bubbling gently.
Taste the lentils after about 30 minutes of cooking to determine if you need to continue to cook them another 10 - 15 minutes longer. When done, at least half of the green lentils will be soft and some may have the halves opened slightly. Some of the lentils may be still a bit crunchy, but this is fine as the lentils will likely be cooked further in future recipes. If you would like the green lentils to be of a softer texture, simply cook them a bit longer on the stove top (also see recipe notes below).
Use a slotted spoon to remove the cooked green lentils into a separate bowl to cool (reserve the cooking liquid to be used in other dishes).
You can now add these cooked and drained lentils to your meal or use them as an ingredient in another recipe!
This method above will produce crunchier lentils, which work well for some recipes when you want them to mimic the texture of 'minced meat'. However, if you would like softer textured green lentils, you may simply cook the lentils longer on the stove top (as described above), or alternatively pre-soak the dry lentils overnight in some cold water first. Note that due to water absorption, the soaked lentils will expand slightly. The next day, drain out the remaining water from the pot, and rinse the lentils once or twice in cold water. Do this by filling up the pot halfway, stirring the lentils around and then pouring out the excess water. Add 2 cups of fresh cold water to the pot and then place the pot uncovered on the stovetop on a medium heat setting. Then heat the pot up and cook the lentils as per the instructions above in the main recipe (but note that the total cooking time will be shortened as the green lentils have been pre-soaked).
Reserve the rich green colored lentil cooking liquid as this makes a great vegetable broth base for other dishes (this keeps in the fridge for a few days).
Note that one cup of green lentils makes a lot of cooked lentils (3 cups), so you can really get your money’s worth from a bag of dry green lentils at the grocery store. Look in the dry produce aisles of your local grocery store, superstore or ethnic stores to find green lentils marketed alongside other dried beans and pulses. Any leftover cooked green lentils can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, to be used in different recipes.
Some recipes call for using the uncooked green lentils, so be sure to check the recipe before cooking them. Cooked green lentils also freeze well in the freezer so you can make extra and just freeze a portion to take out later and thaw to use in another dish. If you are in a rush and don’t have time to cook green lentils, you can also get canned green lentils from the supermarket, which work just as well as cooked green lentils in recipes. Just be sure to rinse and drain them well before using!