How To: Cooking with Lentils

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I was brainstorming for my next blog post and thought it would be a fun idea to do a blog series.  Something that would come out once a week and examine a particular topic.  So I came up with the idea for a “How-To” series – focusing on in depth instructions, background information and great recipes on anything from an unusual ingredient to a healthy cooking technique.  Each Wednesday you can check my blog for the newest “How-To” post and get a short but comprehensive foodie lesson!

Considering today is actually Wednesday, this will be my first blog in this “How-To” series.  I choose to focus on lentils because they are one of my all time favorite ingredients.  I always have them on hand, pre-cooked and ready to use and also a variety of dried lentils stored in the cupboard.  They are a great addition to any recipe – taking on the flavors of whatever herbs and spices you choose.  You can find lentils every where these days.  It’s great to find a vacuum-pack or cans of pre cooked lentils (like at Trader Joe’s) so you can skip the cooking step.  But if you can’t find the precooked, dried works just fine!

Lentils are a part of the same group as beans – legumes.  And like beans, these little guys have been around for over 8000 years – originating in central Asia.  They grow in pod, with 2 -3 lentils (actually the seeds of the plant) per pod and then they are dried and packaged.  Lentils come in a variety of colors and each type cooks just slightly different.  The most common are the french green lentils, brown lentils, red lentils, beluga lentils and yellow lentils.  I generally stick with the french green and beluga lentils as these keep their shape and texture through cooking.  The red and yellow lentils, used frequently in Indian cuisine, can easily turn to mush if you don’t watch their cooking time!

In addition to being a great cooking ingredient, lentils are incredibly healthy.  For one cup of cooked lentils, you get:Plain Lentils:
1 cup dried lentils (turns out to be about 2 cups cooked)Wash and rinse over lentils in a colander – washing off dirt and picking out any stones.  Bring a pot filled with water to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling add a few pinches of salt just for flavoring and the lentils.  The french and beluga lentils take about 30 minutes to cook, while the red and yellow lentils take about 20 minutes.  Test the lentils a few times, and drain once they are tender.  Each type of lentil requires different cooking times, so read over the package to check how long they should cook.After the lentils are fully cooked, you can add them to just about anything.  I’ve listed a few recipes below – some are mine and some I found in magazines or online.  But in general lentils are great in:  soups, turned into dips, cold salads or tossed with rice or other whole grains.  But I encourage you to get creative with them on your own!

Lentil Recipes:
My Lentil and Potato Soup
Indian Lentil Pilaf (Vegetarian Times)
Red Lentil Hummus (Cooking Light)
Salmon Over Lentils (Food Network)
Warm Lentil Salad (Eating Well)

Dario’s Favorite Greek Lentil Salad:
This is one of my best creations ever!  I always make a HUGE amount of this salad on the weekends and my husband and I never fail to devour it by Tuesday!  I suggest whipping up a batch on a Saturday afternoon and storing it in the fridge for a great healthy lunch all week!

  • 2 cups cooked french or beluga lentils (follow recipe above for plain lentils)
  • 1 cup diced cucumber
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 avocado diced


  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic minced finely
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

In a larger bowl, toss together the salad ingredients except for the avocado.  Mix in enough dressing to coat lentil mixture well.  Gently fold in avocado, being careful not to mash it – you want to see the chunks!

Serve cold with whole wheat pita bread or chips.

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