Lentil Love: The Tiny Legumes That Deserve a Big Place on Your Plate | Yummly

Lentil Love: The Tiny Legumes That Deserve a Big Place on Your Plate

Lentils are beautiful, versatile, and straight-up nutritional powerhouses. Follow along for cooking tips, info on the different varieties, and lots of recipes — even lentil desserts!

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Lentil Mushroom Stew over Mashed Potatoes from Minimalist Baker

Few foods are as unassuming as lentils. They’re little, simple, often just a supporting player in the recipes that use them. Some varieties — like split red — break down with extended cooking, so they’re subsumed into the finished dish, and no longer even look like themselves. 

But these tiny legumes are beautiful, versatile, straight-up nutritional powerhouses. They’re also supremely satisfying, which may explain how they wound up at the center of one of the OG biblical cautionary tales, in which Esau trades his birthright for a bowl of the lentil soup his (ever-so-slightly) younger twin bro Jacob just cooked up. One takeaway: Refrain from making major life decisions when hangry, even (especially?) if your rival is a fabulous cook.

Lentils are among the world’s oldest domesticated crops, so they’ve had eons to work their way into cuisines throughout the world. Archaeologists and historians have unearthed them in royal Egyptian tombs and ancient texts alike, evidence that they’ve been regarded as food for both the elite and the poor, depending on when and where in history we look. Today, they remain a staple of Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, though most of the world’s lentils are now grown in Canada. 

They don’t require soaking and cook more quickly than dried beans, which makes them a great vegetarian protein source to add to your weeknight repertoire. We’ll show you how.

Jump ahead to:

All about lentils >>

Lentil soup and stew recipes >>

Vegetarian lentil main dishes >>

Lentil-accented entrées >>

Lentil salad recipes >>

Snacks & street food-inspired lentil recipes >>

Lentil sweets & treats >>

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All about lentils

Get to know this lovely legume, from varieties to health benefits and more.

Photograph by Rachael Nusbaum

What exactly is a lentil? 

Lentils are part of the legume family, which means they’re plants that grow in pods. Like chickpeas, beans, and peas, they’re pulses — the dry, edible seeds from those pods. Their botanical name, Lens culinaris, is a nod to their lens-like shape. 

Lentil nutrition benefits

Lentils are incredibly nutritious, both for humans, and the soil! Lentils are among the best sources of plant protein and fiber; depending on the variety, just a half cup of cooked lentils provides between 9 and 12 grams of protein and 7 to 9 grams of fiber. They contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which play important roles in maintaining gut health, preventing constipation, lowering cholesterol, and preventing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. 

Lentils are a good source of prebiotic carbohydrates, which help promote a healthy microbiome and, in turn, a healthy immune system.  Plus, though they are a carbohydrate-rich food, they have a low glycemic load, which means they are slower to raise blood sugar levels, and can help with diabetes management and prevention. 

Lentils are also a great source of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, zinc, folate and other B vitamins, iron, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, selenium, and copper. 

As for the planet’s health, they’re a sustainable, drought-resistant crop that helps add nitrogen to the soil, repairing and enriching it for future growing seasons. 

Lentil varieties

Brown Lentils are one of the larger varieties, commonly available in grocery stores, and have a mild, earthy flavor. They range in color from light tan to darker brown. They cook to a creamy, softer texture but still hold their shape, so they’re a nice choice for soups and stews and rice dishes.

Green Lentils, (not to be confused with French green lentils; see below), are also common, medium-sized lentils. Texture and recipe-use wise, they’re generally interchangeable with brown lentils. Try them in veggie burgers or a lentil loaf.

French Green Lentils (Lentilles du Puy) are a small, mottled greenish blue variety grown in the volcanic soil of the Puy region in central France. They’ve got a peppery, nutty flavor, and firm, snappy texture that makes them ideal for salads.  

Black Beluga Lentils are small black lentils named for their resemblance to Beluga caviar. Their color is a clue to their high anthocyanin content — a natural pigment with powerful antioxidant properties that help protect and repair our cells. They are flavorful and earthy, with a dense texture. They hold their shape well, so they’re great for salads and hors d’oeuvres.

Red Lentils are available both whole or hulled and split; the latter are also known as masoor dal in Hindi. They have a mild, earthy flavor, and have an orangish hue. Both cook quickly; split red lentils are best when you want them to disintegrate into a puree. 

How to store lentils

Store uncooked, dried lentils in an airtight container in the pantry or another cool, dry, dark place for up to a year. The fresher your lentils, the quicker they’ll cook. 

Once cooked, store lentils in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

How to cook lentils

First, place your lentils in a strainer and pick out any shriveled lentils, tiny stones, or random grains. (Don’t worry, you won’t always find these things!) Then, rinse your lentils well and drain. 

Follow package directions for cooking your lentils. If none is available, a good rule of thumb is to use 3 cups of water or stock per 1 cup of lentils. Add a pinch of salt, fresh garlic, and/or aromatic herbs if you’d like. Lentils expand during cooking, so pick a saucepan that will accommodate the extra volume. Bring the lentils and liquid to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer on the stovetop until they reach your desired consistency. Just take care not to overcook, or they’ll get mushy!

Of course, if you want foolproof directions and real recipes, we’ve got plenty below!

Lentil soup and stew recipes

Lentils are a brilliant addition to soups and stews. Because they don’t require pre-soaking or lengthy cooking, you can toss them in the pot and let them cook along with the rest of your ingredients. The payoff: heartily textured, flavorful, nutrient-rich bowls of goodness that are often ready in under 45 minutes. 

Lemony Lentil Soup

This easy, adaptable, vegetarian lentil soup — made with quick-cooking split red lentils — gets high marks from reviewers, who love the easy prep and bright hit of lemon. 

Hearty Sweet Potato, Lentil, and Black Bean Chili

Yummly Original

You can use brown or French green lentils in this delicious, mildly spicy vegetarian chili. Pantry staples including vegetable broth, canned black beans, and canned tomatoes make prep a cinch. Leftovers freeze beautifully, too! 

Favorite Indian Lentils and Spinach (Dal Palak)

Yummly Original

Step-by-step video instructions guide you through the simple prep for Prerna Singh’s flavorful recipe. Serve the simmered lentils and greens over steamed basmati rice for a delicious vegetarian weeknight meal. 


Morocco's iconic red lentil, chickpea, and noodle soup is a mainstay of iftar, the fast-breaking evening meals during Ramadan. (It’s so comforting and sustaining that it’s ideal before fast days as well, as I learned from a Moroccan family in Israel that served it before the Jewish fast of Tisha B’Av.) Idriss, the blogger behind My Moorish Plate, learned this versatile recipe from his mama; he notes that vegetarians can omit the meat. Gluten-free folks can skip the flour and vermicelli (or use GF noodles). The recipe includes instructions for using a pressure cooker or Dutch oven (a stockpot works too!).

Rustic Winter Stew Over Polenta

Vegan cooking queen Isa Chandra Moskowitz uses baby carrots, small potatoes, and dried herbs like thyme and bay leaf to minimize prep time; creamy (dairy- and gluten-free!) polenta is the perfect foil for the hearty vegetable and green lentil stew.

Lentil Mushroom Stew over Mashed Potatoes

Craving comfort food? Try this homey dish of mashed potatoes topped with a super-flavorful mushroom and lentil gravy. If you don’t have coconut aminos, substitute tamari for a similar shot of umami. If you enjoy cheese, top with a little shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. 

Vegetarian lentil main dishes

With their superior nutrition profiles, lentils make an excellent anchor for vegetarian meals. We’ve got a collection of international favorites, plus creative takes on non-veg dishes. 

Mujaddara (Lentil Rice Pilaf)

Yummly Original

Rania Renno’s recipe for Mujaddara is elemental comfort food at its best — nutritious, warming, and totally satisfying. Ubiquitous throughout the Middle East, this gluten-free rice, lentil, and caramelized onion dish works equally well as a main dish or a hearty side. 

Lentil and Roasted Root Vegetable Strudel

There are several components to this savory strudel, but most of the prep-time is hands-off. (You can also make the lentils and roasted veggies ahead of time and assemble the strudel just before baking). If you’re allergic to nuts, swap in a nut-free basil pesto for the pecan pesto. 

Egyptian Koshari 

Consider Egypt’s national dish like a cousin to mujaddara — it shares the lentils, rice, and onions but gets embellished with pasta, chickpeas, and a delicious vinegar-spiked spiced tomato sauce. 

Vegan Lentil Sloppy Joes

We’ve got no beef (literally!) with these quick and easy lentil Sloppy Joes. Made with always-on-hand veggies and pantry staples, they’re ideal for busy weeknight suppers. 

Easy Rigatoni with Lentil Bolognese

Lentils stand in for ground meat in this vegan take on a classic pasta favorite. Wilted baby spinach adds a pop of color to this deliciously simple one-dish meal. Love the concept, but want an Instant Pot version? Try this recipe.

Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

With its short ingredient list and use of frozen mixed veggies, this vegetarian, sweet potato-topped take on Shepherd’s Pie is refreshingly low-prep. If you’ve got the time and inclination, doctor it with sauteed onions and garlic, or your favorite veggies. You can also swap the sweet potatoes for mashed Yukon Golds or russets. 

Lentil-accented entrées

When you’re trying to build an interesting meal, don’t overlook the power of lentils to totally transform your plate. They’re visually and texturally satisfying, full of soluble fiber and protein, and work as a gluten-free stand-in if you need a carbohydrate-rich replacement for grains.

Salmon with Braised French Lentils

If you’re craving a restaurant-worthy meal from your own kitchen, look no further than this beautiful Dijon-herb marinated salmon served atop aromatic braised lentils. There’s so much to love about this recipe, from the ease of preparation and helpful substitution suggestions to the wonderfully flavorful finished dish. 

Greek Chicken Over Orzo Lentil Salad

Orzo, lentils, tomatoes, and cucumbers are tossed in an herby vinaigrette, then topped with grilled chicken and peppers. Don’t feel like grilling? After their stint in a delicious Greek cuisine-inspired marinade, bake the chicken and peppers on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan at 425°F until cooked through, 15-25 minutes. 

Sausage and Lentils with Fennel 

Humble, hearty, and easy to make, this stew-like meal is satisfying on its own, and even better with a crisp green salad and crusty bread. Play around with different types of lentils and sausages, or turn the dish vegetarian with meatless sausage.

Lentil salad recipes

It’s the little things — a homemade dressing, a crunchy accent, an unexpected herb — that take a salad from ho-hum to crave-worthy. Add lentils to that list because they play nice with all the veggies.

Zesty Lentil Spinach Salad

Dotted with beluga lentils, this entrée-worthy salad is chock-full of garlicky broccoli and mushrooms. Accented with lemon and briny feta, it’s delicious served warm or chilled.   

Roasted New Potato, Lentil, & Kale Salad with Lemon Caper Dressing

Upgrade your standard potato salad with roasted spuds, lentils, greens, and a savory Dijon vinaigrette. Enjoy it as-is or add some tuna for a Niçoise-esque entrée salad.

Roasted Beet and Carrot Lentil Salad with Feta, Yogurt & Dill

Warm roasted root vegetables, savory lentils, the salty tang of feta, and a creamy, herby yogurt sauce come together in a delectable salad with Mediterranean vibes. 

Snacks & street food-inspired lentil recipes

Don’t overlook lentils when you’re craving a savory snack or light meal. These versatile recipes are soul satisfying and super-nutritious. 

Plant-Based Lentil Jamaican Patties

These savory hand pies are inspired by Jamaica’s iconic stuffed pastries. If spicy is your thing, add a little finely chopped Scotch Bonnet pepper for a real taste of the Caribbean. 

Chipotle Lentil Tacos

It takes under 30 minutes to prep these lentil-filled crunchy tacos full of your favorite toppings and finished with a quick homemade chipotle aioli.  Want a slow cooker version? Try these!

Lentil Meatballs

Serve these poppable, gluten-free lentil “meatballs” with your favorite dipping sauce for a great savory snack. Or turn them into a meal as a spaghetti topper or meatball sub filling. 

Beluga Lentil Crostini

Feeling fancy? This cocktail party-worthy recipe is simple and delicious. Not entertaining? Halve the recipe — it makes a lot of crostini! (For even simpler, family-style prep, split your baguette lengthwise, spread with the goat cheese, top with the lentils, and cut crosswise into sandwiches to serve with your favorite soup and salad.)

Carrot Lentil Cakes with Garlic-Herb Tahini Sauce

These veggie-packed, gluten-free lentil cakes are full of plant protein, and so versatile. Serve them over salad or grain bowls, stuff them in a pita, or enjoy them as a snack. 

Lentil sweets & treats

If you’re dubious about using lentils in sweets, give these baked treats a go. These recipes are a fun way to use up lentil leftovers, and they’re nutritious too, thanks to the little legumes. 

Healthy Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

These lentil-enriched, whole grain muffins get their sweetness from mashed banana and chocolate chips, so you can feel good about enjoying the low-sugar treats any time of day. 

Lentil Cookies

This recipe is designed to use up leftover lentils (though you’ll find instructions for cooking them if you’re starting from scratch). Aside from the zero food waste and protein/fiber boost boons, you’ll love these cookies for their cinnamon/oat/dried fruit yumminess.  

Apple Lentil Cake

This easy apple-cinnamon snack cake is enriched with quick-cooking red lentils; try it with vanilla ice cream. Feel free to use any neutral oil (like canola or grapeseed) in place of the safflower oil. You can also omit the walnuts if you need a nut-free treat.

Red Lentil Pancakes

A quick-to-make lentil puree boosts the protein in these wholesome gluten-free pancakes. Topped with fruit and pure maple syrup, they’re a delicious departure from regular flapjacks. Whir rolled oats in the blender if you don’t have oat flour, or sub all-purpose flour if you’re not gluten-free. If you prefer not to use coconut oil, try butter instead. 

More healthy food lessons

From peas to ancient grains to pulses, read up on these nourishing ingredients.

All About Peas

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Ancient Grains: Oldies but Goodies

Boost your "Grain Grade" from an F to an A. Learn the health benefits, preparation methods, and proper storage for these powerhouse foods, from farro and quinoa to barley, millet, and more.

A Big Guide to Tiny, Mighty Pulses

Check your pulse! Dried beans, peas, and lentils come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors, with their own nutrition superpowers. Explore types of pulses and delicious pulses recipes, from hearty soups to summery salads.