Need help with lentils

Joined Aug 26, 2010
I cooked my first batch today.  I rinsed them in a colander before cooking.  I cooked them in chicken stock, water, and chardonnay.  I got a scum around the edge of the pot at the waterline.  It looks like I popped the skins and that's what made the scum.  I tried to cook them past "al dente", and failed.  I'm guessing they don't cook past al dente and that I simply overcooked them.  If that's not the case, please share.  I did not pre-soak or anything.

Can anyone share some recipe ideas for lentils as a side dish?  What I ended up with is an earthy flavor, not terribly unlike pinto beans.  I served them alongside a chicken marsala (with chardonnay subbed for the marsala -- I went wine shopping yesterday and had to try some out).  I realize that lentils are often made vegetarian, but I don't have any restrictions on using meat (or stocks). 

As always, any advice is appreciated.
Joined Sep 5, 2008
Using stock to cook lentils is not a problem. The problem could be two things:

1) What type of lentils did you use? Green, Brown, Pink...?

2) How did you cook them? Poach, simmer, boil?

What I usually do is sweat some minced onions, maybe a little pancetta or bacon, then some celery and carrots, then add the lentils and chicken stock and/or water, maybe thyme, bay leaf, parsley stems, garlic etc... and barely simmer. There's no need to boil, and boiling will break the outer skin and give you a gloopy mess.

How long did you cook them? I usually cook them for about 45mn-1hr depending on the lentils I use.

Some amount of scum is normal, you can just skim it.
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Joined Oct 28, 2010
I would skip the chardonnay during the cooking process- acid from the chardonnay could lead to uneven cooking of your lentils, so wait until after you've cooked them, and add a splash for the flavor at that point if you want.

As mentioned, very important to cook lentils very gently, and be careful of how much liquid you use. I prefer them on the firmer side, personally, so I tend to use a bit less liquid than the package calls for. Just don't boil them- a very low, gentle simmer.
Joined Aug 26, 2010
Ah... for the most part it was simmer, but then at the end, I changed burners to get some more cooking action going, which sent it to a pretty strong boil.  The package directions said to cook and then drain.  Are lentils supposed to be cooked like rice where you start off with the right amount of liquid and then you're done when the water is absorbed/cooked off? 

I cooked them for 20, maybe 25 mins.  The package said 15. 

At this point, I'm just experimenting, but thanks for the tip on adding wine.  I had opened a bottle and it was just sitting there, so a "why not" moment overcame me. 
Joined Oct 28, 2010
In the restaurant, when we want firm, yet tender cooked lentils, we cook them with just barely enough water to get them to where we want them to be. So, yes, very similarly to rice- you'll want to measure the water. It'll depend on the lentils you buy and how they're processed and what kind of lentils, but its typically about a 3:1 ratio of water to lentils. Now and again, there is a bit of discrepancy on liquid- sometimes you may have just a touch more than you need, and sometimes you may need to add a couple more ounces to finish them off. That said, I strongly advise keeping an eye on them during the process and taste them to see if they're ready- thats always the easiest way to know. Once they're just barely cooked, take them off the stove, strain them, rinse in COLD water. Thats how we typically hold them on the line, and for service we'll sautee them with bacon/mirepoix, a shot of some chicken stock if the dish requires some moisture, or a bit of some vinaigrette(again, if thats the context of the dish). But essentially, we cook them until they're just tender, and THEN start adding the flavoring agents.
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Joined Nov 27, 2010
We cook Indian food at home all the time, and we just use the pressure cooker.  Perfect lentils each and every time.  Works for every kind of lentil imaginable, though we use primarily the Indian varieties.

In the pressure cooker, you'll have lentils ready to go in about 10 minutes or less.  
Joined Feb 26, 2007
I tend to use red lentils as a soup ingredient,  as they soften faster than others and have a great colour to them.  More often than not I use them in a butternut squash soup, they pair really well.  Or, I'll rinse then cook some in with rice - gotta statrt  the lentils about 5 mins ahead of adding the white rice, all in the same pot.  Fry off some onions and diced bacon in a separate pan then once you've drained off the rice and lentils toss them all together.  A basic but pretty nice dish, just needs a piece of fish or chicken on top if you like.
Joined May 5, 2010
I have found that many people do not like the "firm but tender" quality of lentils. Like so many things (vegetables mostly) people like them mush. Such a pity.                                                            
Joined Apr 3, 2008
I prefer my lentils soft and mushy so I am one to be pitied.  I find that lentils are extremely easy to cook with as long as they simmer and not boil.  However the biggest factor on how your lentils will turn out is the type of lentil you use.  I have experimented with all kinds of lentils, still experimenting really but tend to like the little dark ones the best.  Very earthy and they end up soft every time.  I like them mostly for soups but here's a recipe for a side dish.

- 1 small onion diced

- 1 clove garlic minced

- bacon or pancetta

- water or stock

- salt/pepper

- 1 bay leaf

- fresh spinach

1.Cook off the bacon or pancetta and add some olive oil and then the onions and garlic.  Cook slowly until soft and translucent.

2.Add the lentils and sautee with the onions for 3 minutes or so.

3. Add bay leaf and just enough stock or water to cook the lentils (like rice) Add lquid throughout the cooking process if it needs it (about 30-45min)

4. Cook covered and on low heat

5. When the lentils are finished cooking turn off the heat and stir in as much fresh spinach as you like until it wilts.

Mmmm, may be serving this with a salmon steak soon!
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Much depends on the color, because different lentils cook differently. The reds, for instance, cook rather quickly, and can be done in less than 15 minutes, whereas the indigo can take 45 minutes of more.

As with all pulses, age can contribute to length of cooking time.

I suspect, however, that the wine was the culprit in this case. Acids and salts tend to toughen legumes as they cook, so should always be addeded last.
Joined Oct 2, 2010
First of all, chardonnay isn't an appropriate cooking liquid for lentils, I would get rid of that. White wine in cooking liquid has the same effect as adding light acidity to the liquid. (As in contrast to red wine that will turn out sweeter).

Second, "chickenstock" as in bouillon made from stock cubes is not advisable. They contain too much salt. Salt will make lentils and beans tough. Avoid adding any salt when boiling lentils or beans. Or, if you really want to, add them at the end of the boiling time.

I always use water to cook lentils to which I add a whole carrot and a whole onion, sometimes with just 1 clove pushed in the onion. The carrot and onion are not used in the dish. 

Put your lentils in a pot and add water so it arises 2 fingers high above the surface of the lentils. Boil gently, lid on. Drain liquid afterwards if necessary.

After that you can add flavors all you want, like sweating a shallot first, add lentils, a little chicken stock. No chardonnay, add a little lemon juice instead. Only then I add salt and pepper.

The cooking time of lentils is very different. All I know is that lentils when overcooked, will turn mushy all the sudden.

I always start tasting for doneness from 15 minutes cooking time on and keep doing this -every following minute or so- untill they are done to my taste, which is when your teeth go through completely without much resistance. I want them to keep their shape, but that's each to their own preference. Some lentils stay more ferm than others too. Look for "Puy" lentils. Italy has some nice onces too that keep their shape too.
Joined Aug 18, 2007
As with all pulses, if there is any salt in the cooking liquid, It will retard the softening... Depends if the lentils are whole or split.

Split red lentils should soften however you cook them.They don't need soaking either.

An exciting way of serving pulses as a side dish, is Daal. Indian cuisine uses them beautifully. with an amazing variety of really simple, yet gorgeous flavours.Well worth checking out recipes...I have some if ur interested.
Joined Aug 26, 2010
Great, now I have to go look up "pulses".  :)  The chicken stock I used is low sodium canned stuff.  I know, learn to make my own.  I'm still just experimenting. 
Joined Feb 1, 2007
I'll save you the bother, GG. A pulse is an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve grains or seeds of variable size, shape, and color within a pod.

The tendency is to use "pulses" and "legumes" as synonyms. But they're not actually so. Pulses are actually a larger grouping, of which legumes (i.e., beans and peas) are one member.
Joined Aug 26, 2010
I actually did look it up, but your definition is prettier.  I still don't quite understand it, but in general, lentils are part of the bean family in some way or another, and that works for me :).  My understanding is that lentils don't need a soak the way many dried beans do.

Oh, and I saw my leftover lentils again last night.  My wife made chicken noodle soup and added them.  The only choice Wally World had were some mid/dark green lentils, and after my hatchet job of overcooking them, the broth for the soup had a green tint to it.  I kept feeling like it was split pea soup, but without the peas.  It was actually quite good.
I'll save you the bother, GG. A pulse is an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve grains or seeds of variable size, shape, and color within a pod.

The tendency is to use "pulses" and "legumes" as synonyms. But they're not actually so. Pulses are actually a larger grouping, of which legumes (i.e., beans and peas) are one member.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
but in general, lentils are part of the bean family in some way or another, and that works for me :)

And, really, unless your involved with horticulture (or, maybe, will be a competitor on Jeopardy), why would you need to know more than that?

As a cook, the only reason to know it is so you understand what is meant when somebody says "pulses," or "legumes." Beyond that, doesn't much matter.

My understanding is that lentils don't need a soak the way many dried beans do.

That's correct, Gobblygook. But I notice, lately, more and more recipes---particularly from the eastern Med region---say to soak them. I haven't tried it, so don't know if it makes a difference or not.

Another group that doesn't need pre-soaking are the cowpeas (i.e., black-eyed peas).
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