Everything you need to know about cooking red lentils via stovetop or Instant Pot, and turning red lentils into easy, healthy dinners.
Red lentils are tiny, reddish-orange legumes that cook quickly, making them a perfect ingredient for quick, healthy dinners. The flavor is mild, earthy and slightly sweet (compared to the stronger earthier flavor of brown and black lentils).
Red lentils break down faster than other types of lentils when cooked. The texture quickly becomes soft and creamy, so red lentils are most often used in soups and curries.
Red lentils cook quickly (and turn mushy quickly) because most red lentils sold in stores are split red lentils. Split lentils have had the seed coat removed and are split in half.
Red Lentil Nutrition
Lentils are a healthy plant-based protein, often used in place of meat in chili, bolognese, veggie burgers and sloppy Joes. Red lentils are thought to be high in protein and fiber, as well as folate, iron, magnesium and zinc.
Do Red Lentils Need to Be Soaked Before Cooking?
Nope! All varieties of lentils are ready to be cooked without any soaking. It is a good idea to quickly rinse lentils in a bowl of water or colander before cooking however, to remove little bits of debris.
What is the Difference Between Red and Yellow Lentils?
Red and yellow (or golden) lentils are very similar in flavor and texture and can be used interchangeably. The only real difference is their color.
What is the Difference Between Lentils and Split Peas?
Red/yellow lentils, yellow split peas, and dried split chickpeas are three different legumes that look and taste very similar. Veganricha.com has a helpful picture guide for dried lentils, peas and beans.
Yellow lentils and yellow split peas are not the same thing, but are often used interchangeably in recipes. What is the difference between yellow lentils and yellow split peas? They taste fairly similar. However, peas and lentils are different varieties of legumes. Yellow split peas usually need to cook slightly longer (10+ minutes) than yellow lentils.
Yellow peas, which are meant to be dried, are different than green peas, which can be eaten fresh or dried. Both yellow split peas and green split peas (used for split pea soup) are peas that have been dried and split in half, so that they cook faster.
Yellow split peas are also different than split chickpeas. Dried split chickpeas are sometimes referred to as chana dal in Indian recipes.
Water Ratio for Lentils
When cooking red lentils in an Instant Pot or boiling lentils on a stovetop, combine 1 cup lentils with 2 cups water (Instant Pot) or 3 cups water (stove top). Or, just make sure there is about 2 to 3 inches of water above the lentils.
If you're making red lentil soup, you'll need to add more water so more liquid remains after cooking. Most red lentil soup recipes call for anywhere between 4 to 8 cups of water/broth.
How To Cook Red Lentils
Split red lentils (the most common red lentil sold in grocery stores) can be cooked on the stovetop or in an Instant Pot.
Cooking red lentils on the stovetop gives you a little more control over the texture of the lentils. If you want the lentils to still have some texture and not be completely mushy, you can remove them from heat when they reach the desired texture and drain off any remaining water.
Red lentils cooked in an Instant Pot are pretty much guaranteed to come out very soft and creamy (in other words, mushy).
Stovetop Red Lentils: Combine 1 cup lentils and 3 cups water. Bring the water to a boil, reduce to a low simmer, then cover and cook the lentils until they reach desired texture, anywhere from 5 to 12 minutes. Most, if not all, of the water will be absorbed by the lentils.
Stovetop Red Lentil Cooking Time
5 to 7 minutes: Tender/firm
8 minutes: Tender/soft
9 minutes: Soft, starting to get mushy
10+ minutes: Very soft/mushy
Instant Pot Red Lentils: Combine 1 cup lentils with 2 cups water. Secure the lid and make sure the steam release valve is in the sealed position. Program the Instant Pot to cook at high pressure for 3 to 5 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for about 5 minutes, then turn the steam release valve to "venting" to immediately release the steam.
Instant Pot Red Lentil Cooking Time
3 to 5 minutes: Very soft, creamy, individual lentils have completely broken down
Adding Flavor to Red Lentils
Red lentils have a mild flavor that needs salt, herbs, spices and other ingredients to become more interesting and appetizing.
Onion/Garlic/Ginger: Saute onion, garlic and/or ginger in the pot before adding the red lentils and water.
Spices: Garam Marsala, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, coriander and chili powder all pair well with red lentils. Spices can be added before or after cooking the lentils.
Herbs: Fresh cilantro, parsley or dill can be added to the lentils after cooking
Condiments/Sauces: Curry paste and/or coconut milk are often added to red lentils before cooking.
Vegetables: Tomatoes, spinach and chili peppers are often cooked with lentils.
Adding Salt and Tomatoes to Lentils
Both salt and acidity can react with beans in a way that makes them cook more slowly. If you add salt to lentils before cooking them, or anything acidic (like tomatoes, vinegar, lemon or wine) you might have to cook the lentils slightly longer to achieve a soft texture.
Red Lentil Recipes
More Bean Recipes
- Instant Pot Black Beans
- Instant Pot White Beans
- How to Cook Black Lentils
- Instant Pot White Bean, Cabbage and Tomato Soup
- Chickpeas and Spinach
- Chickpea Stew with Chicken and Potatoes
- Lentil Sloppy Joes