How To Cook Lentils Perfectly (Rice Cooker, Instapot, Stovetop)

Delicious, nutritious, and easy to prepare, lentils can be the perfect protein-rich addition to salads, soups, side dishes, and much more! Here’s a simple guide on how to cook lentils.

Closeup of brown lentils in a white bowl.

When it comes to adding plant-based nutritious meals to your diet, there’s perhaps no better place to start than lentils. But many people get confused about how to cook them. 

Rich in protein and fiber, lentils are an easy meal to cook. Being the inexpensive and versatile nutrition powerhouses that they are, making lentils a part of your pantry seems like a no-brainer.  

There’s also a lot of different lentil varieties that can be fun to learn how to make.

A household staple in many cultures, lentils often have gentle earthy, peppery, and nutty flavor notes to them. The intensity of these flavors depends on the type of lentil being used. 

Each type of lentil works a different magic in every recipe they are added to. Here are some of the most common forms of lentils. 

Types of Lentils

Chart showing different types of lentils.

1. Brown Lentils

Brown lentils are one of the most common varieties of lentils. Any bag that you come across in the grocery store that says “lentils” without any additional description most likely contains brown lentils.

It has a mild earthy flavor and holds shape during cooking. This characteristic makes brown lentils an ideal addition to salads, soups, and stews. Brown lentils are also a great option for vegans and vegetarians looking to make veggie burgers. 

2. Green Lentils

Green lentils are very similar to brown lentils. They do, however, have a more pronounced flavor with a slight pepperiness to them. Varying in color, green lentils can be of light green to a slate green color with hints of black and blue.

This lentil is often a great substitute for the more expensive alternative French Puy lentils. Much like brown lentils, green lentils hold their shape well. This, combined with their strong flavor, makes them an ideal addition to any salad or side dish.

3. Red or Yellow Lentils 

This lentil variety ranges in color from a beautiful golden yellow to orange to red. It is very common in the Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine – serving as a key ingredient in many dishes, such as the Indian Dhal

Red or yellow lentils are often split and processed into smaller lentil bits. Because of their split nature, they tend not to hold their shape while cooking.

This makes them an ideal addition to soups or casseroles, especially as thickeners. They can also be added to a variety of dishes in pureed form. 

4. Black Beluga Lentils

Black Beluga lentils are one of the two most common specialty lentils. When cooked, they are tiny, black, and shiny. They are similar in appearance to caviar – hence, the name.

They are a great base to add to possibly any salad that you can think of or as a side dish for an extra punch of protein. Not only do they add notes of earthiness to the dish they are added to, but they also add a level of texture and a beautiful appearance to it. 

How To Cook Lentils


  1. Prior to cooking, sift through the lentils to get rid of stones or any other debris.
  2. Rinse the lentils thoroughly. 
  3. If you want, soak the lentils for a bit. However, they do just fine without a soak since they cook fairly quickly. Most lentil varieties cook within 25 to 30 minutes. You can reduce that time by half if you do an overnight soak.
  4. To cook, cover the lentils with plenty of water or vegetable stock. As a rough estimate, you should add 3 cups of water for every 1 cup of lentils. This is done because lentils swell in size as they cook and absorb a lot of water in the process. 
  5. Once the liquid comes to a boil, cover the pot/pan and reduce the heat to induce a gentle simmer.
  6. Add garlic, browned fried onions, bay leaves, or fresh herbs towards the end of the cooking process to add extra flavor. 

Instant pot

  1. Unlike cooking them on the stove, you don’t need to soak lentils when you prepare them in an Instant Pot. Instead, you simply toss all the ingredients all at once. 
  2. The water to lentil ratio should be about 1 ¾ cups broth or water for 1 cup of lentils.
  3. Add a bit of salt to the water and lentil mix.
  4. In addition, you can also include seasonings like cumin seeds, coriander, chili peppers, and bay leaves. The type of seasoning you use would, of course, depend on the flavor you are going for.
  5. Once everything is combined, select the Pressure Cook setting and choose the desired cook time. The cook time would vary depending on the variety of lentils. Brown and green lentils cook pretty quickly. If you want to keep them firm and whole, cook for 6-8 minutes at high pressure. For a softer texture, cook for 12-15 minutes. For firmer lentils, such as French Green lentils or Black Beluga lentils, cook for shorter amounts of time (6-8 minutes) so that they hold their shape and don’t get mushy.  
  6. Once the timer goes off, let the pot sit for 10 minutes. After that, move the pressure release from its position. Release any remaining steam for a few minutes before serving.   

Rice cooker

  1. You don’t need to soak your lentils before cooking them in a rice cooker. However, you do need to rinse them with cold water to get rid of any unwanted debris.
  2. Spray the rice cooker’s inner pot with a layer of oil.
  3. Transfer the lentils to the rice cooker along with vegetables and spices of choice. 
  4. Add water to the pot. The water-to-lentil ratio in a rice cooker should be about 2:1. 
  5. The cooking time of rice cooker lentils varies with each machine. Usually, the time specified for the rice cooker is about 20-30 minutes.
  6. Take a peek at the lentils after half the cooking time has passed to gauge how they are coming along. You should also stir them at this point.  
  7. Once the cooking time is done, check to see whether the lentils have cooked. If yes, then stir them for one last time and serve them with your favorite choice of food. 

Tips and Tricks for Cooking Lentils

A humble little legume, lentils often pack a punch on their own. But if you are someone who likes going the extra mile to ensure they get the most out of their meals, here are a few tips and tricks for you:

  • Take your lentils to the next level by adding a variety of seasonings. A few seasoning ideas include cumin, turmeric, and coriander. 
  • Add vegetables, such as onions, carrots, and tomatoes, for added flavor and nutrition to your lentil dish.  
  • Try lentils as a side dish by puréeing them. A nice yellow lentil dip can be a great alternative to hummus. 
  • Before cooking, lay out your dried lentils on a flat surface, such as a baking dish or tray, and pick out any stones. 
  • Canned lentils are pre-cooked. All you need to do is rinse them and they are good to go. 
  • Once cooked, dried lentils almost double in size. Therefore, cook them in a large pot or pan.
  • 1 cup (250 ml) of dried lentils will produce 2 cups (500 ml) of cooked split lentils or 2.5 cups (625 ml) of cooked whole lentils. 

How To Store Lentils


  • Dried lentils can be stored for a long period of time. You can store them in a cool dry place in an airtight container for up to one year. 
  • Cooked lentils should not be left outside for long. They should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking.
  • Cooked lentils can be stored in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. If frozen, they can last up to 6 months. 


  • Unopened canned lentils can last for up to one year in a cool, dry place.
  • Once opened, canned lentils last 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Ensure to store them in a glass jar once out of the can.
  • You can freeze canned lentils for 1-2 months. Once defrosted, these types of lentils will be quite soft. Therefore, add them to cooked dishes. 

Lentil Serving Ideas

There are lots of different ways you can serve lentils. Combine it with dried meatless crumbles to make Vegan Sloppy Joes.

Get creative and make some homemade lentil tempeh. You can also cook some lentil stew, add it to a chili recipe, or make Shepherd’s Pie.


    Are lentils gluten-free?

    Yes, lentils are a naturally gluten-free legume, making them a safe choice for people suffering from Celiac disease. 

    What is a good substitute for lentils?

    The closest substitute for lentils is beans. Similar to lentils, beans are high in protein and fiber. Chickpeas, pinto beans, and Garbanzo beans are all great alternatives.

    How to tell if lentils are cooked? 

    The best way to tell whether your lentils are cooked is to simply taste them. They should be tender to bite. However, some lentils are softer than others and the final texture would largely depend on your desired consistency.

    Do you wash lentils before cooking?

    Lentils should always be washed before cooking as that eliminates any dust and unwanted residue. 

    Should lentils be soaked before cooking?

    Lentils do not require soaking. However, if you want to reduce the cooking time, giving them an overnight soak can help.

    Closeup of brown lentils in a white bowl.

    How To Cook Lentils in a Rice Cooker

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    Prep: 2 minutes
    Cook: 20 minutes
    Total: 22 minutes
    Servings: 4
    Calories: 178kcal
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    Here's a simple guide on how to cook lentils in a rice cooker. They are delicious, nutritious, and easy to prepare.

    Baking Recipes: For more accuracy, use Metric measurements and measuring spoons.


    • 1 cup (200 g) dried lentils, brown or green
    • 2 cups (473 ml) water
    • 1 teaspoon (1 teaspoon) olive oil, for greasing


    • Spray or grease the rice cooker’s inner pot with a layer of oil.
    • Rinse the lentils with cold water to get rid of any unwanted debris. Drain and transfer them to the inner pot along with vegetables and spices of choice.
      1 cup (200 g) dried lentils
    • Add the water to the pot and cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender but not firm to bite. The cooking time varies with each machine so stir and check the lentils halfway through the cooking time.
      2 cups (473 ml) water
    Tried this recipe? Upload a photo in the comments below!If you enjoyed it, please consider leaving a rating. It really helps the blog.


    Calories: 178kcal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 0.2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 9mg | Potassium: 458mg | Fiber: 15g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 19IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 30mg | Iron: 4mg
    Nutrition Disclaimer
    Course: Dinner
    Cuisine: American
    Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian

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