Lentils are tiny legumes that are quick to cook and high in protein and fiber. The many varieties are typically sold dried and are often split and hulled. Some types are firm and can be served as a flavorful side dish while others will be more suitable for soups and purees.

Also known as “pulses,” they’re closely related to peas. In India, they are known as dal, a term that also encompasses beans and other types of peas


Brown and French green lentils (lentilles du Puy) are common in most U.S. grocery stores. Green lentils hold their shape very well and can be used in salads or mixed with cooked vegetables. Brown lentils are semi-firm and a good choice for soups as they can become very soft.

Other common varieties found in many ethnic markets include:

Red lentils – These will turn yellow when heated and are fast-cooking. Use in soups as a thickening agent. When split, they are known as masoor dal. When whole the outer hull is green.

Yellow or orange lentils – Usually sold hulled and split and best used in purees or soups. Called toor or tuvar dal and popular in Indian dishes.

Beluga – They are compared to caviar in appearance; when cooked they become shiny. Firm and a nice addition to salads.

Buying Tips

Most lentils are available in bags or in bulk bins. Canned lentils are sold in some markets. For heartier side dishes and salads, choose those that are whole and with or without the hull. For quick-cooking soups, choose split and hulled varieties.

Storage Tips

All lentils have a long shelf life, but will tend to become drier with age. Use within a year for best freshness. Older products will require longer cooking times.

After cooking, refrigerate and use within five days. They freeze well – about four months – but the consistency may change.

Usage Tips

  • Lentils do not require pre-soaking. Inspect for debris and rinse. Cooking times will vary from about 15-60 minutes, depending on the type used. Test regularly to avoid overcooking.
  • Each cup of dried lentils requires one and one-half cups water.
  • Split lentils are more absorbent for seasonings and flavorings.

Substitution Tips

  • Split green peas
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Chickpeas

Try one of our favorite lentil recipes:
Cold Lentil Salad