Learn how to cook red lentils on the stovetop with the best lentil to water ratio and turn these delicious lentils into easy dinners.
This post contains helpful notes, tips, and tricks to help you make the perfect dish. However, if you are in a rush, please use the "Jump to Recipe" link above or the "Jump to" links below to get to the section you want.
People also call them masoor dal, and they are a common ingredient and a great source of plant-based protein in Indian cuisine.
You can make dal, the most popular dish with them, and also known as red lentil dal in some parts of the world, by simmering the lentils with herbs, spices and aromatics.
What is red lentil?
Red lentils are lens-shaped legumes that belong to the Fabaceae botanical family and have high nutritional value.
People all over the world, especially in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cuisines, consume them widely.
As the name suggests, red lentils have a red-orange hue and are smaller than other lentils.
They usually come in their split form, i.e. they have been hulled and split in half.
This split variety is common because it cooks faster than whole lentils and so it is a good option for a quick and healthy meal.
Buying and storing: When you buy the lentils, make sure they look clean, have the same size and color. Dried red lentils last for a long time and so you can stock them up.
Keep them in clean, air tight jars/ containers to keep out moisture and pests. Store them in a cool, dry place. They will stay fresh for up to eight months if you store them this way.
Split red lentils vs red lentils
Red lentils are whole, small, lens-shaped legume that have a red-orange color. Red split lentils are sometimes also called red lentils.
Spit red lentils cook faster because they are hulled and split.
Most of the red lentils you find in stores are already split, so if you see a package that says “red lentils", they are probably split lentils.
What do lentils taste like?
Red lentils taste delicious! They have a subtle flavor that matches well with other flavors and spices in a dish. They become tender and creamy when you cook them longer and with more liquid (or broth).
You can also flavor the lentils more by cooking them with herbs, spices, and seasonings. Check the section below for some suggestions and ideas.
Nutrition of red lentils
These lentils have a lot of plant-based protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
They are low in fat and have no cholesterol, so they are good for a balanced diet.
Red lentils also give you a lot of folate, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Look at the nutrition chart below the recipe card for more details.
Any doubts or questions? Feel free to ask via the comments below. I will try my best to answer them for you.
Cooking red lentils
Before we start cooking, just in case the question: "do I need to soak lentils before cooking them?" has popped in your head, let me answer it for you.
The answer is yes and no.
If you are using the lentils that have their skin on (and therefore brown or greenish-brown in color), you should soak them for at least two hours.
But if you are using red lentils (skin removed and therefore red in color), you don’t have to soak them. Just wash them well and use them in the recipe as directed.
Ok, now that the question is out of the way, let's learn how to cook red lentils.
Note: You can cook them in a Instant Pot or a pressure cooker, however, I prefer cooking them on stovetop because they cook fast anyway.
Please check the recipe card below for quantities.
To cook red lentils on stove top all you need are lentils and water.
Wash the lentils 2 to 3 times or until the water runs clear. Drain and keep them aside.
In a saucepan, bring water to a boil on medium-high heat.
Add the washed lentils and stir. Cook them on medium-high heat.
As the lentils cook, you will see some foam rising to the top. Use a spoon to skim it off. You may need to repeat this a few times until the foam is gone.
Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan partially with a lid, and let the lentils simmer for 12-13 minutes. Stir occasionally. At this stage, the lentils should be tender but still hold their shape.
Take the pan off the heat and stir the lentils. Cover and let them rest for 5 minutes. This will help the lentils to cook some more in their steam.
Cool completely and store them (see storage suggestions below) or use them in a recipe as required.
These cooked lentils have the ideal texture for salads and fillings. For dishes like dal, soup or stew, simmer them a little longer in the sauce/ broth to make them softer and mushier.
Notes and tips
You can cook red lentils easily because they are versatile. You can serve them as a side dish, or add them to soups, stews, curries, salads, or various vegetarian or vegan dishes.
To help you cook them perfectly every time, follow these notes and tips:
Yield: If you cook 1 cup of dry lentils, you will get about 2 and ¼ cups of cooked lentils.
Cooking ratio: Use 1:2 ratio of lentils to water for soft but not mushy lentils. This means that you will need 2 cups of water for every cup of dry lentils.
Water or stock?: You can choose either water or stock, depending on your preference and the recipe that you will use the lentils for.
Whole or split lentils?: I have used split red lentils in this recipe. However, you should remember that whole red lentils will take more time and water (or stock) to cook.
Salt or no salt? I do not recommend adding salt to the lentils while cooking. You can add salt later according to the recipe that you will make with the lentils.
Red lentils are free from all top 14 allergens.
Making ahead and storage
If you cook red lentils as part of your weekly meal prep, you can save time. However, you should make sure the cooked lentils are completely cool before storing them.
In the refrigerator: Store them in an air-tight, fridge-safe container for up to five days.
In the freezer: Freeze them in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months.
Thawing and reheating: To use the cooked lentils, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight. Then, warm them gently on the stovetop or in the microwave. Alternatively, you can add them to a dish straight from frozen without thawing them first.
Adding flavor to masoor dal + Recipe ideas
These cooked red lentils are like a blank canvas for you to add flavors and textures to! Here are some ways you can do that:
- salt - a simple but essential ingredient to make your lentils more tasty
- onions, ginger, and garlic - the holy trinity for most Indian cooking! Finely chop the onions and add ginger garlic paste as per the recipe.
- spice powders such as garam masala, bhuna jeera, shop bought or homemade curry powder can give a rich, complex flavor to the dal, stew or casserole.
- tomatoes add a lovely umami depth to the lentils. Before adding the lentils, cook the tomatoes with spices and aromatics until they are soft and mushy.
- coconut milk can give your dal or soup a creamy, velvety taste and texture.
You can also try these recipe suggestions:
- Lemony lentil soup: This soup is tangy and refreshing. You can follow my recipe for yellow lentil soup and just replace the mung lentils with red lentils. Alternatively, you can cook the lentils as explained above. Then, add more water to make it soupy and simmer for 10 more minutes. The lentils will become creamy and mushy. Season with salt, turmeric and lemon juice. If you like spice, add some freshly milled black pepper and/or red pepper flakes.
- Spinach dal: This dish is nourishing and healthy. You can enjoy it on its own or with some jeera rice or roti. To make it, heat oil in a pan and add some cumin seeds. When they splutter, add chopped spinach and turmeric. Cook until the spinach has wilted. Then, add the cooked red lentils and water to adjust the consistency. Simmer for 5 minutes on low heat.
- Lentil and vegetable stew: This stew is mild and creamy. You can replace the yellow lentils with red lentils in this zucchini kootu recipe. Kootu is a Tamil word for stew. In this recipe, you will simmer chunks of zucchini (courgettes) in spices such as cumin, black pepper and fresh coconut. Then, you will add the cooked red lentils.
- Masoor dal: This dal is warm and satisfying. You can pair it with some naan bread (or bullet naan, if you like it hot!). Just use red lentils instead of mung beans in my green moong dal recipe. You don’t have to soak or boil them beforehand, so it’s a quick and easy dish to make!
Lentils can be cooked on the stovetop, in a pressure cooker, Instant Pot, or in a slow cooker, depending on your preference and the available equipment.
Cooking ratio: The general ratio for cooking lentils is 1 part lentils to 2 parts water or broth. This can vary depending on the type of lentil and the desired consistency.
Seasoning and serving: Once the lentils are cooked, season them with salt and any additional spices, herbs, or ingredients according to your recipe. Lentils can be served as a side dish, added to soups, stews, curries, salads, or used as a base for various vegetarian or vegan dishes.
To determine if lentils are fully cooked and reach the desired tenderness, there are a few indicators to look for:
Texture: Lentils should be soft but still hold their shape. Gently press a few lentils between your fingers or taste them to check if they are tender. They should not be mushy or disintegrate easily, especially for dishes where you want lentils to maintain their form.
Taste: Take a small spoonful of cooked lentils and taste them. They should be cooked through without any raw or hard centers.
Appearance: The lentils should have a consistent color throughout, with no raw or uncooked parts.
Overcooked lentils can become mushy, so it's best to avoid prolonged cooking once they are tender.
Yes, masoor dal and red lentils refer to the same type of lentils. Masoor dal is the Hindi term for red lentils.
These lentils are small, lens-shaped legumes with a reddish-orange color. They are commonly used in Indian cuisine and are known for their quick cooking time and versatility in various dishes such as dal, curries, soups, and salads.
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How to cook red lentils on stovetop
- 1 saucepan with lid
- 1 mixing spoon
- 1 cup (~200g) dry red lentils (masoor dal)
- 2 cups water
- Wash the lentils 2-3 times or until the water runs clear. Drain and keep aside.
- Bring the water to boil in a saucepan on medium-high heat.2 cups water
- Add the washed lentils, mix and let it come to a boil.1 cup (~200g) dry red lentils (masoor dal)
- As the lentils cook, you will see some foam rising to the top. Use a spoon to skim it off. You may need to repeat this a few times until the foam is gone.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan partially with a lid, and let the lentils simmer for 12-13 minutes. Stir occasionally. At this stage, the lentils should be tender but still hold their shape.
- Take the pan off the heat and stir the lentils. Cover and let them rest for 5 minutes. This will help the lentils to cook in their steam some more.
- Cool completely and store them or use them in a recipe as required.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only.
Note: The nutrition information is based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.