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Red Lentils: 3 Reasons This Autumn Ingredient Rocks

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Red lentils rank among my favorite ingredients to have on hand in the kitchen during autumn. When cooked until just softened, they’re wonderful in seasonal salads—add soft cheeses, steamed squash, spicy greens, and a tangy vinaigrette. When cooked until fall-apart soft, they can instantly thicken any stew, soup, chili, or casserole. If you’re new to red lentils, here are three great reasons why you should try them this season.

1. No Soaking

Unlike many other legumes, lentils don’t need to be soaked before being cooked. To prep them for the stovetop, all it takes is a quick rinse under cold water to remove any debris or unsightly lentils. From there, simply place in fresh water and cook immediately. Not only does this save you on time that would otherwise be spent waiting for the beans to soak, but it means you can use lentils impromptu in the kitchen. Have a craving for red lentil dal, like, right now? You can make it, like, right now.

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2. Fast Cooking

Lentils don’t require soaking before being cooked, and red lentils in particular cook up rather quickly once put to heat. Green lentils may take up to 45 minutes to cook (about the same amount of time it takes for brown rice), but red lentils are usually done between 20 and 30 minutes, depending on how much you are cooking up. If using your lentils in a recipe where you want them to retain more shape and structure (such as a salad or pilaf), they can be done in as quickly as 15 minutes.

3. Hearty and Nutritious

Like most other legumes, lentils are a good source of fiber, protein, and minerals. According to Rebecca Wood, author of The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, lentils differ from their bean brethren in that they don’t contain any sulfur, so they shouldn’t make you as gassy as other legumes. Further, Wood tells us that lentils are only second to soybeans as a top legume source of protein. This makes them an attractive choice for vegans, vegetarians, and any omnivores looking to beef up their meatless intake.

How to Use Red Lentils:

  • Make an Indian dal: Sauté onions, garlic, and ginger in a saucepan. Add lentils and cooking broth, along with spices of choice. Cook until mushy (like refried beans). Finish with lime or lemon juice, tomato paste, and/or fresh cilantro.
  • Thicken any seasonal stew: Add a ½ cup or so of red lentils to your fave autumn stew recipe as it simmers for 20-30 minutes for a creamy, thick consistency with a slightly sweet flavor.
  • Toss together a fall salad: Cook red lentils until just soft (which will happen fast—within 10 or 15 minutes), then drain immediately. Toss together with steamed or roasted squash cubes, arugula, and a tangy vinaigrette. Top off with soft cheese and toasty nuts.
  • Simmer a simple autumn soup: Red lentils are a great base for a minimalistic autumn soup—boil a pot of them until softened, along with diced squash or pumpkin, fall spices, and enough broth to make it soupy. Finish off with a smattering of fresh herbs.

Wood, R. (1999). The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York: Penguin Compass.

Image adapted from whitneyinchicago, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

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