Back to Basics: Pantry Staples – Lentils

Now we’ve been dealing with the Virus That Shall Not Be Named for several months now, I feel like I may be somewhat late to the table with this advice. However, I feel that in this new year there may be a few people still out there who have decided the drive-through and Uber Eats Lyfe is no longer for them, and want to do more home-based cooking…but maybe don’t know where to start.

I’ve compiled a list and will be discussing, one by one, many of the widely available, basic pantry staples in the standard North American and European diet that will help you create a meal out of almost anything (within reason), some instructions on how to cook certain items, and links to my favourite recipes to get you started. Please see my other posts in the Back to Basics category for more recipes and meal ideas.



There are many different types of lentils available globally (Wikipedia lists 27), each with their own unique, signature flavours, textures, and applications; it’s almost a crime to limit this post to a select few. However, given that most of my readers originate from North America and Western Europe (hello, analytics!), it makes sense to concentrate on those types of lentils that are both most popular and most available in these markets.

According to Wikipedia:

The lentil (Lens culinaris or Lens esculenta) is an edible legume. It is an annual plant known for its lens-shaped seeds. It is about 40 cm (16 in) tall, and the seeds grow in pods, usually with two seeds in each. As a food crop, the majority of world production comes from Canada and India, producing 58% combined of the world total.

In cuisines of the Indian subcontinent, where lentils are a staple, split lentils (often with their hulls removed) known as daal are often cooked into a thick curry/gravy that is usually eaten with rice or rotis.


According to website in their article, “Everything You Need to Know About Lentils“, there are four categories of lentils, namely brown, green, red/yellow, and specialty.

Brown Lentils

The most common variety of lentil, brown lentils are most likely what people think of when they envision the sacks of nameless lentils in the grocery store. This particular variety can be several shades of colour ranging from deep black to khaki brown, and they have a somewhat earthy yet mild flavour. Brown lentils hold their shape well during cooking, and as such are excellent for using in soups, stews, casseroles, salads both warm and cold, vegetarian burgers and “meat” loaf. Suggested recipe: Brown Rice and Lentil Patties

Green Lentils

While very similar to brown lentils, green lentils have a stronger, more full-bodied flavour, and come in a range of sizes and colours, from pale to slate green, spotted or unspotted, with traces of black and blue. These lentils, like their brown lentil brothers, hold their shape well when cooked and are great for salads, casseroles, burgers and side dishes. Suggested recipe: Green Lentil Curry – Food and Wine

Red/Yellow Lentils

This mildly sweet and nutty lentil variety is sold “split”, meaning their casings/skins have been removed in processing, making them the quickest to cook and also likely to disintegrate during the cooking process. These pretty lentils range from yellows to oranges to reds, and are very popular in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine where they are mostly used in soups and stews as a thickener, and in casseroles and other dishes where they can be puréed. Suggested recipe: Coconut Curried Golden Lentils – Minimalist Baker

BONUS RECIPE BELOW: Quick and Easy Red Lentil Soup

Specialty Lentils

While there are many varieties of specialty or fancy lentils, the two best known are Puy and Black Beluga.

Black Beluga lentils: these tiny, shiny bois look somewhat like caviar, hence their name. Black Beluga lentils have an earthy, rich flavour and a soft texture, and are best featured alongside a protein, or as a flavourful base for salads. Suggested recipe: Spiced Black Lentils with Yogurt and Mint – Bon Appetit

Puy Lentils: these French lentils are grown in a specific region in Central France known for its volcanic soil; they are known for their distinctive deep bluish-green colour and a bright, deep, peppery flavour. Puy lentils are special (and very expensive), and should be celebrated as the “star” of the meal. They take the longest to cook out of all the lentils, but they pair well with both meat and fish, and are equally as useful in a main dish such as a lentil Bolognese sauce or Shepherd’s pie as they would be in a salad. Suggested recipe: French Lentils with Garlic and Thyme – New York Times Cooking

Quick and Easy Red Lentil Soup

Yield: 4 servings | Prep: 15 min | Cook: 30 min

  • 2 tbsp/30mL olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, diced small
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced small
  • 2 stalks celery, diced small
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp/6g ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp/6g ground cumin
  • ½ tsp/3g salt
  • ¼ tsp/0.6g ground black pepper
  • ¼-½ tsp/0.44g ground cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 4 cups/1L low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 cup/192g dried red lentils, rinsed and inspected for stones
  • 2 tbsp/30mL lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp/0.35g dried parsley
  1. Heat oil in large heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat; add onions, celery and carrots and sauté for a couple of minutes, then add garlic and cook for about 4 minutes, or until all starts to soften.
  2. Stir in spices and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Pour in broth and rinsed lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for about 25 minutes, or until lentils are tender but not falling apart.
  4. Check for seasoning; if it’s too thick or too salty, add another 1-2 cups of water. You can also purée the soup at this stage with an immersion blender, or leave it as-is.
  5. Stir in lemon juice, mix in parsley throughout and sprinkle a little more parsley overtop. Serve hot.

Lastly, here’s an awesome infographic from that helps find other uses for lentils:

Good luck, and happy “lentiling”!


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