It’s hard to cook lentils perfectly. Too often, either their skins burst and their flesh turns to starchy mush or they don’t cook through completely and retain chewy skin and a hard, crunchy core.
We wanted to nail down a reliable way to produce tender, buttery lentils with soft, unbroken skins. Then we wanted to turn our perfectly cooked lentils into a few satisfying side dishes.
To perfect the lentils’ texture, we brined them in a combination of warm water and salt for a few hours. Brining softened their outer shells and made them less likely to burst.
Another way to minimize blowouts is to cook the lentils as gently as possible. But even our stovetop’s lowest setting agitated them too vigorously. We decided to switch to the oven, where the indirect heat got the job done more gently. It also increased the cooking time, but the results were worth the wait: Virtually all of the lentil skins were tender yet intact. Adding salt to the cooking liquid (a combination of water and chicken broth) kept the lentils’ interior firm yet creamy.
Finally, tossing the lentils with a tart vinaigrette and bold mix-ins brightened and balanced their rich, earthy flavor.