The range of lentils available in Australia is inspiring but with great choice comes unintended consequences. Often this is highlighted when a recipe has been developed in a country where the range of lentils (and what they call them) are different.
As different styles cook differently (either breaking down or retaining some crunch and structure), if you are unsure of what your recipe is asking for it is best to act deductively and ascertain what the final result of the dish should be. This will help you work out which lentil is best to use, or to substitute, if you can’t find what the recipe is asking for.
We’ve rounded up a few of the most common varieties below.
Persian red lentils & Red lentils
An important distinction to be aware of is the difference between ‘Persian Red Lentils’ and ‘Red Lentils’. Persian Red Lentils will hold their shape when cooked whereas the simply named Red Lentils will break down as they cook. If your recipe has a photo or if you can tell by it’s tone that it should be a dal-type (mushy) dish, then you should look for red lentils. Alternatively, if it seems like a more free-flowing lentil will be better, then Persian Red Lentils would be the one to grab. Salads are a good example as lentils are sometimes used to bulk them out and add texture and flavour. If you cooked Persian Red Lentils for this they would more easily mingle with the rest of the ingredients, as opposed to the standard red lentils which would be like trying to gracefully stir mashed potato through your light, crunchy salad.
Green & Brown Lentils (but there’s a catch!)
Green & Brown lentils hold their shape reasonably well but the finished cooked result tends to sit somewhere in between the consistency of the Red and Persian Red lentils described above. While they soften a bit and will break down if you cook them for a long time, they don’t as easily turn into dal. These are usually just sold as ‘Green Lentils’ or ‘Brown Lentils’ and I find it very easy to interchange them if I don’t have the colour the recipe asks for in the pantry. Importantly though, there is also a green lentil from France (see below) which acts very differently.
Puy & Beluga
These lentils are similar in that they definitely hold their shape while cooking. If you are after something a little firmer and crunchier, then these are the lentils to go for. Puy (pronounced ‘pwee’) Lentils hail from Le-Puy, a town in the south of France. They are a small, bulbous lentil and are sometimes sold as Puy Lentils or Green French Style Lentils. The Black Beluga lentils are small, glossy and also bulbous looking.