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Several different types of lentil beans exist. The primary difference between lentils is the color and size of the bean. Some lentil beans retain their shape when cooked, while other types disintegrate slightly. Various lentil types include Puy lentils, green or brown lentils, and red lentils. Lentils that are split in half are usually known as dal in Indian cuisine.
Brown lentils are very common in grocery stores in the United States. They are the entire bean and have a smooth, round shape. These lentil beans are usually the least expensive. When cooked, they can become very soft and mushy. As the beans soften so much, they are ideal for use in soups and stews.
Unlike brown lentils, red lentils are split in half. Although the beans are a light red color when dried, they turn yellowish when cooked. Red lentil beans break down considerably when cooked, so they are suitable for use in pureed soups or used to prepare dal.
The most expensive type of lentil is the French lentil, also known as the Puy lentil, because they were originally grown in Le Puy, France, an area with thin, volcanic soil. French lentil beans have a higher protein content than other types. They keep their shape when cooked, making them ideal for using in salads and other dishes where the shape of the bean is important for presentation. Puy lentils are green with black stripes or dots on their surface.
Less common types of lentils include golden and black lentils. White lentils are simply black lentils that are peeled. Usually, black, white, and golden lentils are sold as dal, or split beans.
Beluga lentils are another less common type of bean. The beans are so-called because they become glossy when cooked and resemble Beluga caviar. They work well in salads or in soups because they retain their shape. If a cook can't find Beluga lentils, she can substitute Puy lentils.
As lentils are small, they do not need to be soaked before they are cooked. Split lentils take much less time to cook than whole brown or Puy lentils. A person cooks lentils by covering them with water and bringing the water to a boil. The lentils are ready when they are soft.
All types of lentils should be stored in a cool, dry place. Lentils have a long shelf-life, generally up to a year. Beans that have been stored for longer than a year may still be edible but can take considerably longer to cook because they have dried out more.