This humble legume is easy to prepare and easy to love.

Unlike dried beans, lentils don't require soaking before you cook them, which is one reason why they are excellent pantry staple to have on hand for quick and easy weeknight meals. Lentils are also an inexpensive source of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. And when prepared correctly, they are delicious too. Lentils are versatile too. Enjoy them in everything from  soups and salads to dips and spreads to braises and bakes. They also step in wonderfully for so many meat dishes as great protein substitutes. Never cooked with lentils before? No problem. Here's the best way to cook lentils so they are delicious every time, and for every dish:

Step 1: Place the lentils in a fine-mesh colander set in the sink. Run cool water over the lentils to rinse them for about 1 minute. Use your hands to sift through the lentils and remove any small rocks or other debris.

Step 2: Place the rinsed lentils in a saucepan and add water. For every 1 cup of lentils, you will need 2 cups of water. (So ½ cup lentils will require 1 cup water.) You can also replace some or all of the water with stock. Add seasonings, such as Bay leaves, spice blends, black or cayenne pepper, or dried herbs. Do not add salt at this point because it will prevent them from softening as they cook. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, 20 to 30 minutes, or until they are tender, not chewy or mushy. They may take more or less time to cook depending on the type, size, and age of the lentils.

Step 3: Season the lentils with salt to taste and stir in a few tablespoons of olive oil, to keep them from drying out and sticking together. Add any additional ingredients such as chopped fresh herbs, vinegar or lemon juice, cooked proteins, raw or cooked vegetables, toasted nuts and seeds, and cheeses.

Cooked lentils make a great addition to hearty grain or vegetable salads, soups, and stews. They're also tasty when topped with grilled or braised meats and seafood. Once you've mastered preparing them (trust us, it's easy!) you'll come up with so many creative ways to serve them.