Pressure Cooking 101: How to cook lentils in a pressure cooker

pressure cooker with different style lids
Pressure Cookers
Pressure cooker saves a lot of time and energy.  Your time and cooking time.  Your energy and electrical energy/gas.  

But I have observed that some people are either apprehensive about using pressure cookers or don’t exactly know how to use it.  Cooking lentils in an open pot or slow cooker takes hours and is a sheer waste of time for something that a pressure cooker can cook within an hour.

This post is for the beginners to help understand how to cook lentils (dals) in a pressure cooker.  These are the exact questions I had when I started to learn cooking (and picked my mom’s brains), and hope this will help someone new to get comfortable with the basics of pressure cooking lentils.

(Click here for cooking lentils WITHOUT a pressure cooker.  And not just lentils, you can use a pressure cooker to cook many other things, for example watch my video how to cook rice in a pressure cooker and how to parboil potatoes in a pressure cooker, both at the same time)

What difference to pressure cooking does soaking the lentils make?
 1) lentils like split pigeon peas (toor dal), split green gram (yellow skinless moong dal), whole mung bean (whole green moong dal), and Bengal gram (chana dal) – let’s call them Type 1 – don’t need to be soaked for as long as chickpeas (kala chana/chhole) and red kidney beans (rajma) – let’s call them Type 2 – need to be soaked until ready to cook.  Though these lentils (except the whole green moong) double up after soaking.

2)  difference in soaking Type 1 lentils is just in the number of whistles and a 5-10 minute extra cooking time, that’s all.  When you’re cooking Type 1 lentils in pressure cooker, even if it’s not soaked for long – the pressure inside the cooker will soften the dal anyway.  But for Type 2 lentils, soaking for 6-8 hours or overnight is essential otherwise only pressure cooking them may not cook the lentils well and may not be tender from the inside, or you might have to pressure cook longer (hence wasting electricity/gas).

mixed vegetable dal made in a pressure cooker
How do you know how much water to add in a pressure cooker to cook lentils and beans?
Usually lentils like split pigeon peas (toor dal) and split green gram (yellow skinless moong dal) that cook faster and need not be soaked long need just double the amount of water.

So for 1 cup of unsoaked dal you add 2 to 2.5 cups water in the pressure cooker.  If you’ve soaked the dal for some time, then you can add just about 2 cups water, since it has increased in size already and will not need that extra power (water) while pressure cooking.  And if you’re adding vegetables to make a Mixed Vegetable Dal then add just about ½ cup more water (therefore, 1 cup dal:2.5 cup water).

For each cup of lentils like whole mung bean (whole green moong dal) and Bengal gram (chana dal) add about 2.5 cups of water.  Lentils like chickpeas (chhole/kala chana) and red kidney beans (rajma) need the most amount of water and pressure cooking time – 1 cup dal :: 3 cup water to cook well.

What if you add lesser amount of water than required to the lentils?
If you add less water to the dal than necessary (say, 1 cup dal and only 1 cup water), the lack of water and increased pressure will cause:
a) the dal to burn at the bottom and stick to the cooker, and you won’t hear the successful whistles;
b) you also risk the pressure cooker bursting open and ruining the safety valve.

What if you add excess water than required to the lentils?
If you add more water to the dal than necessary (say, 1 cup dal and 4 cup water), the excess water and pressure inside the cooker will cause:
a) the whistle to fly off,
b) water to spurt up and around, and
c) a hell lot of mess.

Spusht | how to cook lentils in a pressure cooker | pressure cooker whistle and steamHow do you know how many whistles it takes to cook the lentils?
1)  If the recipe says “pressure cook on high for 1 whistle, then on low for 30 minutes” then it is straightforward.  But if it does not, then for unsoaked lentils of Type 1 you need about 4 whistles on medium heat.  For soaked lentils of Type 1, they should cook in about 3 whistles on medium heat.  It could take around 15 minutes to cook 1 cup of Type 1 lentils.  Type 2 lentils may take around 30 minutes, especially with the 'pressure cook on high for 1 whistle then on low' is what will make Type 2 like kidney beans and chickpeas soft yet have individual shapes instead of becoming mushy.

2) Lack of whistles: If you switched off heat after 3-4 whistles and let the pressure cooker cooled, then opened up and saw that the lentils still are not cooked – just close the lid tight again (raise the whistle a little with some spoon or fork to release steam if the pressure inside makes it difficult to close lid) and let it cook until 1-2 more whistles on medium heat, or as required.

3)  Excess whistles: If you continue taking more than 5-6 whistles, the more the steam and pressure releases,
a) the lesser the quantity of water gets,
b) the mushier the lentils get,
c) the more the lentils will stick to the bottom of the pressure cooker

pressure cooker that whistles and releases steamBut what does “whistles” in pressure cooking mean?
In Indian cooking, we mostly judge the time it takes to pressure cook something – to cook lentils, or to parboil vegetables, etc according to how many ‘whistles’ you see/hear.  One whistle = you see steam being released and you hear ssssssssssssss sound.  So even if you’re not around, you can keep track of whistles when you hear each ssssssssssssss.

What if my pressure cooker’s whistle only rotates, but doesn’t rise to let out the steam?
The two Indian pressure cookers I have – their whistles rise to release steam, but the one I bought here in the States has the whistle dancing round and round.  For such pressure cookers, you don’t keep track by it’s ‘whistles’, but by time.  The booklet that comes with it should tell how much time particular thing takes to cook.  If it doesn’t, you’ll have to depend on trial and error.
When to open the pressure cooker after cooking the lentils?
You should ideally open when all the pressure/steam has subsided and the pressure cools down.  But you do not have to wait until the pressure "cooker" cools completely, because for a pressure cooker to literally cool completely it could take over an hour.

Then, should you put the pressure cooker in a refrigerator to hurry up the cooling?  NO.  NEVER.  NEVER EVER. But if you cannot wait until steam is completely let out, then:

1)  Switch off heat and keep pressure cooker aside.  Using a spatula or any other long spoon, gently raise the whistle just a little and keep that way until all steam releases.  Open.
2)  Switch off heat and place pressure cooker inside sink.  Open the tap and let water flow over the lid for 20 seconds.  Do nothing else.  In a minute, you can raise whistle gently to check for steam.  No more ssssssssssssssss?  Open.

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Dal Recipes / Lentil Recipes / Daal Recipes on Spusht:

Spusht | Sabut Moong ki Dal - Whole Green Mung Bean
Sabut Moong ki Dal - Whole Green Mung Bean
Spusht | Yellow Lentils with Mixed Vegetables
Yellow Lentils with Mixed Vegetables
Spusht | Maharashtrian Style Chana Dal Amti
Maharashtrian Style Chana Dal Amti
Spusht | Dal Kali Mirch (Lentils with Black Pepper)
Dal Kali Mirch (Lentils with Black Pepper)

But if you do not have a pressure cooker, click here to learn how to cook dal WITHOUT a pressure cooker.

Let me know if you have any questions!
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  1. Perfect post. My pressure cooker is so retarded these days. The whistle like never goes off, so i have to just keep waiting and eventually turn off the stove. Once I open it about 30 minutes later, the lentils are fully cooked, I just don't get why the whistle doesn't go off.

    1. retarded, LMAO :D :D
      i thought the same about the one i bought here, whistle never went off, just kept dancing. may be yours is the same case :D

    2. Great post! It came up first for my search of "How many cups of water for one cup lentils" :)

    3. Excellent post. Helpful. Clear. Organized format.
      Thank you !

    4. Thanks Anonymous 1 and Anonymous 2 for your kind comment...please leave your name next time too for me to get to know you :)

  2. A very helpful post. Mine is an electrical one, it's so much easier.

    1. Oh, I didn't know there was an electrical pressure cooker too. Now that should be nice & easy!
      Thanks Angie :)

  3. Nice! Very useful post for beginners. I have had couple of disasters few years ago! Wish I'd read a post like this then ;-)

    1. Thanks Vishakha.
      Even I have learned lessons the hard way with whistle flying & water spurting, hehe!

  4. I do the same way too, quite a time saver.

  5. Pressure cookers scare the living daylights out of me! My parents bought me one but I gave it back to them...unused. :)

    Really great post for people like me!

    1. I get it. I still away from the pressure cooker when it whistles, never know when it may lose it's mind, lol.

  6. Very nice post Nisha, good for beginners I have two in my hand working, and 2 dead already.

    1. Thanks Swathi.
      Hehe. Each time my whistle flew, I thought my pressure cooker's life ended. But thankfully both are still fit :D

  7. My pressure cooker doesn't whistle... I keep track of the time...I thought it was dead and I should get a new one.. Now that you say pressure cookers like that exist I guess i won't be buying a new one any time soon.

    1. Oh yes, don't.
      For some reason I prefer the whistling one over timed one. From Angie's comment above I learned there's an electric one too!

  8. Great post - thank you soon much.

  9. I'm blown away by how easy you made this sound. The same problem comes with cooking rice on the stove; how much water to add, how to test doneness. Thank you, thank you!

  10. Great post. I often had a problem of water spreading out of the cooker. Now I understand that it was due to extra quantity of water in the cooker. Thanks.

  11. Ohh I just burned my yellow lentils by adding 2.5 cup water in 1 cup lentils. 15-20 min is the total cooking time or the time starting when the pressure cooker starts to whistle??

  12. My first independent lentil cooking and thanks to this post, it turned out fine. Special word of thanks for detailed explanation such as Type 1 and Type 2 lentils. You sure know the questions that might come in a beginners mind. Way to go..

  13. My sister recommended Instant Pot, an electric pressure cooker, off Amazon. I was still a bit nervous using it in the beginning, but it's great. Easy to use, clean, and store. No more boiling lentils stovetop ever again for me!

  14. Thanks a million Nisha. Great steps and detailed information, I needed it. My mum in law from India left us a pressure cooker when she visited last. It's been 2 years and only now I have mustered up the courage to use it. The whistling scares me. But now I feel more confident and will give it a good go :-D My lovely huaband loves peas and lentils, so I'm sure this will make him very happy. And pressure cooked food is so nutritious and tasty. A big bonus for me. Thanks again Nisha.

  15. Such an informative and helpful post! Thank you so much ♡ I hate preparing dal because the pressure cooker will just sit there hissing and spewing water at me. I think I put more water than required :(

  16. ur post has just the information ive been looking for, for years! my limited knowledge of using the pressure cooker has deprived me from trying my hand at cooking to such an extent i cant tell you!!
    obviously i wasnt looking in the right places!! God Bless you for this post! its quite a lifesaver!

    Quick Question: what if i need to cook a mixture of pulses. like i'm trying a recipe of dal makhni which requires 1cup black grams and 1/4th cup do i cook them together?and what combination of time and whistles should i apply?

    1. Thanks!
      In that case use the Type 2 time and whistle guideline, Type 1 will easily cook by then.
      To avoid Rajma becoming mushy, pressure cook on high for 1 whistle then on low for 30 minutes. They're going to become tender and creamy just like the slow cooker version but in much shorter time.

  17. Best explanation for Indian cooking using pressure cooker!!!

  18. I periodically refer your post while cooking, thanks for sharing. However, it would be great if you concisely put this information in a table. This way a quick glance gives information that someone is searching for like amount of water or no. of whistles etc. :)


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