Lentils are sold dried. They are available year-round in bulk or packaged. When buying in bulk, make sure the bins are covered to ensure freshness. While dry lentils can be stored almost indefinitely, six months is recommended. Store dry lentils in an airtight container in a cool, dry place out of direct light. You can also find cooked, ready-to-use packages of lentils in some markets. One pound (16 ounces) of dry lentils yields about 7 cups cooked. Remember, no soaking is required. Place the lentils in a colander or sieve and rinse with cool running water; drain. In a large saucepan combine 5 cups cool water and 1 pound lentils. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until tender, stirring occasionally. For brown, French, and yellow lentils, allow 25 to 30 minutes for cooking time. For red lentils, allow 5 to 10 minutes. Drain any excess cooking liquid and use as desired. Tip: You can replace some of the water with chicken broth or vegetable broth. For additional flavor, consider adding 1/2 cup chopped onion, minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, a bay leaf, and/or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed, to the cooking liquid along with the lentils. If using, remove the bay leaf before serving or leave it in if storing.