This lentil curry is packed with spices, warmth, and those oriental flavors that are so irresistible.
This is one of our favorite lentil recipes of all as it’s easy to make, it can be frozen for those lazy weeknights, and it’s full of flavor, vitamins, and antioxidants.
What to expect
A lentil curry is an Indian-inspired dish, made with red lentils, spices, and coconut milk.
It's a creamy, aromatic, and rich meal, perfect for those of us who love oriental flavors.
There's no meat or dairy in this dish, just plant-based goodness, so this is basically a vegan lentil curry. If you're also a big curry fan, try our tofu curry with similar spice notes and creaminess.
We serve this lentil curry on basmati rice, but it's also great with naan bread, or any other type of flatbread.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Flavor base: we use olive oil, onion, garlic, and ginger. Those ingredients release a lot of aromas that will enrich your curry and load it with flavor.
If you prefer you can make this dish oil-free and just dry-fry onion, garlic, and ginger on the pan. Instructions later on.
- Spices: we use curry powder, cumin seeds, chili flakes, coriander, turmeric powder, garam masala, and black pepper.
You don't have to use all the spices, but do try to use as many as you can for a richer, more aromatic lentil curry.
- Lentils: we use dehulled red lentils (the ones that are orange in color).
We think de-hulled red lentils are best for this lentil curry because they get creamy when cooked, giving the curry that rich and smooth texture that is just irresistible.
- Vegetable stock + salt: to help the lentils cook and to add flavor.
- Crushed tomatoes: in a can. You can use crushed, diced, and even chopped-up whole canned peeled tomatoes.
- Coconut milk: the one that comes in a can. Coconut milk adds creaminess and that smooth feeling in the mouth. Also, it softens up the spices, making them more round and pleasant.
To make this recipe without coconut milk you have to cut the quantity of the spices in half or else their flavor will be overpowering.
- Lemon: cut some lemon wedges and squeeze them on top of the vegan lentil curry. This is not optional, the curry tastes so much better with freshly squeezed lemon on top.
- Cilantro or flat-leaf parsley: cilantro is more traditional for curry, but some people can't eat it. So if you don't like cilantro, you can use flat-leaf parsley, the Italian variety.
In either case, chop it coarsely and sprinkle it on top of the curry.
- Basmati rice: cooked in lightly salted boiling water as instructed on the package.
- Plant-based yogurt: this is totally optional, but we love adding a tablespoon or two of unsweetened soy yogurt on top of the curry. It just makes everything creamier and we love that hot-cold combination.
Start with the flavor base
To a pot or to a large pan add two tablespoons of olive oil and one chopped onion.
Cook the onion for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, then add two garlic cloves, grated or minced, and about an inch or 2 cm of grated ginger.
Fry the onion, garlic, and ginger for a couple of minutes till the onion is soft and shiny.
If you want to make this recipe a little lighter, you can do it without oil.
To make the lentil curry without oil, add the chopped onion to a cold pan. Then put the pan on medium to low heat, and let it warm up slowly.
The onion contains natural oils that will come out when heated up. Move the onion around the pan, and let it cook for a couple of minutes.
Then add two garlic cloves, grated or minced, and about an inch or 2 cm of grated ginger.
Stir until the garlic and ginger release their aroma, it should take about a minute, then turn the heat to low and add the spices.
Add the spices
For this red lentil curry, we use 2 teaspoons of curry powder, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds or ground cumin, and ⅓ teaspoon of chili flakes.
This is already enough to make a good curry.
But if you want the best curry, then also add 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, ½ teaspoon coriander, 1 teaspoon garam masala, and a few twists of pepper.
Black pepper facilitates the absorption of the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in turmeric.
Lightly toast the spices on low heat, stirring constantly, for a short minute, until they release their fragrant aroma.
Add the lentils
Add 2 cups of vegetable stock. Put 1 cup or 220 grams of de-hulled red lentils or of split red lentils into a strainer and have a quick look for small stones.
Rinse the lentils under running water and add them to the pot.
The reason we do this is to make sure there are no foreign objects such as stones, soil, and dust that could end up in your curry.
Add 1 small can of crushed tomatoes, a teaspoon of salt, stir and let cook on a gentle simmer until the lentils are almost cooked.
Then after about 20 minutes add 1 can of coconut milk, which will soften the spices in the curry and create a velvety and creamy texture, and deep orange color.
Stir the coconut milk till it’s fully dissolved in the lentil curry. Finish cooking for another 10 minutes until the curry has thickened up a bit.
Now, If you are using split red lentils they’ll cook in about 25 minutes, if you are using whole red lentils they can take up to 40.
Also, lentil curry can be more or less cooked based on your preference. You can keep the lentils al dente, with some bite, or you can cook them fully and have a more soupy, porridge-like texture.
Either way is right, so do what you prefer. Just keep in mind that split red lentils cook faster than whole red lentils, which might require a little more water to cook fully.
Let the vegan lentil curry cool down for 10 minutes before serving it on basmati rice.
Top the curry with freshly chopped cilantro - or flat-leaf parsley if you don’t like cilantro - and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.
Finally, we love to add a spoonful of unsweetened plant-based yogurt to add even more creaminess and to create that hot-cold combo we absolutely love in a curry.
This vegan lentil curry is the perfect recipe to make ahead of time as its flavor actually improves with time.
This is because the sauce and the lentils have more time to absorb the flavor of the spices.
So the next day the flavor of this curry is rounder, richer, and deeper. We always make a big batch, often doubling the recipe, and store half of it in the refrigerator and half of it in the freezer.
Don't have all the spices at hand? Don't worry! Make this lentil curry yours by changing up the spices.
Just follow our technique and use the spices you have, and you'll become a curry ninja in no time!
You can also make this curry with green lentils (although it will take longer to cook) or with green or yellow split peas.
Add veggies such as green peas, snap peas, broccoli or cauliflower.
Reduce or remove the coconut milk if you don't fancy it. In this case, though, use fewer spices.
This curry is one of our favorite easy dinners, and it's wonderfully versatile:
- Serve it with bread, such as focaccia bread or flatbread, it'd be a great way to sop out all the curry leftovers from your bowl!
- Increase your veggie intake by serving it with cauliflower rice instead of white rice. You'll have a meal lower in carbs, but it's still fulfilling.
- Use the leftovers in Italian flatbread and make a lunch-friendly wrap. I love easy lunches, so curries and tomato stews are always recycled in our home as a wrap filling.
If you love this lentil curry, try one of these quick and easy legume recipes next:
- One-pot chickpea stew
- Lentil bolognese
- Lentil soup
- Tuscan bean soup
- Chickpea salad
- Couscous salad with chickpeas
- Stuffed bell peppers
- Vegan tuna
Store this lentil curry in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
You can also freeze the curry for up to 3 months, then thaw it directly in a pot with a dash of water, or in the microwave. Do not thaw and re-freeze multiple times.
Vegan Lentil Curry
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 inch ginger (optional)
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ⅓ teaspoon chili flakes
- ½ teaspoon coriander (optional)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional)
- 1 teaspoon garam masala (optional)
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup split red lentils or de-hulled red lentils
- 1 small can (15 ounce) crushed tomatoes
- 1 small can (13.5 ounce) coconut milk full fat or reduced fat
- 4 wedges lemon
- 1 handful cilantro or flat leaf parsley
- 4 tablespoons unsweetened dairy-free yogurt optional
- 2 cups basmati rice
- To a pot add the oil and chopped onion. Gently fry the onion for 3 minutes, then add grated garlic and grated ginger and fry gently for another minute.
- Turn the heat to low, then add the spices: 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, ⅓ teaspoon chili flakes, ½ teaspoon coriander, 1 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon garam masala, ½ teaspoon pepper.Toast the spices while stirring on low heat for a short minute.
- Add vegetable stock, rinsed red lentils, crushed tomatoes, salt, stir and cook for about 20 minutes, or till the lentils are almost cooked.
- Add the coconut milk, stir well, and finish cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes, till the curry is thicker and creamier, and the red lentils are fully cooked.
- Serve the lentil curry on basmati rice with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, freshly chopped cilantro (or flat-leaf parsley) and optionally a spoonful of unsweetened plant based yogurt.