Lentil curry is an easy, tasty, and nourishing meal you can make in one pot with simple ingredients in about 30 minutes. Our recipe is simple yet satisfying and flavorful.
This is our favorite lentil curry recipe because you can put it together with minimal effort for a delicious weeknight dinner. It's freezer friendly and meal-prep friendly too.
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Our lentil curry is an Indian-inspired dish we make with red lentils, canned tomatoes, spices, coconut milk, and veggies such as broccoli or cauliflower (see variations chapter below).
It's a creamy and flavorful meal, perfect for those who love oriental flavors. The spices not only add plenty of taste, but they load this dish with vitamins and antioxidants.
Also, there's no meat in it, just plant-based goodness, so this is basically a vegan lentil curry.
Because it's easy to put together and requires minimal effort to make, you can have this as an everyday dinner. However, you can also make this for meal prep and freeze it or keep it in the fridge.
We serve this lentil curry on basmati rice or cauliflower rice, but it's also great with naan bread or any other type of flatbread. So let's see how to make it.
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.
We use curry powder, cumin seeds, red pepper flakes (or cayenne pepper), coriander, turmeric powder, garam masala, black pepper, and salt.
You don't have to use all the spices, but try using as many as possible for a more aromatic lentil curry.
We use hulled red lentils (the ones that are orange in color).
We think hulled red lentils are best for this lentil curry because they get creamy when cooked, giving the curry a rich and smooth texture that is irresistible.
You can use brown or green lentils if you want a curry with more bite, but it'll take a little longer to cook.
We cook the lentils in vegetable stock to add flavor.
You can use a can of crushed, diced, and even chopped-up whole peeled tomatoes. Of course, if you have fresh ripe tomatoes, you can use those too.
The one that comes in a can, often imported from Thailand. Coconut milk adds creaminess and that smooth feeling in the mouth. Also, it softens up the spices, making a lovely creamy coconut lentil curry.
We like adding full-fat coconut milk, but light coconut milk also works.
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 lentil curry before eating it. The curry tastes so much better with freshly squeezed lemon on top.
Fresh herbs: 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. Alternatively, finely chopped green onions are also great.
Basmati rice: cooked in lightly salted boiling water as instructed on the package.
Yogurt: this is optional, but we love adding a tablespoon or two of unsweetened dairy-free 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 dutch oven or large pot, 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.
Oil-free? 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, you can use 2 teaspoons of curry powder, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds or ground cumin, and ⅓ teaspoon of chili flakes. These are 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, a few twists of black pepper, and 1 teaspoon garam masala.
Garam masala should be stirred in or sprinkled at the end, right before serving the curry.
Lightly toast the spices on low heat, constantly stirring, for a short minute, until they release their fragrant aroma.
Note: Black pepper facilitates the absorption of turmeric's antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Add the lentils
Add 2 cups of vegetable stock. Put 1 cup or 220 grams of 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.
Add 1 small can of crushed tomatoes and a teaspoon of salt, stir, and cook on a gentle simmer until the lentils are almost cooked (about 20 minutes).
Now, If you use split red lentils, they'll cook in about 25 minutes; if you use whole red lentils, they can take up to 40.
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 is fully dissolved in the lentil curry. Finish cooking for another 10 minutes until the curry has thickened up a bit.
Also, you can cook lentil curry more or less, based on your preference. You can keep the lentils al dente with some bite, or cook them thoroughly and have a more soupy, porridge-like texture.
Either way is correct, 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 thoroughly.
Add the garam masala, stir in, and 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 love in a curry.
Cauliflower and lentil curry
Cauliflower is our favorite vegetable to add to curries! To do so, chop one head of cauliflower into florets of equal size.
Add the florets into the pot with the curry 10 minutes after you add the lentils.
Broccoli and lentil curry
Broccoli is another excellent vegetable to add to this recipe. To do so, cut it into florets of similar size, then add it to the pot 10 minutes after you add the lentils.
Adding veggies like cauliflower and broccoli makes this lentil curry even more delicious and complete. They add texture, flavor, and nutrition to this delicious recipe.
If you are looking for a protein-packed meal, you can replace the chickpeas with cubed tofu and make a wholesome and nutritious tofu curry.
In ours, we also add some cauliflower to boost the veggie content.
Check out our tofu curry recipe.
If you don't have cauliflower or any other veggies, you can still make a creamy, tasty, and wholesome curry with chickpeas.
Check out our creamy chickpea curry recipe.
Another delicious variation of this recipe is one with cauliflower florets. To make it, substitute some of the chickpeas with cauliflower florets. Again, it's wholesome, creamy, and delicious!
Check out our cauliflower curry recipe.
Use different spices and veggies
Don't have all the spices at hand? No problem. Make this lentil curry by changing up the spices.
Just follow our technique and use the spices you have readily available, and you'll become a curry ninja in no time!
Also, you can add fresh or frozen veggies such as mushrooms, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, spinach, and more.
To do so, cut them into equal pieces and add them 10 minutes after you add the lentils.
You can serve our red lentil curry as a main dish for lunch or dinner.
Store this coconut lentil curry recipe in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
You can freeze the curry for up to 3 months, then thaw it directly in a pot with a dash of water or the microwave. Do not thaw and re-freeze multiple times.
This red lentil curry is the perfect recipe to make ahead of time as its flavor 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 and richer. We always make a big batch, often doubling the recipe, and store half of it in the refrigerator and half in the freezer.
More lentil recipes
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- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 inch ginger (optional)
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ⅓ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon coriander (optional)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional)
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup red lentils (best if split red lentils)
- 1 small can (15 ounce) crushed tomatoes
- 1 small can (14 ounce) coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon garam masala (optional)
- 4 wedges lemon
- 1 handful cilantro or flat leaf parsley
- 4 tablespoons unsweetened dairy-free yogurt
- 2 cups basmati rice
- To a pot, add the oil and chopped onion. 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, 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. Finally, add the garam masala.
- 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.