Lentil curry is a creamy, flavorful, and nutritious meal that is easy to make in one pot with simple ingredients.

You’ll love this recipe because of its rich, velvety texture and bold, fragrant flavors. Also, you can make it with minimal effort for a wholesome, warm, and delicious weeknight dinner.

Plus, our lentil curry is excellent for meal prep as it tastes even better the day after and is freezer-friendly.

Lentil curry with basmati rice and lemon wedges

Dietary Note: this recipe is suitable for a vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diet.

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What is lentil curry?

Lentil curry recipe with rice and a hand

Our lentil curry is an Indian-inspired dahl with split red lentils cooked in a rich, savory sauce with fragrant spices, coconut milk, and canned tomatoes.

Like our chickpea curry, potato curry, and cauliflower curry this is a tasty, nutritious, and satisfying meatless meal, perfect for those who love rich and harmonious South Asian flavors.

The spices not only add plenty of taste, but they load this dish with vitamins and antioxidants.

This red lentil curry is so easy and quick to make you can have it as a last-minute dinner. It’s wholesome, nourishing, and protein-packed, making you feel great!

You can serve it on basmati rice or cauliflower rice, but it’s also great with naan, roti, or any other type of flatbread.

Ingredients & substitutions for lentil curry

lentil curry ingredients

Quantities are in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.

Lentils

Try to use hulled or split red lentils, which are orange in color.

Split red lentils are best for lentil curry because they cook fast and turn creamy, giving the dish a rich and smooth texture that is irresistible.

Also, they have a mild flavor with slightly nutty and sweet notes, and most people like them.

You can use brown or green lentils if you want a curry with an earthier flavor and more bite, but it’ll take a little longer to cook and won’t be as velvety creamy.

For more information about lentils, you can consult our guides: how to cook lentils and how to cook red lentils.

Flavor base

We use olive oil, onion, garlic, and ginger. Those ingredients release aromas as they fry, enriching your curry and packing it with flavor.

You can make this dish oil-free and just dry-fry onion, garlic, and ginger in the pan.

Substitute coconut oil or another vegetable oil of your choice for olive oil; for example, avocado oil is a healthy option.

Spices

We recommend curry powder, cumin, red pepper flakes (or cayenne pepper), ground coriander, turmeric powder, garam masala, black pepper, and salt.

You don’t have to use all the spices, but try using as many of the ones we list as possible for a more aromatic and authentic red lentil curry.

Other spices that work well in this recipe are curry leaves and mustard seeds.

Vegetable broth

We cook the lentils in vegetable stock to add flavor, but you can also use plain water.

Add more or less broth based on your preferences. There is no right consistency for lentil curry; you can make it thick, creamy, or soupy, but it’s up to you.

Crushed tomatoes

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.

Coconut milk

We recommend full-fat coconut milk, which comes in a can, often imported from Thailand.

Coconut milk adds creaminess and a velvety and rich mouthfeel. Also, it softens up the spices, and it’s delicious with red lentils.

Substitute low-fat coconut milk if you are on a low-fat diet.

Substitute heavy cream or a non-dairy heavy cream for coconut milk.

To make this recipe without coconut milk, I recommend increasing the amount of vegetable broth and reducing the amount of spices, or else their flavor will be overpowering.

Serves well with

Lemon: cut some lemon wedges and squeeze them on the lentil curry before eating it. The curry tastes so much better with freshly squeezed lemon on top. Substitute lime wedges.

Fresh cilantro: cilantro is traditional in a 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: boiled. Substitute Jasmine rice or brown rice.

Yogurt: this is optional, but we love adding a dollop of unsweetened dairy-free yogurt or Greek-style yogurt on top of the curry. The tangy yogurt flavor with the creamy curry is perfect; you’ll love the hot-cold combination.

Lentil curry in a bowl with lemon and garlic around it

How to make red lentil curry

US cups + grams measurements in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.

Start with the flavor base

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Add chopped onion and sauté it gently for 3 minutes, then add grated garlic and ginger and fry for 1 more minute, stirring often.

The onion should get soft and shiny but not burn or turn brown.

onion and garlic gently frying in oil

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, also add 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon of ground coriander, a few twists of black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of garam masala.

Lightly toast the spices on medium heat, stirring for a short minute, until they release their fragrant aroma.

Tip: Don’t add garam masala yet; it should be stirred in at the end before serving the curry to preserve its aroma.

onions and spices frying in a white skillet

Add the lentils

Add 2 cups of vegetable stock, a can of crushed tomatoes, and a can of coconut milk, which will mellow the spices in the curry and create a velvety and creamy texture and beautiful orange color.

Put 1 cup or about 200 grams of split red lentils into a strainer and have a quick look for small stones.

Now, rinse the lentils under running water, add them to the pot, and season with a teaspoon of salt and a few twists of black pepper.

Note: Black pepper facilitates the absorption of turmeric’s antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.

coconut milk, lentils and broth in a skillet

Stir well, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil.

Now remove the lid and cook on a gentle simmer until the lentils are soft. It’ll take you about 20 to 30 minutes.

Stir occasionally and add more broth to reach your desired consistency.

Note: if you use whole red lentils, they take a few minutes longer to cook, so you’ll need to add more broth.

Tip: You can cook lentil curry more or less, based on your preference. You can keep the lentils with some bite or cook them thoroughly and have a more soupy, porridge-like texture. Either way is correct, so do what you prefer.

As a final step, stir in a teaspoon of garam masala and let the vegan lentil curry cool down for 5 to 10 minutes before serving it.

Lentil curry read to serve

Serving suggestions

You can serve our red lentil curry as a main dish for lunch or dinner.

Top the curry with freshly chopped cilantro – or flat-leaf parsley if you don’t like cilantro – and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

Lentil curry and how to store it

We recommend serving it on basmati rice, brown rice, cauliflower rice, naan bread, or other types of homemade flatbread.

A dollop of yogurt on top is optional. It adds freshness and tang and a hot-cold combo we love in a curry.

Lentil curry with rice and plant based yogurt

Variations

Cauliflower and lentil 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 with the lentils and cook until tender. You might also need some extra vegetable broth or water, but adjust that as the curry cooks.

Broccoli and lentil curry

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 with 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.

Tofu curry

Tofu curry with white rice

If you want a protein-packed meal, you can use diced tofu and chickpeas to 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.

Chickpea curry

Chickpea Curry and basmati rice

If you don’t have red lentils, you can still make a creamy, tasty, and wholesome curry with chickpeas.

Check out our creamy chickpea curry recipe.

Cauliflower curry

Cauliflower Curry in a bowl with basmati rice

Another delicious variation of this recipe is one with cauliflower florets and chickpeas. This is wholesome, creamy, and delicious, like red lentil curry!

Check out our cauliflower curry recipe.

Use different spices and veggies

Vegetable curry with a silver spoon

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 in with the lentils.

Check out our vegetable curry recipe.

Questions

Do you have to soak lentils for curry?

Unlike dry beans and chickpeas, dry lentils don’t require soaking.

However, if you use brown lentils or green lentils and want to speed up cooking time, you can soak them in water overnight. Split red lentils cook fast and don’t require any soaking.

Learn more in our how to cook lentils guide.

Storage

Make ahead: lentil curry is an excellent recipe for meal prep as it keeps well in the fridge and freezer, and its flavor improves on the second day.

Refrigerator: let the curry cool down, then store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Freezer: let it cool down completely, then transfer to a freezer-friendly container and freeze for up to 3 months.

Thaw: defrost lentil curry in the fridge over several hours or in the microwave following the thawing function instructions of your microwave manufacturer.

Reheat: microwave for a few minutes or in a saucepan with water.

Louise holding lentil curry in her hands

More lentil recipes

More Indian-inspired recipes

For more creamy and tasty curry recipes, check out these proteinrich dinners:

For many more 30-minute meal ideas, check out our 30-minute meal category page.

Lentil curry with white rice and a silver spoon in the curry

Lentil Curry

By: Nico Pallotta
5 from 87 votes
Lentil curry is a creamy, flavorful, and nutritious meal that is easy to make in one pot with simple ingredients.
You’ll love this recipe because of its rich, velvety texture and bold, fragrant flavors. Also, you can make it with minimal effort for a wholesome, warm, and delicious weeknight dinner.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Indian-Inspired

Ingredients

  • tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic grated
  • 1 inch ginger grated
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder optional
  • 1 teaspoon coriander optional
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or more if you prefer a more soupy curry
  • 1 small can (15-ounce) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 small can (14-ounce) coconut milk
  • 1 cup red lentils best if split red lentils
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala optional

Serving suggestions

  • 4 wedges lemon
  • 1 handful cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 tablespoons Greek-style yogurt or unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
  • 2 cups basmati rice

Instructions 

  • Heat 1½ tablespoon olive oil in a large pot. Add 1 medium onion (chopped) and fry it gently for 3 minutes.
    Add 2 cloves garlic and 1 inch ginger (both grated) and fry 1 more minute.
    onion and garlic gently frying in oil
  • Now add 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, ⅓ teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon turmeric powder, and 1 teaspoon coriander, and toast the spices while stirring for a short minute.
    onions and spices frying in a white skillet
  • Add 2 cups vegetable stock, 1 small can (15-ounce) crushed tomatoes, 1 small can (14-ounce) coconut milk, 1 cup red lentils (rinsed with water), then season with 1 teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper.
    coconut milk, lentils and broth in a skillet
  • Stir well, cover with a lid, bring to a boil, then remove the lid and simmer until the lentils are cooked – about 20 to 30 minutes.
    Stir occasionally and add more broth to reach your desired consistency.
    Lentil curry read to serve
  • Stir in 1 teaspoon garam masala and serve the lentil curry on basmati rice with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, freshly chopped cilantro (or flat-leaf parsley) and optionally a dollop of yogurt.
    Lentil curry with basmati rice and cilantro

Video

Red Lentil Curry in 30 minutes

Notes

Nutrition information is an estimate for 1 serving of red lentil curry out of four without the rice.
STORAGE
Make ahead: lentil curry is an excellent recipe for meal prep as it keeps well in the fridge and freezer, and its flavor improves on the second day.
Refrigerator: let the curry cool down, then store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Freezer: let it cool down completely, then transfer to a freezer-friendly container and freeze for up to 3 months.
Thaw: defrost lentil curry in the fridge over several hours or in the microwave following the thawing function instructions of your microwave manufacturer.
Reheat: microwave for a few minutes or in a saucepan with water.
ALSO ON THIS PAGE

Nutrition

Calories: 476kcal, Carbohydrates: 45g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 28g, Saturated Fat: 20g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 5g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Potassium: 1086mg, Dietary Fiber: 18g, Sugar: 7g, Vitamin A: 303IU, Vitamin B6: 1mg, Vitamin C: 15mg, Vitamin E: 3mg, Vitamin K: 13µg, Calcium: 105mg, Folate: 274µg, Iron: 9mg, Manganese: 2mg, Magnesium: 138mg, Zinc: 3mg
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If you liked this lentil curry recipe, you might also enjoy:

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Nico and Louise in the kitchen

Hi! We are Nico & Louise

Welcome to The Plant-Based School, a food blog with easy, tasty, and wholesome recipes.

Our aim is to help you and your family eat more veggies through delicious recipes with simple ingredients.

Easy right?

5 from 87 votes (57 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating




69 Comments

    1. That’s so wonderful Sara. I’m so very honoured that you’ve been with us for more than a year 🥰

      Thank you for you comment, and cooking along with us.

  1. 5 stars
    I thought I made a pretty good lentil curry until I had a bash at yours! It’s absolutely delicious and has become my new go-to choice, it’s not just tasty it’s flavourful. It’s not just thick it’s creamy – and comforting, and everything it should be! Thank you for posting, I am so glad to have this in my repertoire now.

    1. That’s great news, Victoria. I’m so delighted you like the texture and flavor of this curry 🎉

      Thank you for your kind comment, and have a wonderful Sunday. Kindest, Louise

    1. Hi Lauren, It’s not silly at all!

      We use dried split red lentils 🙂 The dried split red lentils they cook fast and turn creamy, giving the dish a rich and smooth texture that is… irresistible 🙂

      Hope that helps. Happy cooking!

      Kindest, Louise