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.
Table of Contents
Dietary Note: This recipe is suitable for a vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diet.
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.
It’s 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!
Ingredients & Substitutions
Quantities are in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to make red lentil curry
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A dollop of yogurt on top is optional. It adds freshness and tang and a 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
More lentil recipes
If you are looking for more tasty and wholesome lentil recipes, check out our:
- Moroccan carrot salad with lentils
- Wholesome lentil pasta (Italian pasta e lenticchie)
- Earthy and cozy lentil soup
- Easy lentil tabbouleh
- Incredible lentil bolognese (with pasta)
- Mediterranean-inspired cauliflower lentil salad
- Lentil sweet potato salad with cumin dressing
- Zucchini boats with lentil filling
For more creamy and tasty curry recipes, check out these protein–rich dinners:
For many more 30-minute meal ideas, check out our 30-minute meal category page.
- 1½ tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic grated
- 1 inch ginger grated
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ⅓ 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
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garam masala optional
- 4 wedges lemon
- 1 handful cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
- 4 tablespoons Greek-style yogurt or unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
- 2 cups basmati rice
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.