This lentil curry is AMAZING! It’s warm, satisfying, mega creamy, SO comforting and also happens to be nutritious and vegetarian too – all made in one pot!!
This lentil curry recipe is sensationally delicious, ridiculously easy and will satisfy even your toughest critic! It’s loaded with exotic spices, tender lentils, sweet potatoes, carrots, bell peppers and cauliflower all simmered with crushed tomatoes, fire-roasted tomatoes and creamy coconut milk. The emerging coconut lentil curry is unabashedly flavorful and layered with both indulgently creamy and hearty textures that will make your taste buds swoon. This lentil curry recipe is made with easy to find ingredients, versatile veggies and takes less than an hour from start to finish, and most of that time is hands off simmering! It also makes fabulous leftovers to meal prep or freeze. Serve this lentil curry over rice, cauliflower rice, zoodles, etc. with Greek yogurt and naan and prepare for restaurant delicious lentil curry!
We are huge fans of curry over here. From coconut curry, to yellow curry, to green curry to red curry, but today I’m excited to share Indian inspired lentil curry as opposed to my Thai inspired recipes. It will knock your socks off!
Lentil Curry Recipe
Welcome to lentil curry! Even if you aren’t a huge lentil fan or don’t cook a lot with lentils, I can almost guarantee you will love this lentil curry recipe. Because, what’s not to love?! Lentils are delicious, healthy, filling, inexpensive, the world’s greatest source of plant-based protein and downright spectacular in this lentil curry recipe. In fact, I took leftover lentil curry to some friends (because my husband was out of town) and received a text that it was, “sooooooooooo good” with subsequent swooning every time I’ve seen them since.
Here’s what makes this lentil curry recipe “sooooooooo good:”
SO creamy and Nutritious!
This lentil curry recipe is rich and lusciously creamy due to the coconut bath, sweet potatoes and the lentils which translates into mega comfort food – but it’s still nutritious!
It’s not often that a recipe comes along that tastes indulgently creamy but you can still feel good about eating it – thank you lentil curry. I’ve also amped up this recipe by adding additional veggies such as carrots, bell peppers, sweet potatoes and cauliflower – because they taste amazing – but also happen to be healthy too!
I am not vegetarian but this recipe just happens to be accidentally vegetarian and is easy to make vegan by using vegetable broth. This might come in handy for your vegetarian family and friends or those Meatless Mondays. Still, the lentils boast such a tender, hearty, satisfying texture that you won’t even miss the meat! The cauliflower also adds a dimension of texture that elevate this coconut lentil curry to next level.
Easy and Delicious One Pot Wonder
This lentil curry is swaddled in a tomato-coconut bath infused with ginger, garlic and mesmerizing Indian spices such as turmeric, curry powder, coriander and cumin. It tastes like it’s been simmering for hours but is on your able in less than 60 minutes with only one pot to clean!
Versatile and inexpensive
I’ve made this coconut lentil curry recipe with my favorite vegetables but you can use whatever veggies you love or omit them altogether. You can also make this lentil curry more or less spicy, garlicky, gingery, etc. This lentil curry recipe also happens to be a relatively inexpensive meal thanks to budget friendly lentils.
Makes great leftovers
This lentil curry is a great to double or triple for meal prep, make ahead or freezer meals because it makes great leftovers! It reheats beautifully and also freezes well for instant thaw-and eat dinner.
What Lentils to Use
You’ll want to use dried lentils for this recipe. I used dried green lentils for this recipe and loved their peppery taste but you still have some other options:
- Green/brown lentils: are what I recommend for this lentil curry recipe because they thicken the curry nicely while still retaining their shape and tender texture without complete breaking down. Green lentils will boast a peppery flavor and brown lentils will boast more of an earthy flavor. They both require the same cooking method of simmering the curry covered for 15 minutes then 20-25 minutes uncovered.
- Red/orange lentils: are mildly sweet and nutty. They come split which means they are more processed and cook more quickly. They tend to become soft and even slightly mushy when cooked so they are best reserved for thickening soups and purees, when you don’t want to taste the distinct lentil texture. If you want to use them for this recipe, simmer uncovered for 20-25 minutes (add sweet potatoes with the coconut milk) and skip the initial 15 minute covered simmer.
- Puy Lentils (French lentils): are one third the size of green lentils but they take the longest of all the lentils to cook. They are ideal in salads because they retain their shape and hearty texture. I do not recommend puy lentils in this curry recipe; they don’t soften and break down like other lentils so you won’t get the same creamy, thick consistency.
- Canned lentils: are not recommended for this coconut lentil curry, but you can use them in a bind. Canned lentils come cooked, so you’ll want to cook them for less time. Use two 15 oz. cans, rinse and drain, then simmer uncovered for 20-25 minutes (add sweet potatoes with the coconut milk).
How to cook with lentils
Lentils are pretty straightforward to use in this lentil curry recipe, but here are some answers to commonly asked questions:
Where do I buy lentils?
Dried lentils should be easy to find at any grocery store located near the other beans. I usually purchase mine at the bulk bins at Sprouts.
How do I Store Dried lentils?
Dried lentils should be transferred from their plastic bags to an air-tight container to withstand any insect damage. Label and store in a cool, dry place such has the back of your pantry, then rotate through your your lentils using the oldest first.
How long will dried lentils last?
Dried lentils are best for up to two years, but can last indefinitely. According to the United States Agency for International Development, “if stored properly in a cool, dry place, they have a minimum shelf life of one year, keeping indefinitely and withstanding harsh or tropical environments.”
Even though lentils have the potential to last for years, they will start to lose some of their nutritional value after 2 years until all but depleted of nutrients by 5 years.
Also note that the age of lentils will affect their cook times. Old lentils will require more time to cook; newer lentils will require less time to cook. Very old dried lentils can even take double the cook time! So, don’t be alarmed if your lentils aren’t cooked in the allotted time. Simply add additional water or broth as needed until the lentils are tender.
How do you know lentils have gone bad?
Lentils can spoil, even when dried, due to bugs or moisture. Discard lentils that have discolored, are moldy, smell sour or “bad.” Lentils should have a mild, earthy smell, so any other smell means something is off.
Do You Soak Lentils Before Adding to Curry?
Nope! No need to plan ahead and soak the lentils. Simply rinse the lentils to remove any dust or debris then use directly in the recipe.
Do You Cook Lentils Before Adding to Curry?
No, please don’t! The lentils cook directly in the curried coconut milk and crushed tomatoes so they soak up the wonderful flavor. Cooking the lentils in the curry is also what make the curry so rich and creamy; as the lentils cook and break down, they thicken the sauce.
lentil CURRY recipe INGREDIENTS:
The ingredients for this lentil curry recipe might look lengthy but most of them are spices! I promise the recipe is super simple – simply sauté the onions and carrots, followed by the ginger, garlic and all spices/seasonings then dump in the rest of the ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Lentils: as previously discussed, dried green lentils are my favorite to use in this recipe. You may also use dried brown lentils.
- Yellow curry powder: this is the curry powder you find in the spices section of your grocery store. It will probably be labeled “curry powder” and not “yellow curry powder.” The beauty of yellow curry powder is that it’s a combination of many ingredients that result in delightfully complex flavors – but all the work has been done for you! Curry powder typically contains ground turmeric, ground coriander seeds, ground cumin seeds, ground galangal, ground fennel seeds, ground mustard seeds, ground peppercorns, ground cloves and chili powder.
- Spices: the curry powder is enhanced by a bevy of additional spices. Cumin powder, dried coriander, paprika, dried basil, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, salt and cayenne pepper round out the flavor profile. Use more or less to taste.
- Aromatics: onions, ginger and garlic elevate the lentil curry flavor profile and are essential to all curries.
- Coconut milk: if you want to instantly elevate your curries, use Chaokoh coconut milk – my absolute favorite brand (Not a paid endorsement)! I love it so much that when my grocery store stopped carrying it, I started purchasing it on Amazon. Chaokoh is creamier than any other brand I’ve tried by FAR and therefore results in the most lusciously creamy, comforting lentil curry ever.
- Chicken broth: use low sodium chicken broth so we can control the salt. Chicken broth is more flavorful than vegetable broth, so I wouldn’t swap it out unless you’re vegan.
- Crushed tomatoes: you will need one 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes (often called crushed tomatoes in puree). Take care your crushed tomatoes don’t have any additional seasonings or salt added. I recommend the brands San Marzano, Cento and Muir Glen.
- Fire roasted diced tomatoes: are located next to the traditional diced tomatoes. Fire roasted tomatoes are NOT spicy – the fire simply means they have been roasted which gives them a complex smokiness and less acidity AKA more flavor without extra effort!
- Vegetables: carrots, red bell peppers add sweet potatoes add sweetness to balance the tomatoes. The sweet potatoes add additional creaminess and the cauliflower adds sensational texture. I do not recommend skipping the cauliflower – it makes the curry!
- Sugar: just a teaspoon or so to balance out the acidity. I recommend tasting at the end and adding more if needed.
- Powdered ginger and garlic: if you don’t have fresh ginger and garlic on hand and need to make this lentil curry NOW (I get you), you may substitute with powders. Use 1 tsp each and add with curry powder.
- Crushed tomatoes: If you can only find a 28 oz. can, use roughly half the can and freeze the rest.
- Diced tomatoes: If you can’t find fire roasted diced tomatoes, then traditional diced tomatoes work just fine.
DO YOU HAVE TO USE FULL-FAT COCONUT MILK?
I don’t insist on full fat coconut milk but I HIGHLY suggest it if you would like restaurant-style creamy, flavorful coconut lentil curry. Light coconut milk simply isn’t as thick or flavorful so you’re missing out on both flavor and texture. If you do use light coconut milk, I suggest adding 1 tablespoon cornstarch to help thicken it up.
Is lentil curry GLUTEN FREE?
Yes, this lentil curry recipe is gluten free!
HOW TO MAKE LENTIL CURRY RECIPE
This lentil curry recipe takes about 60 minutes from start to finish, but it’s only about 20 minutes of effort between prepping the ingredients and sautéing the ingredients, then it’s just simmering with occasional stirring. Here’s a step by step look at how to make this recipe (full ingredient measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):
- Step 1: Sauté onions and vegetables. The first step to building a flavorful curry is to sauté the onions and carrots over medium heat for 6 minutes. Cooking them over lower heat creates a sweet, savory base.
- Step 2: Bloom the curry with the garlic and ginger. The key to unlocking curry’s full flavor potential, all of the spices, is to “bloom” them. This is essentially toasting the curry in oil which helps the flavor emerge or “bloom” – and it makes a HUGE difference. We also add the bell peppers, garlic and ginger at this point which intensifies their flavor.
- Step 3: Add lentils, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, broth and coconut milk and simmer. Stir in the ingredients, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a gentle simmer over low. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring halfway.
- Step 4: Stir in sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes are optional, but so good! After you add them, continue to cook, covered, for an additional 15 minutes, stirring halfway for a total of 30 minutes simmering covered.
- Step 5: Stir in cauliflower and simmer uncovered. Again, the cauliflower is optional, but HIGHLY recommended. I think it makes the lentil curry. After the curry has been simmering for 30 minutes covered, uncover and add the cauliflower or uncover and simmer if not adding cauliflower. Simmer uncovered for an additional 5-10 minutes OR until the lentils and potatoes are tender and the curry is thick and creamy.
- Step 6: Stir in the cilantro. Add as much or as little cilantro as you desire. Serve over basmati rice with a dollop of yogurt.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR COCONUT LENTIL CURRY
- Use dried green or brown lentils so your lentil curry doesn’t turn into mush.
- Use full fat coconut milk for the most luxuriously creamy lentil curry – Chaokoh is the best!
- Chop the sweet potatoes small enough so they’re done cooking at the same time as the lentils. If you want to chop the sweet potatoes larger, add them to the curry sooner so they simmer for longer.
- Use fire roasted diced tomatoes for added smoke sweet flavor.
- Ginger pro tip. I like to freeze ginger so it’s always at my fingertips. To freeze ginger: grate it, spread it by the teaspoon or tablespoon on parchment paper and flash freeze until solid, about 1 hour. Transfer to an airtight container or plastic bag for up to 6 months. You can add frozen ginger directly to your stir fry.
- Measure out the spices while you’re sautéing the onions so you don’t have to pause and measure out each spice when the recipe calls for them.
- Adjust to taste to make it YOUR favorite coconut lentil curry. Taste and season with additional salt, cayenne or sugar to taste. I like ¼ tsp more salt and ½ tsp more sugar.
- Control curry consistency. If the lentil curry is too thick, thin it out with additional broth. If the lentil curry is too thin, continue to simmer uncovered until thickened to desired consistency. You don’t need to worry about the lentil curry becoming mushy with green or brown lentils.
LENTIL CURRY RECIPE VARIATIONS
- Customize spice level. If you feel like the lentil curry is missing something, it is probably heat! The curry is mild without any cayenne pepper, even with the curry powder. Adding ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper will be mild to medium and ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper will be medium to spicy.
- Add vegetables. Coconut lentil curry traditionally is only simmered with aromatics and sometimes carrots but I love adding vegetables for added flavor and texture. Feel free to add any of your favorite vegetables such as zucchini, squash, spinach, etc. Most vegetables will only require a few minutes of simmering, so add them with the cauliflower.
- Add protein. You can add uncooked chopped chicken, cubed pork tenderloin, fish or shrimp. For chicken and pork, brown with the curry powder and simmer with the curry to finish cooking. For fish or shrimp, cook separately and add back to the curry at the end of cooking. You can also stir in cooked protein (great way to use up leftovers) the last 5 minutes of cooking to warm through.
- Add tofu. Use extra firm tofu and prep by placing it in a pie plate, topping with a heavy plate and weighing down with 2 heavy cans (to release water). Set aside for 10 minutes to drain. After 10 minutes, cube the tofu. Sauté the tofu in oil until crispy then set aside. Gently stir into the lentil curry the last 5 minutes of cooking.
- Add coconut. Garnish with toasted sweetened coconut for extra coco-nutty yum.
- Make it vegan. Use vegetable broth or stock in place of the chicken broth. I only recommend this for vegans because chicken broth is more flavorful than vegetable broth.
- Use light coconut milk: If you’re looking to save some calories, you can use light coconut milk whisked with 1 tablespoon cornstarch. It won’t be quite as flavorful or creamy as full-fat coconut milk, so please adjust your expectations.
- Adjust acidity. Add additional sugar as needed to cut through the acidity. You may need additional sugar if you use regular diced tomatoes instead of fire roasted diced tomatoes.
What to serve with lentil curry?
Lentil curry is traditionally served with basmati rice, naan and dahi (Indian yogurt) or raita We go simple at our house with store-bought naan and Greek yogurt, but you are welcome to go homemade.
Rice soaks up the flavorful sauce and also offers a neutral textural component to both highlight and mellow the flavorful sauce. In addition to basmati rice, you can also use jasmine rice, plain white rice or brown rice.
For low car options, serve lentil curry with cauliflower rice, quinoa, broccoli rice or a blend of brown rice and any of the aforementioned options. You can also use low carb noodles such as zoodles or spaghetti squash.
DAHI or RAITA
Yogurt or yogurt-based sauces are the quintessential accompaniment to Indian curries designed to take the edge off the heat and cut through the richness of the curry. They play a huge role in your lentil curry experience, so please don’t skip!
Indian curries often served with either a cooling, creamy, yogurt called dahi made from cow or water buffalo milk or cucumber, yogurt-based raita. You can make a simple raita (recipe below), seek out Indian dahi (a brand called Desi Dahi is good) or a dollop of plain yogurt will also work great (I like thick Geek yogurt).
To make Raita, combine the following:
- 2 cups plain yogurt
- 1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped out with a spoon, and grated or finely chopped.
- 1/2 cup chopped mint leaves
- 1 large garlic clove, finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Lastly, naan is a yeast-leavened Indian bread, traditionally baked in a tandoor, a clay oven, and is widely available at most grocery stores. Once you’ve secured your naan, you’ll want to warm it up a bit for optimal taste and texture. Warm naan will be soft whereas cold naan can be rigid, dry and even crumbly.
- Microwave: stack up to 5 pieces of naan on a microwave safe plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 30 seconds on high, then repeat at 10 second intervals if needed until warm and soft.
- Oven: create separate stacks of about 5 pieces of naan, then wrap each stack in a damp paper towel, then wrap up in foil. Place on a backing sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes or until heated through.
CAN I MAKE COCONUT LENTIL CURRY AHEAD OF TIME?
Absolutely! This coconut lentil curry tastes even better the next day as the flavors have time to build and meld which makes it fabulous for meal prep or on-the- go lunches. For meal prep lunches, simply divide the curry between airtight containers along with rice, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. I like to put the rice on top of the curry so it stays fresh.
HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT LENTIL CURRY
- Storage: lentil curry should be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When stored properly, it is good for up to five days.
- Microwave: transfer small portions to a microwave safe dish, heat for one minute, stir then continue to heat at 30 second intervals.
- Stove: for larger portions, rewarm gently in a large skillet, stirring often. You can microwave the rice as you’re warming the lentil curry on the stove.
CAN I PREP THIS RECIPE AHEAD OF TIME?
Absolutely! You can prep all of the ingredients ahead of time so you can get right to cooking this lentil curry. You will want to keep whatever ingredients you are adding at different stages separate from one another but ingredients added at the same time can be stored together:
- Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container/bag.
- Chop the onions and carrots and store together in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Chopped red bell peppers, ginger and garlic can all be stored in the same airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Peel and chop the sweet potatoes and place in a bowl submerged with cold water in the refrigerator to prevent browning due to oxidation.
- Chop the cauliflower and store in a separate airtight container.
- Within the next 48 hours, proceed with the recipe without any of the prep!
CAN I FREEZE LENTIL CURRY?
Yes! This lentil curry recipe freezes well because the base of the sauce is coconut milk instead of dairy. Transfer lentil curry to an airtight container or freezer bag and squeeze out excess air; freeze for up to three months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating per directions.
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