Sometimes you can’t beat the classics and this easy coconut lentil curry is flavorful and fast for weeknights!
This recipe is very budget-friendly and extremely satisfying to eat! Serve it with rice and you’ve got yourself a complete meal. I had mine with a mixture of forbidden rice and wild rice, because I just love the color and flavor of those purplish black grains (and I’m trying to jam pack my meals with soluble fiber), but obviously regular rice would be the classic choice here!
How to make lentil curry
This lentil curry is simple – you only need a few ingredients:
- Lentils. You can use any type; black, green, brown, yellow or red. Red lentils will be softer and mushier while other types of lentil will hold their shape more. Pictured in these photos are red lentils, but green lentils are used in the video, so I can confirm both are delicious!
- Coconut milk. The creamy element that brings the curry together!
- A few spices. Most grocery stores sell a garam masala blend these days, but if not, you can grab it at an Indian store, buy it online or even make it yourself! I favor garam masala over curry power because it has a little bit more complexity and less sweetness. It is also more similar to spice blends used in authentic Indian cuisines.
- Tomatoes. You can use canned or fresh tomatoes, either is great!
- Garlic, onion, and ginger. These aromatics form the backbone of the sauce. If you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh turmeric, throw that in too; it’s wonderful here.
The keys to a delicious lentil curry
Pre-cook the lentils separately. We all love a good one pot meal; unfortunately that just doesn’t work well for lentil curry because cooking lentils and tomatoes together in the same pot will produce tough, crunchy lentils that don’t soften in the center. That’s because of the acidity in the tomato causing the lentil skins to seize.
It’s a bit more pricey, but you can use canned lentils, which will return this lentil curry to One Pot Meal status!
Toast your spices. If you haven’t cooked this way before, you’ll appreciate the added flavor that comes from toasting your spices directly in the oil, rather than stirring them into the dish later on. The spices are oil-soluble so this method will bring out their flavor and help to disperse it evenly throughout the dish.
This technique is the same type of thing that would be done in an authentic dal and it makes a big difference!
Lentil curry variations and additions
If you want to make this without coconut milk, you can try cashew cream as discussed in my tofu tikka masala recipe.
I always serve my curry with a side of rice. Sometimes I use cauliflower rice if I’m craving something lighter. Or forbidden rice (pictured), wild rice, or brown rice if I feel like mixing up the flavor and texture a little bit!
There’s not a whole lot of point to making this in the crockpot, slow cooker or Instant Pot – it comes together pretty quickly on the stovetop. Most of the work is prep. I set a timer and including getting the lentils and rice both started in the cooking process, it took me 15 minutes to prep everything.
If you’re cooking green or black lentils to use in the curry you could toss those in the Instant Pot, or you could use the IP for your rice!
You can add all sorts of veggies. Wilt in greens like spinach or kale toward the end, add heartier vegetables like sweet potato or cauliflower toward the beginning. Feel free to experiment. Happy lentil curry cookin’!
Easy Coconut Lentil Curry
A classic coconut curry with lentils, inspired by Indian flavors. This lentil curry is easily made by simmering lentils, tomatoes, spices, and aromatics with coconut milk. Serve with rice for a naturally vegan and gluten-free meal (soy-free and nut-free too!).
- 1 cup dried lentils
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 1 onion diced
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 inch fresh ginger peeled and minced or grated
- 1 tbsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric (or use 1 inch fresh turmeric root)
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 large tomato diced (3/4 cup)
- 1 and 1/2 cups full-fat coconut milk (one 14-oz. can)
- 2 tbsp lime juice (plus more to taste)
Add the lentils to a saucepan and add 3 cups of water with a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a steady simmer and partially cover. Cook for about 20-25 minutes (shorter if using red lentils), stirring occasionally, until completely tender. Add extra water if they begin to dry out. Drain excess water after cooking.
Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is softened, 4-5 minutes. Add the cumin seeds and coriander seeds and stir well. Cook for another 60 seconds.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the garlic and ginger; stir and cook for 60 seconds or until fragrant. Stir in the garam masala, turmeric, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and salt. Cook for 30-45 seconds more to toast the spices.
Add the tomatoes to the pan and stir well. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3-5 minutes or until the tomatoes are starting to break down and dry up a little bit. Stir in the coconut milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low.
Add the cooked lentils (if they aren't yet done, keep the heat on very low while you wait). After adding the lentils, simmer the lentil curry for about 10 minutes or until reduced slightly. Stir in the fresh lime juice. Season to taste with additional salt (I used about another 1/3 teaspoon at this point) and lime juice (I used another 1 tbsp). Serve hot, over rice or other accompaniments of choice, and garnished with chopped fresh cilantro.
TO ADD HEARTY VEGETABLES LIKE SWEET POTATO OR CAULIFLOWER: Cut the veggies into bite-sized pieces, and add them after the initial step of cooking the onion and whole spices, but before adding the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes until the vegetable is softened a little bit. It can then finish cooking when the lentil curry is brought to a boil and simmered.
TO ADD QUICK-COOKING VEGETABLES LIKE SPINACH: After simmering the lentil curry, turn off the heat, stir in the spinach, and cover the pan. Remove the lid after 2 minutes, or when the spinach is wilted to your liking.
Other curry recipes from the blog: