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!).
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 (if using) 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.