Vegan Red Lentil Curry

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This Vegan Red Lentil Curry is a fan favorite and the BEST lentil curry you will ever try! It’s easy and quick, making it a perfect weeknight dinner! Plus, it’s creamy and indulgent but made with wholesome vegan ingredients!
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
Total Time: 45 mins

When you hear lentils, you probably don’t think of decadence. You probably think of healthy, nourishing, and if we’re being honest, maybe even boring. But, I’m here to change your perception of lentils with this ultra creamy, ultra indulgent Vegan Red Lentil Curry that comes together in a snap.

This recipe has been a fan favorite for the last 2 years, so I figured it was time to update the blog post and give it a video too!

overhead shot of red lentil curry with naan and rice on the side

Here’s why you’ll love this Vegan Red Lentil Curry

Weeknight ready: It’s ready in 35-45 minutes so you can easily make it for a weeknight dinner.

Creamy and dreamy: This curry is extremely creamy and indulgent. You can thank the full-fat coconut milk and the creamy almond butter for that.

Flavorful beyond belief: It’s packed with flavor thanks to the fresh garlic, ginger, and chili peppers, along with a generous dose of Indian spices.

Nourishing: This red lentil curry might be dangerously delicious and indulgent, but it’s also quite nourishing. The garlic, ginger, and turmeric boast tons of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, while the lentils make this a hearty, protein-packed meal. Plus, you’ll stay full for hours due to the high content of healthy fat from coconut milk and almond butter.

overhead shot of required ingredients for curry

Ingredient Rundown

Aromatics. This curry starts with fresh ginger, garlic, and green chili peppers to provide lots of those classic Indian flavors. My mom starts most Indian dishes with these ingredients (sometimes, onions too), so you can’t go wrong with this trio!

Turmeric. Most Indian lentil curry recipes contain turmeric. And why not? It’s a nutritional superstar with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. The main active in turmeric—curcumin—not only blocks damage-causing free radicals in the body but also stimulates the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms.

I love using fresh turmeric in this recipe. It’s earthy and peppery, slightly bitter yet slightly sweet. It looks like ginger but its interior flesh is bright orange. You can find fresh turmeric at Indian and Asian grocery stores, health food stores, and the produce department of stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts.

That said, it’s totally fine to use ground turmeric in this recipe! I’ve made it both ways, and it’s always delicious.

Ground Indian Spices. While I love adding some whole spices to my Indian recipes, I wanted to keep this recipe weeknight friendly and very accessible. You’ll add the spices after sautéing the aromatics, and they need just 30 to 60 seconds to toast.

Red Lentils. The main ingredient in this recipe are red lentils, no surprise! You can use regular red lentils, or red split lentils. The split variety is more commonly available in South Asian grocery stores, and sold as masoor dal. The split lentils cook a bit quicker than the whole variety because their skins have been removed, but there isn’t a huge difference in cook time.

Crushed Tomatoes. I prefer to use crushed canned tomatoes (instead of diced tomatoes or fresh tomatoes) because I love their thick, saucy texture in a creamy curry.

Coconut Milk. I use full-fat canned coconut milk in this recipe, and I must say it’s an essential ingredient. The creaminess and high-fat content not only makes this curry extremely luxurious, but they are also necessary to balance the spice and tanginess in this curry.

If you taste the curry before adding the coconut milk, you’ll notice it is quite acidic (from the tomatoes) and very spicy, almost too spicy to eat. But after the coconut milk cooks down for a few minutes, it transforms into a totally different dish.

Almond Butter. This is my secret ingredient! Almond butter is definitely not traditional in Indian curries, but many North Indian curries do rely on blended cashews to bring creaminess…so it’s not that different, right? The almond butter brings another level of richness to this curry, in addition to a subtly sweet nuttiness that is just lovely.

Lemon Juice and Cilantro. My mom finishes many of her Indian dishes with these ingredients—the lemon juice adds a pop of freshness and livens the flavors, as well as helps balance the spices, while the cilantro adds flavor—so I usually finish my curries this way too.

red lentil curry with naan bread, cilantro, and rice on blue table

How to make this Vegan Red Lentil Curry

First, gather your ingredients.

flatlay of curry ingredients

Dice up your ginger, garlic, chili peppers, and turmeric (if using fresh).

diced garlic, ginger, peppers, and turmeric on a cutting board

Sauté the ginger, garlic, chili peppers, and turmeric (if using fresh) in hot oil for about 2 minutes, until fragrant.

ginger, garlic, turmeric and chili peppers being sauteed in paan

Then, add the ground spices and cook for 30-60 seconds, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

ground spices being sauteed in pan

Deglaze with the vegetable broth, then add in the red lentils and crushed tomatoes.

vegetable broth, red lentils, and crushed tomatoes being added to pan

Simmer, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked through.

red lentil curry simmering in saute pan

Stir in the coconut milk and almond butter.

coconut milk and almond butter added to pan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue cooking, uncovered, for 5 to 8 minutes, until the curry has thickened.

coconut milk and almond butter being added to red lentil curry

Finally, stir in the lemon juice and cilantro, and season to taste.

lemon juice and cilantro being added to red lentil curry

Tips for Making this Vegan Red Lentil Curry

Don’t skimp on the garlic and ginger and spices. This is what infuses the dish with tons of flavor!

If you can’t tolerate spicy food whatsoever, you can omit the chili peppers. If you can handle a little heat, use one Serrano pepper (remove the seeds) or one jalapeño pepper (keep the seeds; jalapeño peppers are less spicy than Serranos). If you can handle a moderate amount of heat, try one serrano pepper with the seeds intact. And if you really like things on the spicy side, use two Serrano peppers, with seeds intact. This is what I do :)

If you can’t find fresh turmeric, just substitute 1 teaspoon ground turmeric and add it with the other ground spices. The easiest way to mince fresh turmeric (and ginger) is by using a microplane or a small cheese grater.

If your can of coconut milk is not mixed well (i.e., the solid cream part is very distinct from the liquid part), you might want to first pour the milk into a large bowl and whisk to break up the clumps. That’ll make it easier to whisk the milk into the curry.

Make sure you use smooth almond butter, as it’ll be harder to incorporate crunchy almond butter into the curry and you might end up with chunks of almond butter.

The cook time will vary slightly depending on the type of pan you use and the variety of lentils. When I make this in a wide, shallow pan like this, the lentils get softened and cooked through more quickly (about 20-22 minutes) than when I use a soup pot or Dutch oven (closer to 30 minutes). Also, as mentioned earlier, red split lentils will cook a bit more quickly than standard red lentils.

hand dipping naan bread into red lentil curry

Vegan Red Lentil Curry Recipe Video

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use another nut butter besides almond butter?

Cashew butter would be the next best option, as it’s equally creamy and neutral in taste. Peanut butter might overwhelm the other flavors in this dish, but if it’s the only option you have, I recommend starting off with a smaller amount (1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons, instead of 3) and taste as you go. That said, many users have made it with peanut butter and enjoyed it. And for a nut-free option, you can try tahini.

Can I freeze the leftovers?

I’ve probably only frozen this recipe once because it’s my partner’s favorite, so he usually eats it within a day or two. That said, it does freeze pretty well, and I’ve had many readers freeze it with good results.

Can I use water instead of vegetable broth?

Yes! Just add a tad more salt, as needed.

Can I add vegetables to this curry?

Many readers have added sweet potatoes when adding the lentils (I recommend grating them so they melt into the texture-it’s so good!), as well as mushrooms or greens like spinach when adding the coconut milk. You could add in quick-cooking vegetables when adding the coconut milk, or for extra protein, you can add in a can of chickpeas at this time.

Can I make Red Lentil Curry in the Instant Pot?

Yes! I have a recipe for how to make this recipe in the instant pot in my cookbook, The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook. The cookbook has 90 more nutritious (and colorful!) recipes you can make easily with the magic of an instant pot pressure cooker. It’s currently rated at 4.7 stars with over 2000 reviews. Check it out!

close-up shot of red lentil curry with naan and rice in background

More Recipes You Might Like

In the mood for more curries? Check these out:

And if you’re looking for more lentil recipes, well, I have loads of those for you, too!

If you give this Vegan Red Lentil Curry recipe a try, be sure to tag me on Instagram with your recreations and please comment with your feedback below!

Vegan Red Lentil Curry

4.94 from 145 votes
This Vegan Red Lentil Curry is a fan favorite and the BEST lentil curry you will ever try! It’s easy and quick, making it a perfect weeknight dinner! Plus, it’s creamy and indulgent but made with wholesome vegan ingredients!
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
Total Time: 45 mins
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: curry, lentils, spicy
Serving size: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon refined or virgin coconut oil, or a neutral-flavored oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced or grated
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh turmeric, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1-2 serrano peppers, diced (see recipe note below on spice level)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon Indian red chili powder (if you only have regular chili powder, which is a blend, use 1 teaspoon)
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • Kosher salt or sea salt to taste (I use about 1 tsp kosher salt, and add more at the end)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup (180-190g) red lentils, or split red lentils (the split variety will cook a bit quicker)
  • 2 cups (480 mL) low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 14 ounce (400-425g) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 13.5- ounce (400 mL) can full-fat coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened creamy almond butter
  • 1/2 a small lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 cup (~8g) fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • For serving: Basmati or Jasmine rice and Indian flatbread such as roti, paratha, or naan

Instructions

  • Rinse the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear.
  • Heat a large, deep skillet or large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the coconut oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the garlic, ginger, fresh turmeric (if using), and Serrano pepper and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent garlic from burning.
  • Add the cumin, coriander, chili powder, curry powder, garam masala, salt, and black pepper to taste, and cook for 30 to 60 seconds until fragrant, tossing frequently to prevent burning. If using ground turmeric instead of fresh turmeric, add the ground turmeric now, along the the rest of the spices.
  • Pour in the vegetable broth, and use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Add in the lentils and the crushed tomatoes and mix well. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan with a lid. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked through and have mostly softened. If you find that the lentils are not quite soft after 25 minutes, add a few spoons more of broth or water and cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Remove the lid and stir in the coconut milk, almond butter, along with salt and pepper to taste Continue cooking on low heat, uncovered for 5 to 8 minutes, until the curry has thickened and is creamy.
  • Finally, stir in the lemon juice and cilantro, and turn off the heat. If you want your lentils to even creamier and more on the puréed side, use an immersion blender to lightly purée the curry.
  • Serve the curry with rice and/or Indian flatbread and garnish with additional cilantro. Store leftovers in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Notes

  • If you can't tolerate spicy food whatsoever, you can omit the chili peppers. If you can handle a little heat, use one Serrano pepper (remove the seeds) or one jalapeño pepper (with the seeds), and if you really like things on the spicy side, use two Serrano peppers (with seeds intact).

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268 comments on Vegan Red Lentil Curry

  1. Jennifer

    5 stars
    Delicious and very easy to make!

  2. Amber

    5 stars
    I made this recipe last night, and WOAH, was it ever good! I paired it with some jeera rice I’d made in my instant pot which worked perfectly. I used one de-seeded serrano pepper and thought the spice level was perfect. Spicy enough that you feel like the food is a party for your whole mouth/throat, but not so spicy as to ever make you feel uncomfortable or feel like you have to be chugging water while you’re eating it. Will be making again and again, I’m sure!

  3. Paul

    4 stars
    Excellent, rich dal. For everyday use, I think I’ll use light coconut milk and thicken it with a little tomato paste. The full-fat version is delicious, but a little too rich, especially for someone who eats dal all the time. One question. Almost every Indian cookbook I’ve read screams at you to avoid using “curry powder” at all costs and to always mix up your own masala. Here, you call for standard masala spices, but also put curry powder in. What spicing are you wanting from the curry powder? I avoid the stuff because it is often unbalanced, and can be very salty. Some of them have huge amounts of fenugreek which changes the flavor of the whole dish. If we don’t want to use it, what would you suggest instead? Thanks for a delicious recipe!!

  4. 5 stars
    This was one of the tastiest meals I have ever made, vegan or non vegan!! I was feeling very frustrated with vegan options at home and I decided to try a vegan meat loaf and it was pure awful!! The entire family thought so!! I stumbled across this gem and it certainly didn’t disappoint! Another thing I Love about this is the cost to make, IT’S DIRT CHEAP!!!

    Sending you nothing but positive vibes and kindness from beautiful Prince Edward Island, Canada!!

    1. Thank you for your kind words and so happy you loved this red lentil curry, Chris! Always awesome when the whole family loves the whole meal. Sending warm wishes from California!

  5. Rachel

    5 stars
    This was delicious even though I had to modify a fair amount based on the ingredients I had available. I didn’t have fresh ginger so I used powdered and I also did not have garam masala. I didn’t have any peppers but am looking forward to adding them next time because I love spicy food. I had to use a can of tomato sauce instead of crushed tomatoes because it is what I had. Despite having to substitute a lot, this dish was still amazing! I ate two full bowls with rice and it’s taking all my willpower not to go get another.

  6. Melanie

    5 stars
    Is this the best red lentil curry I’ve ever tasted? Yes. I have tried many red lentil dishes both in restaurants and homemade. This has to be the best one. I travelled to India last year and I have many spices that I was able to use in this recipe. I just love everything about it – how easy it is to make, the flavors, how it makes enough to eat all week. I would recommend that anyone makes this recipe whether you are vegan or not.

    1. Thank you so much for the rave review, Melanie! So awesome you’ve traveled to India and brought some spices back with you. Thanks for your feedback!

  7. Alithia

    5 stars
    I’ve already made this 3 times in the last month, it’s delicious! Thanks for this accessible, easy and tasty recipe!

  8. Midnight

    5 stars
    This is recipe one in my new year goal to start incorporating plant based/meatless options into my diet. I grew up on heavily processed foods and meat and I want to start with healthy but attainable steps to make some change.

    I’m very pleased with the lentils. I’ve had a bag sitting in the pantry for too long untouched. The spices and flavour are on par with the quality of a restaurant or take out dish. It was affordable. It was a straightforward recipe (although I think I needed to stir it more). It was filling. It’s a winner in flavour, ease of cooking and accessibility plus my mother had two helpings. I would make a smaller portion for the future because there’s only one of me but I will freeze any leftovers.

    I think I’m starting out strong and I would recommend this to any meat-eater looking for a plant-based option.

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