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
5 from 885 votes

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.

And if you already love this curry, I have more delicious curries for you to try!

For more Indian flavors, this Vegan Pumpkin Curry with Tofu is packed with protein and totally delicious. Or if you’re looking for something different (but still in the curry family), this Thai Butternut Squash Curry with Chickpeas is a fan favorite. Like the Red Lentil Curry, both recipes are weeknight friendly and totally delicious.

And if you own an instant pot, I have a number of curries in my cookbook, The Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook.

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.

Need another use for those red lentils in your pantry? My 10-Ingredient Red Lentil Bolognese is a must-make (and pantry-friendly!).

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

You can also view a web story of me making the the red lentil curry here.

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

If I could only cook one dish for a vegan skeptic…
If I could only cook one dish for a vegan skeptic…

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 2600 reviews on Amazon. 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

5 from 885 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
Diet Vegan
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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1,247 comments on Vegan Red Lentil Curry

  1. John

    5 stars
    Wow! This is delicious!!!!!! I like the heat, the texture and with the surprise of the nut butter and lemon, I have a new go to recipe. Thank you!!
    Now, let’s have a look at some more of your recipes…..

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, John!

  2. Steph

    5 stars
    Last time I went to India (b.c. – before Covid) I came back with a suitcase full of lentils and spices. I am so glad I stumbled over your channel as I adore Indian cuisine. My family is too German for it, but I enjoy it so much! I’m looking forward to having the rest tomorrow, even better than today. Love love love😍😍😍

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Great, Steph! Thank you for sharing :) Happy to hear the recipe is a hit!

  3. Becky

    5 stars
    This was great! I have taught myself a few Indian dishes during Covid, and many of them are pretty involved, but worth the effort in the end. I really appreciated this recipe required very little prep, and just had to do most of the work while simmering. I ended up making it saucier than intended by using a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, but I really liked it that way, and I used peanut butter because I didn’t have almond butter. My husband says (and I quote) “It had so many layers of flavor and every bite was a little different and really good!”
    We’re trying to incorporate more meatless meals into our rotation, and this is a definite keeper.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Happy to hear this curry was your family’s choice for a meatless meal! Thanks for trying it :)

  4. Lora

    5 stars
    I have never commented on a recipe before but for this one I had to! This recipe will be made over and over again at my house. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Lora. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  5. Erin R

    Oh this recipe is delish! My husband grew up in Sri Lanka and he told me that when I make this recipe, it tastes better than when he makes dahl!
    Quick question – can I substitute green lentils for red? I’m out of red (horror!!) and I really want to make this before I have a chance to go to the store again.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      That’s so great to hear, Erin! You can substitute green lentils, but they won’t become as mushy and will hold their shape, and they will also take longer to cook. Hope that helped!

      Next time, would you mind leaving a rating alongside your review? Star ratings are big help to readers who are thinking of making the recipe. Thanks!

  6. Marci Carlson

    5 stars
    I am making this tonite, the third time in the 4 weeks since I discovered this recipe. I am adding butternut squash and some extra roasted garlic today. Honestly this spice mixture makes an awesome base for all kinds of additions. The smell is amazing…nomnom. (and I am not a vegan)

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Glad you’re enjoying this recipe despite not being vegan, Marci! We hope the butternut squash were a lovely addition :)

  7. Celia Laval

    5 stars
    It is so goood!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Celia, So glad to hear you loved this recipe!

  8. Sophie

    5 stars
    I cooked this last week. I added spinach and a few chickpeas for good measure as i had them in. Oh my god, the flavours where amazing. The peanut butter in it was unbelievable. So creamy and warming. Perfect for winter nights. I’m making it again tomorrow but going to add butter nut squash as i have a half of one that needs using up. Totally worth trying if you like a good curry and it is versatile so you could probably add anything that needs using!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Sophie! Glad to hear you love the curry!

  9. Hannah Cui

    5 stars
    This is an amazing recipe and turned out sooooooo tasty! All the flavors mix so well together and we loved it. Now I’m going through all of your other recipes and making note of what we want to try next. Thanks Nisha!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Great, Hannah! So glad the recipe was a hit and we hope you enjoy all of the other recipes you try :)

  10. Carole N.

    5 stars
    My family loved this. I doubled the recipe and only changed by adding a little sugar. My granddaughter had 3 servings and called her dad to tell him how great dinner was! She hates everything! LOL. I will definitely make this again.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Carole, So glad to hear you and your family loved this recipe!

  11. PamE

    5 stars
    I have to say this is one of my most favourite lentil curries. It is so rich and comforting. The first time I cooked it I used Cashew Butter as I didn’t have almond butter and it was delicious. Its on my repertoire of recipes to cook whether I am wanting to impress dinner guests of just cooking a meal for my husband and me.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, PamE. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

  12. Vanessa Griffin

    5 stars
    Literally sitting at our dining table having just finished eating this glorious curry. Followed the recipe to a T and it was delicious!! The lentils were cooked beautifully. Balance of flavours were spot on. We absolutely loved it. Thank you!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Great, Vanessa! Thanks for trying the curry, we’re delighted you enjoyed the curry as much as you did!

  13. Randi F.

    5 stars
    This recipe was a GEM! My hubby and I are not vegans but we love a wonderful vegan dish at least 2-3 times a week. Absolutely, packed with layered flavor, decadent experience, nutritious, and better the next day?? WINNER. I followed the recipe with a few flavor variances for our tastes(more garlic, spicy curry, extra cilantro). Perfect! Thank you!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Great, Randi! Thanks for sharing!

  14. Shania

    5 stars
    I’m Indian and used to my mom and grandma’s amazing food- so I’m hard to please. (Additionally non-vegan but most dal’s are vegan if you omit/sub ghee/cream anyways.) All this is to say that I LOVE this recipe. I thought it might be bland or the spices might be dimmed because it caters to all palettes, not just those who are used to spicy, masala-heavy food. But boy was I wrong. Everything is super flavorful and the chili gives it a kick (I used the small green chilis available at every Patel Brothers). Topped with some lemon juice, diced red onion and a pat of butter and this was SUCH a hit. Possibly better than my mom’s, but don’t tell her that!
    The only tweak I’d make it to use 2/3 the amt of ginger next time because I’m not particularly fond of it.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Shania, So glad to hear you loved this recipe and thank you for the thorough review!

  15. Deb Zerbel

    This curry is amazing! Just the right amount of everything. Comforting, filling and good for your body:) I’ll share this with everyone I can.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Deb, we’re thrilled to hear you enjoyed this recipe! Next time, would you mind leaving a rating alongside your review? Star ratings are big help to readers who are thinking of making the recipe. Thanks!

  16. Lori Jans

    5 stars
    My whole family loved this, (Even my steak eating husband). Thank you! I look forward to using all these spices again.

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Always a great day when the non-vegans sing praise to the vegan meals! Thanks for sharing, Lori!

  17. Lisette

    4 stars
    I have made this dish a number of times and the whole family enjoys it every time. I saw afterwards that you have to add the coconut milk later and not immediately as I have always done. ;) Is that a problem for the taste or texture of the dish? It might taste EVEN better if I do it differently next time, haha

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Lisette, the coconut milk doesn’t need too much time to cook, but if you love the recipe you’ve been making it, no need to change what you’ve been doing lol!

  18. brenbrenbren

    5 stars
    I made the red lentil curry for the first time today and omg, it’s so good!
    My grocer didn’t have red lentils so I used brown and lightly blended everything together to eat over rice. The texture was still really good so if you can’t find red lentils it’s worth going ahead and making it anyway. :-)
    I topped mine with cilantro, lemon, parsley and TJ’s garlic spread <333 5 stars! Thank you rainbow plant life!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing! Glad you enjoyed :)

  19. Beth Campagna

    5 stars
    I made this lentil curry for dinner tonight. Oh my…so delicious and filling!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Beth!

  20. Idy Moeller

    5 stars
    I absolutely love this dish, my children 12 & 6 love it as well (I omit the serrano peppers). I followed the recipe exactly several times that now I can make this from memory.
    It’s an easy “Meatless Monday” meal, some Naan bread and a little jasmine rice for the win!!

    1. Support @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Idy. Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

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