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 10 mins
Cook 35 mins
Total 45 mins
5 from 1648 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 1648 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
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 / 400g) can crushed tomatoes (or half of a 28-ounce can)
  • 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).

Calories: 517kcal | Carbohydrates: 45g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 22g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Sodium: 164mg | Potassium: 1113mg | Fiber: 19g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 474IU | Vitamin C: 22mg | Calcium: 141mg | Iron: 9mg

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2,456 comments on Vegan Red Lentil Curry

  1. Meghan

    5 stars
    To the few outliers who say things like this recipe is over hyped- I’m not sure what you did wrong while making it but this sh!t was AMAZING! I had to sub a poblano for the Serrano because that’s what I had on hand. The almond butter was such a clever touch toward the end. LOVE LOVE LOVE this recipe and it will be a staple in our home !

    In the meantime- I need some comparable (in deliciousness-that is), recipes to use my remaining fresh turmeric and ginger in!

    Love and light!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Aw, thanks for the awesome review Meghan! You can try making this tofu tikka masala with your fresh turmeric and ginger! You can also freeze them for future use.

  2. Sherry

    5 stars
    Hi, I know you are in the USA however I live in Canada and was wondering if you could please help me with my question below:
    Can you please tell me what brand curry powder you use as there are so many varieties at the Indian and non-Indian grocery stores and it can get very confusing as to which one to purchase?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Sherry, if you see a bottle labeled Madras curry powder, that is our preference has a little more heat than standard curry powder blends. Our go-to brand is this one: https://amzn.to/3GIRdgi

      1. Sherry

        5 stars
        Kaitlin, Thank you so much for your reply and the link, it was very helpful and can’t wait to try your recipes once I buy the Madras Curry Powder

        Sherry N.

  3. Lauren W

    5 stars
    We make this ALL THE TIME!!! My kids love it!
    We leave out the chilli because of the kids, but it still tastes great. We make this at least once a week, we often do a double batch and freeze some for emergency lunches.
    Goes well with homemade vegan naan bread!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Lovely to hear, Lauren. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Vi

    Love it.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      So glad you do, Vi!

  5. Kay

    5 stars
    Loved it!!!
    Had made two minor changes
    Only had peanut butter – worked fine
    Used 3/4 can of coconut milk, as we prefer it slightly less creamy

    We shall have leftovers which I just know will be amazing tomorrow after extra marination time
    Super happy thanks
    Big fan on YouTube ☮️

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Kay! You’re welcome for the recipe :)

  6. Denisa

    would it be possible to make this in an instant pot, too? and if so, any recommendations on high pressure time?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Denisa, you can definitely make this in an Instant Pot! First, saute the aromatics using the IP Saute setting. Deglaze the pot, and be sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom so they don’t trigger the IP’s burn notice. Add the lentils, coconut milk, and tomatoes (but use fresh tomatoes, 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped; crushed tomatoes from a can will trigger the IP burn notice). Pressure cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. Allow a natural pressure release for 10 minutes, then stir in the almond butter and simmer using the Saute setting for a few minutes to incorporate. Hope that helps!

      1. B

        5 stars
        I made this recipe a few times in I-Pot using crushed tomato from can without difficulty. I stirred everything well prior to adding the lid, Next time I shall try fresh tomatoes!

        1. B

          5 stars
          I would listen to Nisha though! She’s the pro!

  7. Ana

    5 stars
    My family of four love this curry. We just omit chilli and peppers because of the kids. Made it many times. It’s our go to dish when having non vegetarian guests for dinner and all loved it.
    Thanks for mouthwatering recipes!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you for sharing that with us, Ana! You’re welcome for the recipes- we’re grateful for you!

  8. Emma B

    5 stars
    Absolutely incredible!
    I’m a wuss for spice, so left out the chillies and it was then perfect for me! One of the nicest dishes I’ve cooked!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Emma, So glad to hear you loved this recipe!

  9. Shonee

    5 stars
    I have made this recipe 3 times, and love, love, LOVE it!

    Some changes I made to fit my tastes better or to use what I had on-hand:
    – Substituted the cilantro for curly parsley. (taste)
    – Substituted garam masala for half curry powder, half allspice. (on-hand)
    – Used 3 serranoes instead of 2. (taste)
    – Skipped the oil for water sauteeing. (I try to avoid oil used as a cooking method)

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Shonee! :) Wonderful to hear you love the recipe.

  10. Dee

    5 stars
    This indeed a superb red lentil curry. No seriously, it really is! Thank you for this Nisha. Red lentils are a good iron source so anything else you can make with them besides curry’s please 🙏 keep the recipes coming. We are a family of x5 vegans and we all love this curry. You are doing so much good work showing all the world that eating plant based is delicious, you just gotta know what to do and you demonstrate how.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We are so happy to hear you’re such a fan of the recipe, Dee! You can find more lentil recipes here.

  11. Janis

    5 stars
    I’m three days in to exploring a plant-based / vegan lifestyle. This was the first dish that I made for my husband and two kids. It is, by far, the best curry dish I have EVER made, and it’s vegan!! It was so delicious and creamy! Thank you!!! I look forward to trying out more of your recipes.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Woohoo, we’re thrilled to hear it, Janis! Thanks for trying the recipe :)

  12. Andrew

    5 stars
    I am not vegan but this is almost certainly the vegan recipe that I make the most frequently and is in my regular rotation.

    It tastes great and keeps well (in fact I usually don’t eat it the same day I make it — I think it actually tastes better after sitting overnight) and the active prep and cooking time is fairly limited. I particularly love that it doesn’t require sautéing onions or cooking down tomatoes, which I know add flavor but always find a bit of a pain.

    My only tweaks are that I usually omit the almond butter (only because I don’t really use it for anything else, so don’t like to keep it around) and I reduce with the coconut milk for about 50% longer than the recipe states (i.e. 10-12 min)– I find this gets to a texture that I prefer.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Andrew! So cool to learn you’re such a fan of the recipe :)

  13. Tammy

    5 stars
    This dish is in my rotation! Has anyone tried making this in the instant pot?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Lovely to hear, Tammy! You can definitely make this recipe in the Instant Pot!

      You can saute the aromatics using the IP Saute setting. Deglaze the pot, and be sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom so they don’t trigger the IP’s burn notice. Add the lentils, coconut milk, and tomatoes (but use fresh tomatoes, 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped; crushed tomatoes from a can will trigger the IP burn notice). Pressure cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. Allow a natural pressure release for 10 minutes, then stir in the almond butter and simmer using the Saute setting for a few minutes to incorporate. Hope that helps!

  14. Andrea

    5 stars
    I leave out the peppers for my 2 and 5 year old and they love it! Although not recommended, we use peanut butter sometimes and it’s still amazing. Have recommended to many non vegan friends and family who now have it on a weekly rotation. My meat loving sister in law is unable to tolerate meat while pregnant and this has been her go to meal.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  15. Megan mcbride

    4 stars
    I liked the recipe enough to make it again and to check out other recipes on the website. I am not a vegan but I love meals that elevate plant based food without the use of dairy products. I used Kashmiri chili powder which made the dish really vibrant. If I made it again I would double the lentils or half the coconut milk. I found a whole can diluted the curry too much. I tend to freeze my left over coconut milk in ice cube trays for those wondering what to do with the rest of the coconut milk.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Megan. We’re glad you loved the curry! And that ice cube trick is genius!

  16. Joi

    5 stars
    I made this tonight and it was SO delicious! I was skeptical about the nut butter, but wow, it gave so much depth to the dish. I actually used cashew butter. I served over rice with homemade gluten-free naan!

    Thank you for sharing this yummy dish.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Joi!

  17. Katie Parker

    5 stars
    I have made this recipe countless times – I know it by heart now, haha! It’s my go-to easy curry, my “make for non-vegan friends” meal, and is even my 1.5 year olds favorite dish. I double batch and freeze half and it keeps very well.

    I’ve tried little tweaks to spices or veggies here and there and it definitely has some wiggle room but honestly, the recipe is just perfect as is and turns out amazing every time! The warmest hug in food form!!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Amazing, Katie! :) So cool to hear your kid and friends are fans of the curry!

  18. Renee

    5 stars
    Thank you Nisha for another great recipe. The only change I made was to use half the chili powder as mine was hot. I grated a sweet potato as suggested and added baby spinach with the cilantro. Tasty and super easy to make :)

    1. Meredith

      Do you grate in cooked or raw sweet potato!?

    2. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      You’re welcome, Renee! Great to learn you enjoyed the curry!

  19. Philip

    Thanks so much I made this for my family twice in one week!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      That’s so great to hear, Philip! 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!

  20. Dana

    5 stars
    I have made this dish many times, and it is always an absolute delight! The flavor is outstanding! Each time I make this dish, I stick to the recipe exactly as it is written. I’m wondering if I adding tofu at some point would also be tasty?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Awesome, Dana. Tofu could be a lovely addition, definitely!

      Thanks for your comment and for taking the time to review!

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