Red Lentil Curry

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This luxurious, fan favorite Red Lentil Curry will get you truly excited about lentils! It’s an ultra-creamy and gourmet Indian-inspired meal made in one pot with pantry staples. Whip it up on a weeknight in 45 minutes!
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 35 minutes
Total 45 minutes
5 from 2252 votes

Does indulgence come to mind when you think of lentils? Probably not. But that will all change after your first bite of this vegan Red Lentil Curry!

It’s a gourmet-tasting yet weeknight-friendly meal that packs rich and decadent flavors into a simple one-pot recipe. Using pantry staples, like red lentils, coconut milk, aromatics, ground Indian spices, and almond butter, this hearty lentil curry comes together in a snap. One spoonful and you’ll understand why it has over 1,800 5-star ratings!

Table of Contents:
1. Why this recipe works
2. Ingredient notes
3. Step-by-step instructions
4. Tips for making this recipe
5. Variations
6. Frequently Asked Questions
7. Recipe card with notes

Why this recipe works

Creamy, dreamy, and flavorful

Red lentils are pros at softening and practically melting into curries, stews, gravies, and soups, and are often used in traditional Indian dals (which this recipe is a loose adaptation of). 

This makes them the perfect match for this lentil curry. Unlike green or brown lentils, they take on a heavenly melt-in-your-mouth texture and give the dish its signature smooth texture.

The curry is given a boost of indulgence when full-fat coconut milk and creamy almond butter are added. These two rich ingredients change the dish for the better, transforming it from thin and spicy to a well-balanced, ultra-creamy, and family-friendly meal.

And with a handful of aromatics and a generous dose of ground Indian spices, this lentil curry takes on the classic (and addictive) Indian flavors you know and love.

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Deeply nourishing

You may think of this red lentil curry as comfort food because of its ultra-rich and indulgent flavors. However, it’s made with wholesome ingredients (which you can find at most grocery stores!). 

Red lentils make this a hearty, protein-packed meal. You’ll also stay full for hours from the fat in the coconut milk and almond butter. As a bonus, the aromatic trio of garlic, ginger, and turmeric infuses it with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

So while it may not taste healthy, you can feel good about getting a hefty dose of plant-based protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in every bite. Head to the FAQ section to learn more about the benefits of this rich and hearty dish.

1,800+ 5-star reviews!

This recipe has been a fan favorite for years, gathering over 1,800 5-star ratings! This is what readers are saying about it:

Dianne says, “This was the most incredible recipe! I absolutely loved it and it came out magnificently!”

Abhik says, “So easy to make and delicious! It’s the first curry I’ve been able to make and definitely going to be one that I make again and again!”

Emily says, “I just made this dish for my family for dinner & it was amazing! Everyone thought it was delicious. It was so quick and easy to make which is super helpful. Also very filling and satisfying. This is definitely going to be a go-to dish for me now!”

Ingredient notes

Red lentil curry ingredients in various bowls on a wooden cutting board.

Red lentils

No surprise here – red lentils are the star ingredient! When simmered in a creamy curry, vegan bolognese sauce, or hearty soup, red lentils break down and become super soft. This results in melt-in-your-mouth bites you just couldn’t achieve with any other type of lentil.

You can use either regular red lentils or split red lentils to make this recipe. Split lentils are more commonly available in South Asian grocery stores, often labeled as masoor dal. They also tend to cook a bit quicker than whole lentils because their skins have already been removed.

Substitute: Use yellow split lentils (moong dal in Indian grocery stores) instead of red lentils. I wouldn’t recommend green or brown lentils, as they don’t break down in the same way, so the texture will be different. 

Aromatics

The lentils may be the star of the show here but they (and the rest of the curry) would not be anywhere near as flavorful without the Holy Trinity of aromatics: garlic, fresh ginger, and green chiles (serrano or jalapeño peppers). They form the base of endless Indian dishes and curries, including my Chickpea Curry and Vegan Curry with Tofu recipes.

Fresh turmeric

Turmeric is a staple in Indian curries. Compared to dried turmeric, fresh turmeric is 10 times as flavorful and offers an abundance of earthy, peppery, and slightly bitter notes. 

Where to buy: You can find fresh turmeric at Indian and South Asian grocery stores, health food stores, and well-stocked grocery stores, like Whole Foods and Sprouts. It looks just like ginger but has bright orange flesh. 

Substitute: It’s totally fine to use 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric if you can’t find it fresh. The curry will still be delicious!  

Ground Indian spices

This is a weeknight-friendly lentil curry, which is why we’re using ground spices instead of whole. You need a simple blend of cumin, coriander, Indian red chili powder, curry powder, garam masala, salt, and pepper

The spices are toasted/bloomed in the oiled skillet after sautéing the aromatics, which brings out their hidden flavors and, ultimately, makes your curry much more layered and flavorful.

Substitute: If you can’t find Indian red chili powder (lal mirch), you can use 1 teaspoon of regular chili powder instead.

Coconut milk

A can of full-fat coconut milk is stirred in at the end, giving the curry an essential luxurious component. Its creaminess and high-fat content help balance the entire meal and temper the strong spicy, acidic, and tangy flavors. The curry wouldn’t be as family-friendly without it.

Substitute: If you are looking for a lighter meal, you can use light-coconut milk, but the curry won’t be as creamy. Also, it may be too spicy, so go easy on the green chile peppers. 

Almond butter

It may not be a traditional ingredient in Indian curries or dals, but almond butter brings another level of richness to this curry, along with the coconut milk. Plus, its subtle sweet nutty flavor is just lovely and adds that special something. North Indian curries sometimes rely on blended cashews to bring creaminess… so it’s not that different, right? 

Make sure you use natural smooth almond butter in this recipe. Crunchy almond butter is harder to incorporate and might leave chunks of almond butter behind. Also, avoid flavored almond butter because it has additives, like sugar, oil, salt, and emulsifiers, that will affect the flavors in the curry.

Substitute: 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 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.

Nut allergy? Use tahini instead of almond butter.

Cilantro and lemon juice

Two finishing ingredients that enliven every bite and add a pop of freshness to the curry. 

Step-by-step instructions

Sauté the aromatics. Melt the coconut oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot and shimmering, add the garlic, ginger, fresh turmeric, and Serrano pepper. Sauté until they’re soft and fragrant.

Add the spices and let them toast for up to 1 minute to bring out their hidden flavors.

Deglaze the skillet with the vegetable broth, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom. Pour in the lentils and crushed tomatoes next. Stir to combine.

Turn down the heat and cover the pan with a lid. Let the curry simmer until the lentils are mostly softened.

Stir in the coconut milk, almond butter, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking.

Continue cooking until the curry is thick and creamy.

To finish, stir in the lemon juice and cilantro, then turn off the heat. Serve the curry with rice and Indian flatbread, and enjoy!

curry in skillet topped with cilantro.

Tips for making this recipe

Rinse and pick through the lentils

There may be small pebbles and specks of dirt in your bag of lentils, so pick through the lentils and rinse them under water before starting this recipe.

Play with the spice level

There are a handful of ways to find your perfect spice level here, whether you love heat or can’t tolerate spicy food whatsoever:

  • No spice: Omit the fresh chile peppers altogether.
  • Less spice: Use only one Serrano pepper (membranes and seeds removed) or one jalapeño pepper (membranes and seeds intact; jalapeño peppers are less spicy than Serranos). 
  • More spice: Use two serrano peppers with the membranes and seeds intact (this is what I do). It sounds spicy, but the coconut milk does a lot to balance the spices. 

Puree the curry

You can give the curry a smoother and ultra-creamy consistency by pureeing about half of the curry with an immersion blender.

The equipment matters

The cook time will vary slightly depending on the type of pan you use and the variety of lentils. The lentils will cook even faster (about 20-22 minutes) if you make the curry in a wide, shallow pan like this (affiliate link). A soup pot or Dutch oven will cause them to cook slower (about 30 minutes). 

Also, as mentioned earlier, red split lentils will cook a bit more quickly than standard red lentils.

Variations

There are plenty of ways to customize this curry, either with added veggies or plant-based proteins. Check out the variations below:

  • Fold in roasted or steamed sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes, or roasted cauliflower when you add the coconut milk.
  • Add baby spinach or other tender greens in the last few minutes of cooking. 
  • Try sautéing onion and/or a few carrots before adding the garlic, ginger, and turmeric for more dynamic flavors.
  • Try adding quick-cooking vegetables when you add the coconut milk, like peas, green beans, or mushrooms.
  • A can of chickpeas will give the curry a ton of protein! Add them in when you add the coconut milk.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you 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 4300 reviews on Amazon. Check it out!

Is red lentil curry healthy?

The whole foods that make up the ingredients list make this vegan curry a superbly wholesome meal. You’ll never know it, though, because of the dangerously delicious and indulgent flavors. 

Red lentils pack this dish full of plant-based protein (about 18 grams per 1 cup), iron, fiber, potassium, and many more vitamins and minerals. Turmeric is also a nutritional superstar with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Its main compound, curcumin, not only blocks damage-causing free radicals in the body but also stimulates the body’s antioxidant mechanisms.

What should I serve with this?

The best and easiest way to serve red lentil curry is with a side of white basmati rice, although cooked brown rice or a whole grain like farro or quinoa would be nice as well. A batch of Homemade Vegan Naan is perfect for scooping up the soft lentils and savory gravy, but if you don’t have the time, store-bought pita or vegan naan works fine too. Garnish every bowl with cilantro or fresh mint for even more freshness, then dig in.

How do I store this lentil curry? Can I freeze it?

To maintain freshness and the layers of flavors, store the leftover curry in an airtight container in the fridge. It should last for up to 3 or 4 days. The curry freezes well, 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!

Red Lentil Curry

5 from 2252 votes
This luxurious, fan favorite Red Lentil Curry will get you truly excited about lentils! It’s an ultra-creamy and gourmet Indian-inspired meal made in one pot with pantry staples. Whip it up on a weeknight in 45 minutes!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
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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4.98 from 2252 votes (734 ratings without comment)

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3,416 comments on Red Lentil Curry

  1. Anna

    5 stars
    Amazing recipe, I’m definitely adding this one to my weekly dinner rotation! Thank you 😊

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Anna!

  2. Marj Hall

    5 stars
    Thanks for an epic recipe, this curry is amazing, it’s on repeat at my place 😋 I pimp it out with veggies too, it’s so flavourful 👏😊

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Marj, So glad to hear you loved the curry! :)

  3. Stacey Hosier

    5 stars
    This was incredible! So cozy and the perfect level of spice. Can’t wait to make it again! Thank you!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  4. Lorraine

    5 stars
    I don’t know how many times I did this curry but it’s a 10/10 with everyone !

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for the lovely feedback, Lorraine!

  5. Karo

    5 stars
    I have been following your videos and recipes for some time now and finally want to start saying thank you by commenting on the recipes I use. I love the way you season your dishes (you cannot go wrong with 4+ cloves of garlic of course). Every recipe I have tried so far has been a success not only with me but also my partner. The Lentil Curry above is amazing – complex and satisfying taste while requiring only pantry staples and little to no cooking skills. We make it when we run out of fresh vegetables and still want to feel like eating something hearty and nourishing. 5 stars!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thank you so much for trying the recipes, Karo, and we’re thrilled you especially enjoyed the curry :)

  6. Ruth Stevenson-Owen

    5 stars
    An absolutely phenomenal curry. I didn’t have almond butter so I pureed cashews with a bit of oat milk. Just fabulous flavors. Thank you so much!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Ruth! :) You’re welcome!

  7. Leesa

    5 stars
    Delicious and easy, thanks! Here for the third time, it’s my top meal prep, I could eat it twice a day every day! Does anyone add veggies? I’m trying sweet potato and spinach this time.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Leesa, you’re welcome for the recipe- great to learn you enjoyed it! And as for veggies: besides sweet potato and spinach- kale and mushrooms are nice additions!

  8. Danno

    5 stars
    The instructions were so great even I made this and it was perfect!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  9. Jess K

    5 stars
    Amazing, all 3 of my kids ate it without complaining…it’s a win! Will definitely make this again!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Lovely to hear, Jess! :)

  10. Drew

    5 stars
    This recipe is amazing and has been in regular rotation at our home. I like to make it for people who say they don’t like curry, because it always changes their mind! Even super picky eaters end up loving it! It comes out great every time, you can really count on this recipe.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  11. Karena

    5 stars
    Love, love, love this recipe , Nisha! It freezes so well too! I make double and put half in the freezer for another day.Great with roasted potatoes as well!
    Thank you for all your hard work.
    We also love your tofu scramble recipe and make it every weekend!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Karena, So glad to hear you love the recipes! :)

  12. Sydney

    I’m making this tonight and wondering if there is a nut-free sub I could use in place of the almond butter? Would tahini or sunflower butter work?

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Sydney, tahini works well!

  13. David

    5 stars
    I made this for the umpteenth time tonight. I water sauté the aromatics, instead of coconut cream I blend oats, almond milk, and coconut extract. Gotta watch my sat fat. Thank you again for this great recipe. My church loves it at our pot lucks.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re delighted you’re such a fan of the recipe, David! Thanks for sharing :)

  14. Liz

    I’m making this tonight and I only have peanut butter not almond butter, can I use that instead?

    1. David

      5 stars
      I use peanut butter. Seems to work.

    2. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Liz, in our opinion peanut butter is a bit too strong, but cashew butter and tahini both work well.

  15. De Schraf

    5 stars
    SO fantastic!! I played around with the spices since I know which I like and which I don’t. Still amazing 🤩

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      De Schraf, So glad to hear you loved this recipe!

  16. Esen

    5 stars
    This is really tasty.
    A few notes:
    I used only half the coconut milk and half the almond butter to make it a bit lighter . Worked just fine.
    Added spinach. Would definitely make again.
    One note: my lentils almost burned because the water was absorbed at only 10 minutes, but they weren’t yet cooked through, so make sure to check on them!

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      We’re happy you loved it, Esen! Interesting about the lentils, sounds like the water was boiling too much so the liquid evaporated?

  17. Lisa murphy

    Luv luv luv this curry. Always freeze half so I have a few super fast meals on nights it’s “too hard” to think or cook (basically I feel lazy 😂)✨✨✨🧡.
    Anyone I share this with also totally enjoys it.
    Immense gratitude Nisha

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Lisa, we’re thrilled to hear you enjoyed this recipe! We’re so happy you love it enough to share :)

      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!

  18. Claire

    5 stars
    I made this recipe for the first time for dinner tonight after work and it has made my day! Such a delicious culmination of flavours and I’m eating it out of the pan as I type. Thank you for such delicious recipes :)

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

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

  19. Gabi

    5 stars
    This curry is amazing!
    I have made this recipe too many times to count, and it has never failed.
    I have made it with chilli flakes instead of fresh chilli’s, I have made it when I didn’t have curry powder or garam masala, and another time when I didn’t have any ginger, and every single time it turns out incredible.
    My friends and family love it too.
    And as a bonus, it is super easy to make.

    1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Thanks for sharing, Gabi! We are so happy everyone enjoys the recipe :)

  20. Kristen

    I made this recipe tonight and the flavours were delicious! First time cooking with red lentils. Mine turned out very watery, almost like a soup. Wondering where you think I went wrong for next time? Thanks!

    1. Ryeu Fatovic

      Hi professional Chef here, When i look at this recipe the only things i see that would make it watery are if you had a 28oz can of tomatoes and while splitting it for the recipe you added half the tomatoes but all the liquid, or you measured the broth or coconut milk incorrectly. but besides that there is not much liquid in the recipe and next time see if it turns out better its all about experience and after enough time you will just know.

    2. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

      Hi Kristen, we’re happy you enjoyed the curry! The first step would be to check to see if you used the correct measurements: Did you use a full cup of lentils, 2 cups vegetable broth and 14 oz of crushed tomatoes? The next thing I’d suggest is to check the cooking temperature. The heat could have potentially not been high enough to cook off the excess liquid in order to thicken it up. I hope we can figure it out so you can get it just right next time!

      1. Kristen

        5 stars
        Thanks very much! I realized I needed a better lid (was using tinfoil) and it wasn’t getting hot enough. I made it again today with the right lid and it was not watery and was delicious!

        1. Kaitlin @ Rainbow Plant Life

          That’s great to hear, Kristen!

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