Lentil Curry

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Lentil Curry is packed with seasoned veggies and tender lentils that have been simmered in fire-roasted crushed tomatoes and creamy coconut milk.

Try some other favorite vegetarian curries; this sweet potato curry or vegetable curry are two of the most popular!

Overhead image of Lentil Curry with a fork beside it, and fresh cilantro and rice on the side.

We’ve been on a serious lentil kick, thanks to this life-changing lentil soup that no one in my family can get enough of. With a big stock of lentils to use up, I finally decided last week it was time to venture past the soup and put those lentils in some kind of comforting and easy curry dish. Enter: Lentil Curry!

While this curry isn’t a showstopper appearancewise, it’s downright delicious and seriously comforting. The warming spices, the hearty texture, and the creaminess from the coconut milk all come together into a nutritious meal that you’ll feel great about eating. Lentil Curry also happens to be a relatively inexpensive meal to make, thanks to how budget friendly lentils are. So let’s start by talking about what lentils you’ll want to use in this curry.

Process shots-- images of the veggies being sautéed; the seasonings and curry paste being added to the veggies.

What lentils to use

While red or orange lentils are found typically in curries, I used the brown lentils I already had on hand, and highly recommend the mild earthy flavor they lend to this curry. You’ll definitely want to use dried (not canned) lentils for this curry, but let’s break down some other options:

  • Brown/green lentils cook quickly (between 20 and 30 minutes) and will thicken the curry nicely. These lentils are firmer with an earthier flavor.
  • Red/orange lentils are more processed and break down quickly (about 20 minutes). They have a softer texture and sweeter flavor. If using red or orange lentils, this curry will simmer for less time (and uncovered).
  • Puy Lentils (French lentils) take nearly 45-50 minutes to cook through and are ideal in salads. I don’t recommend French lentils in this curry; they’d absorb too much liquid and overcook everything else. 
  • Canned lentils, while not recommended, can be used. Rinse and drain them and then cook them in an uncovered pot for less time.

Do you cook lentils before adding to curry?

No! That’s the beauty of this recipe; the lentils are cooked in the curry and are actually what thickens the sauce.

For this recipe, we soak the lentils for 15-20 minutes before cooking. 

Images of the tomatoes, lentils, coconut milk, and broth being added and simmered until thickened.

How to make Lentil Curry

  1. Sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger. The diced carrot is added next and sautéed until golden and tender.
  2. Aromatics: While the veggies are sauteing, I measure out all the seasonings, which then are added to the pot and toasted with the veggies. We toast the curry paste and seasonings to add a depth of flavor.
  3. Tomatoes: The tomatoes are cooked for a couple minutes, and this enhances their sweetness.
  4. Simmer. Finally, it’s time to add the lentils, coconut milk, and broth. The curry will boil and then simmer until everything is cooked through.
  5. Finishing. Once all the lentils are tender and curry is thickened, it’s time to finish the soup with some fresh lemon zest, lemon juice, and cilantro. These three additions add vibrancy and freshness to the dish! 

Serve this curry over rice

We love this lentil curry over cooked basmati rice. Below is my foolproof way to cooking it:

  • Measure the basmati* rice and rinse it in a fine-mesh sieve until the water runs clear.
  • Place the rice in a bowl and cover it with water to soak for about 5-10 minutes.
  • While the rice is soaking, fill a large pot with water and set to boil.
  • When the water reaches a rolling boil, drain the rice and add it to the pot.
  • Cook without reducing the heat, for 5 minutes; then drain and fluff with a fork.

*Note that these cooking directions do not work for other rice varieties (long grain, short grain, jasmine, etc).

Overhead image of the dish in the pot, ready to be served.

Tips

  • Finely dice the veggies: You don’t want any chunks of uncooked carrot or onion, so take your time to be certain the veggies are diced finely and evenly.
  • Use fire-roasted crushed tomatoes: The tomatoes make a big difference flavor-wise so I recommend a good quality of fire-roasted tomatoes. This type of tomato is charred over a flame before being crushed and canned. Contact with that flame brings out the tomato’s sweetness and gives a distinct smoky flavor; essentially you’re getting more flavor without any extra work.

Lentil Curry customization

  • Add spice: If you want a spicier curry, increase the red curry paste to 3 tablespoons and/or add in some red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper (to your preference; start slowly and increase as desired). As written, this recipe is very mild depending on the curry paste used — I use Thai Kitchen.
  • For a more Thai-flavored curry, stir in a few teaspoons to a tablespoons fish sauce at the end (do not add if vegan/vegetarian).
  • Make it vegan or vegetarian: Use vegetable broth or stock in place of the chicken broth.
  • Decrease the calories: While it won’t be quite as creamy, light coconut milk will work in place of the full-fat coconut milk.

Overhead image of Lentil Curry in a bowl, with t.he rice on the side and fresh cilantro on top

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Lentil Curry

5 from 11 votes
Lentil Curry is packed with seasoned veggies and tender lentils that have been simmered in fire-roasted crushed tomatoes and creamy coconut milk.
Print Recipe

Lentil Curry

5 from 11 votes
Lentil Curry is packed with seasoned veggies and tender lentils that have been simmered in fire-roasted crushed tomatoes and creamy coconut milk.
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine Healthy, Vegan, Vegetarian
Keyword lentil curry
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Calories 411kcal
Cost $6.39

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter or melted coconut oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups finely diced yellow onion (~1 small onion; 1/2 large onion)
  • 1 cup finely diced carrot (~1 large carrot)
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic (~3 cloves)
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoon finely minced ginger (~1 inch piece)
  • 2 tablespoons red curry paste (I use Thai Kitchen which is vegetarian & mild spice)
  • 1 tablespoon yellow curry powder (See Note 1)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon EACH: garam masala, paprika, ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 cup green or brown uncooked lentils (See Note 2)
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) coconut milk (lite or regular)
  • 3 cups chicken stock or broth (Use vegetarian broth or stock to keep this vegetarian/vegan)
  • 1/3 cup finely diced cilantro
  • Optional: zest and juice of a lemon
  • Optional: serve over cooked basmati rice (See Note 3)

Instructions

  • PREP: Measure the lentils and pick over to remove debris or shriveled lentils, and then thoroughly rinse with water. Add them to a bowl, cover them in room-temperature water and let soak for 15-20 minutes. Prep the veggie:; finely dice the onion and carrot; finely mince the garlic cloves and finely mince the ginger.
  • SAUTE: Add the 3 tablespoons butter or oil to a large pot. Heat to medium and once the butter is melted or oil is shimmering, add in the 1 cup onion, 1 tablespoon garlic, and 1 and 1/2 tablespoon ginger. Cook and stir for 3-4 minutes. Add in the 1 cup diced carrot. Cook, stirring occasionally for another 6-8 minutes or until everything is golden. Nothing should be overly browning or burning; if so, turn down the heat. While everything is cooking, measure out the spices.
  • SPICES AND TOMATOES: Add the 2 tablespoons red curry paste, 1 tablespoon yellow curry powder, 1 and 1/2 teaspoon garam masala, 1 and 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1 and 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon cumin, and 3/4 teaspoon turmeric. Season with salt and pepper; I add 1 and 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper. Increase the heat to high, and stirring constantly, cook for 1-2 minutes or until very fragrant. Add in the tomatoes and reduce the heat to medium. Stir and cook for 1 minute, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any browned bits. Add in 1 teaspoon sugar.
  • LENTILS AND LIQUIDS: Thoroughly drain the lentils. Add to the pot along with the can of coconut milk and 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth/stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer. Cover with a lid and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 8-10 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 5-8 minutes or until curry is thick and creamy and lentils are completely tender. If the mixture thickens too much, add a splash of broth or stock and if it's too thin (or lentils aren't tender), increase the heat a bit and simmer without the lid.
  • FINISHING: Add in the 1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro and if desired, stir in the zest and juice of a lemon. Taste and adjust any seasonings; flavors should sing, so add extra salt,pepper or lemon juice if needed. Serve over cooked basmati rice if desired (Note 2) and enjoy hot.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: I use McCormick or Simple Truth Organic or Great Value Organic -- all of which are very mild, but curry powders vary in spice so add slowly if you are concerned.
Note 2: I use brown lentils in this recipe; green lentils will cook the same. For canned lentils, drain and rinse them; they'll cook in about 20-25 minutes (uncovered the whole time). Red or orange lentils will cook in about 20-25 minutes (uncovered the whole time). I do not recommend using French lentils; they won't cook correctly in this curry.
Note 3: Here's how I cook basmati rice:
  • Measure the basmati rice (this method doesn't work with other varieties) and rinse  in a fine-mesh sieve until the water runs clear.
  • Place the rice in a bowl and cover with water to soak for about 5-10 minutes.
  • While the rice is soaking, fill a large pot with water and set to boil.
  • Once the water is at a rolling boil, drain the rice and add it to the pot.
  • Cook, without reducing the heat, for 5 minutes; drain and fluff with a fork.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 4servings | Calories: 411kcal | Carbohydrates: 43.8g | Protein: 16.3g | Fat: 21.4g | Cholesterol: 22.9mg | Sodium: 543.1mg | Fiber: 7.8g | Sugar: 6.8g

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16 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Oh man, I love lentils. I do NOT make them enough. I really need to fix that. This curry looks just delicious. I am adding it to my menu for next week.

  2. This looks delicious and I love lentils. Have you ever cooked the entire bag of lentils at once? What would be your suggested recipe adjustments if so? Thank you.

    1. I haven’t ever done an entire bag at once! I think you could double this recipe, but I wouldn’t do more than just doubling it.

  3. 5 stars
    I’m usually just a lurker on food blogs but I have to say THANK YOU so much for this recipe. I’ve made it three times since you’ve posted it, and it’s the first healthy meal I cook that I find myself craving. The zing of the lemon zest is delightful.

  4. 5 stars
    I used green lentils.. soaked 1/2 hour.. added more spices to my liking.. boiled then simmer 45 minutes.. lentils weren’t cooked all the way.. my sister liked it crunchy .. I did not care for them.. great flavors tho

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