You can make a full-bodied, silky vegan lentil curry from scratch even if you aren't a seasoned cook. With a truly simple homemade masala paste, this curry just sings with warming spiced flavour.
Got 40-minutes? Then you've totally got this.
This recipe was originally posted on April 20, 2020 and updated with new images, instructions, tips and serving suggestions on July 25, 2021.
Ingredients & Substitutions
Aromatics. Fresh ginger, garlic, chilli and onions create a classic Indian base for this flavourful vegan curry.
Ground and dried spices. Garam masala, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon and smoked paprika work together to give this curry warmth and depth. I toast whole seeds but I have also included the amounts for ground spices in the recipe card below.
Fresh tomatoes. I love using fresh tomatoes in this lentil curry but you can use canned diced or crushed tomatoes too. Crushed tomatoes give this curry a smoother texture.
Red Lentils. No surprises that the hero of this vegan red lentil curry is red lentils. You can use either split or whole red lentils. Split lentils, Masoor Dal, have had their skin removed and will cook a touch faster. Either is fine.
Coconut Milk. I have made this curry with both full-fat and light coconut milk. While light is fine, full-fat coconut milk does deliver a more luxurious texture and balances the acidity of the curry better.
Vegetable Stock. To off-set the creaminess off the coconut milk, I add vegetable stock to this vegan red lentil curry. The stock adds even more depth of flavour and cuts through the fattiness of the milk.
What Exactly are Lentils?
So, what is a lentil?
Source: Well and Good
Now that lentils are your new best friend in the kitchen, let's get a nourishing vegan curry on the table in around 40-minutes. Yes?
How to Make Vegan Lentil Curry
You'll find full instructions and measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post.
1. Make Your Homemade Masala Paste
If making your own curry paste feels daunting, it's really not. I like things simple and this paste is no exception. It's thrown together in the food processor.
I use toasted whole cumin and coriander seeds but I've also provided the measurement for pre-ground spices in the recipe card below.
Once the paste is made you simply add the other ingredients to your pan one and a time, to fully develop the warming curry flavours.
2. Prepare the Lentil Curry
Steps 1 and 2. Sauté half an onion in a large pan until soft before adding the curry paste. Cook for 2-3 minutes and add your fresh or canned tomatoes to cook for another 5 minutes.
Steps 3 and 4. After the tomatoes are cooked down (image 3.) add the lentils and stir through.
Steps 5 and 6. Stir in coconut milk and stock and cook for around 20-25 minutes or until the lentils are cooked through and tender.
Note: If you'd like to add vegetables like cauliflower or sweet potato to your vegan red lentil curry, add them now to make sure they cook through.
Step 7. Add fresh baby spinach to the pan and allow it to wilt before serving.
And boom. A silky, luxurious, spiced bowl of goodness made from scratch.
Tips to Making the Best Lentil Curry
Serve this vegan lentil curry on its own or with freshly cooked basmati rice. It also goes beautifully with pudina chutney, naan or papadums.
To add freshness and vibrancy, serve your lentil curry with a good squeeze of lime or lemon juice and a smattering of coriander. So good!
Store any leftover curry in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 or 4 days.
To freeze it, transfer the curry to a freezer-proof, container and allow to cool completely without the lid on. After cooling, pop on a lid, label it with the date and transfer to the freezer for 2-3 months. To thaw, move the container to the fridge to thaw.
Sure you can, although I don't find it as readily available. Use 3 tablespoon of store bought or simply whip up the easy recipe below and use it all.
Totally. Use a full 400g (14 oz) can of chopped tomatoes instead of the fresh ones. The flavour will be slightly different but nothing to sweat about.
Indeed. Allow the finished dish to cool completely before popping it in a freezer proof container and freezing for up to 3 months.
You can but you will need to pre-cook them first. I love red lentils because they don't require soaking and cook quickly within the dish. I use them in my 5-ingredient pumpkin lentil soup with ginger. They're just so easy. If you wanted, you could make this dish with canned lentils or chickpeas.
Yup. Just make sure you add enough salt to lift those flavours.
More Curries From the MGK Archives
Want more plant-based goodness?
Silky Vegan Lentil Curry Recipe
- food processor
For the masala paste
- 1 and ½ teaspoon cumin seeds or 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 and ½ teaspoon coriander seeds or 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 2 and ½ teaspoon garam masala
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 inch ginger thumb peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 long red chilli chopped
- 1 onion half chopped for the paste, ½ finely sliced for the curry
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoon sunflower oil or any neutral flavoured oil
For the curry
- 1 tablespoon sunflower or any neutral flavoured oil
- 4 tomatoes chopped (or a 400ml can of crushed tomatoes)
- 1 cup red lentils
- 270 ml coconut milk
- 400 ml vegetable stock
- 2 cups baby spinach or another leafy green
- pinch salt
For the Paste
- To make the masala paste with seeds, add the cumin and coriander seeds to a dry fry pan and toast over low to medium heat for around 2 minutes or until fragrant. Watch the pan so you don't burn the seeds. Once toasted, grind the seeds to a powder in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
- Add the cumin and coriander to a food processor with the garam masala, smoked paprika and cinnamon. Add the garlic, ginger, chilli, chopped ½ onion, tomato paste and oil and process until the mixture becomes a thick paste. Remove from the processor and set aside.
For the Curry
- Heat the sunflower in a large pan over medium heat and add the remaining ½ onion to saute for 3 minutes or until soft. Add the masala paste and stir together cooking for around 3 minutes.
- Throw in the chopped tomatoes and continue cooking for another 4-5 minutes before stirring in the the red lentils.
- Add the coconut milk and stock and bring the mixture up to a simmer, stirring regularly.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring regularly, for around 20-25 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the spinach. Allow it to wilt before serving.