Creamy Curried Lentils

Sorry there hasn’t been much food blogging these past couple of weeks. I’ve been traveling, traveling, traveling—including to beautiful South Carolina, where I gave a talk for the Diocese of Charleston—and writing, writing, writing—big project, ghosty one, all very hush, hush.

Both have been fun and helped pay the bills, but neither have allowed time for much cooking. Tuesday night, however, I finally had a couple hours alone in my kitchen and set about satisfying the craving I’ve had for all of my wandering, writing days…or at least the last 10 of them.

Creamy Curried Lentils.

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Go ahead. Scoff. I get it. Craving curried lentils when there’s lamb biryani and bacon risotto  to be had is a little weird. But there’s no accounting for cravings, and I’ve had this one bad…ever since the first time I made the recipe two weeks ago.

Curried Lentils

I came across the original recipe over at the Foodess’s place a little while back, and it looked so darned pretty I just had to try it. Really. Go look at her pictures. They’re much better than mine. I keep telling myself it’s a camera thing. Or a lighting thing. Who knows. But, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t make this dish look as pretty in the pictures as it did in my kitchen. Anyhow, don’t stay too long over there, because you’ll want to come back here to get my recipe changes.

Curried Lentils 3

Curried Lentils 6

The recipe itself is simple, cheap, and…wait for it…vegan. I know this terrifies some of my more carnivorous readers, but meals without meat can be happy affairs. This particular meal is Exhibit A in that regard. It’s Indian peasant comfort food at its finest, and the boyfriend and roommate have both roundly endorsed it. It’s not too spicy, plenty filling (especially with curried, roasted cauliflower on the side), and perfect for Fridays in Lent…or whenever your vegan college roommate comes to call.

I’d sing this dish’s praises some more…but the leftovers are calling my name.

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Curried Lentils 11

Curried Lentils 10

Curried Lentils
Cook Time: 75 minutes 
Serves: 6-8


  • 2 cups dried (not canned) red lentils
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, diced, seeds removed
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 Tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/5 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus a pinch or two more
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1.5 cups diced tomatoes (the original recipe says fresh or canned…I used frozen from the garden)
  • 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups uncooked black rice
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • ghee or butter (optional)

Cooking Instructions

  1. Pick through lentils to make sure there are no stones mixed in (if you haven’t cooked lentils before, yes, this is a real thing); rinse in a colander; and drain.
  2. Place lentils in a large pot, cover generously with water, and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 30-45 minutes (I’ve done 45 minutes both times).
  3. While the lentils are cooking, chop onions, peppers, ginger, and garlic.
  4. Set the rice to cooking according to package instructions—in a rice cooker if you’ve got one, on the stove if you don’t.
  5. Now, set the table, drink some wine, change a diaper. You’ve got some time here. Use it wisely.
  6. When the lentils are completely tender and breaking apart, drain them in a colander and allow them to sit while you prepare the sauce.
  7. Heat coconut oil in a large pot or saute pan; add onions and slowly caramelize over low heat. This should take at least 15 minutes. No rushing.
  8. When the onions are a buttery, golden brown, add ginger, garlic, and jalapenos. Cook over medium heat, stirring almost constantly, until your kitchen starts to smell like heaven. Surprisingly, this only takes two minutes. Who knew?
  9. Add turmeric, cayenne, and cumin seeds. Mix in well. Cook for a minute more. Then, stir in the coconut milk and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Add lentils to the sauce and cook for 5-10 minutes or until everything is heated through.
  10. Remove from heat, stir most of the cilantro into the sauce, leaving a couple tablespoons for garnish. Plate up, first with the rice, then with a touch of ghee (or butter) and a pinch of salt (optional), and finally with the lentils and remaining cilantro.

Cook’s Notes

  1. When I read the comments on the original recipe, everyone was complaining that the dish was too runny and soupy, not at all thick and creamy like the pretty pictures made it appear to be. After studying the recipe, I concluded this was for one of two reasons. Either nobody was draining the cooked lentils (which the original recipe never said to do, but seems obvious) or the lentils just needed to sit for a while. That’s why my recipe both specifies draining the lentils (which again, please do!) and has you cooking the lentils before you cook anything else. This may seem like it adds time on, but since you don’t really do anything while the lentils simmer away (except for the chopping and drinking you need to do anyway) this is an easy and relatively quick fix. And it is a fix. Both times, mine has been as thick and creamy as can be.
  2. The original recipe doesn’t call for jalapenos. Mine does. Mostly this is because I have about 1,546 in the freezer from last year’s garden that just have to be used up before the things overtake my backyard once more. But the peppers definitely add another layer of depth to the sauce, and if you’ve got ’em, I recommend using them.
  3. Despite the cayenne and the peppers, this is not spicy. The coconut milk and lentils are so bland that it would take a lot more than 1/2 tsp. of cayenne and a couple little peppers to make this dish hot. So, don’t fear. You want the heat.
  4. The original recipe called for dried coconut ribbons. I don’t know what these are or where to find them, but they sound tasty. If you have access to these magical things, by all means, use them. Shredded coconut might be nice too if you have any on hand. The recipe holds together great without it, though.
  5. I used black rice, as called for in the original recipe. It’s super beautiful and all kinds of healthy, but basmati or jasmine could be used instead and still make you happy.
  6. If you don’t have a rice cooker, you should get one. It’s perfect for recipes like this, when you don’t want rice taking up valuable stovetop real estate. Plus, if you’re single or just living with one other person, a rice cooker allows you to have warm rice on hand for when you gobble up the leftovers. Which, speaking of…

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