Dinner Tonight: Curried Red Lentils with Coconut Milk Recipe

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Dinner Tonight: Curried Red Lentils with Coconut Milk Recipe

I don't cook with dried lentils often, but every time I do, I vow to use them more. A legume just like beans, they're a cheap, healthy, low-fat source of protein and fiber--but unlike beans, you don't need to plan ahead by soaking or cook them for hours. Usually I stick to the green puy lentil (also known as French lentils) for their tendency to stay intact while cooking and their earthy taste, but this recipe called for the red variety, known in Indian cuisine as "dal," which cooks in 15 minutes or so. "Dal" is also the name for this common dish.

The spices here are pretty basic Indian -- cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili, and garlic -- but I was thrown off by coconut milk, which I associate with Thai curries. I'm not sure if it was authentic or not, but it did wonders to the lentils, adding a subtle sweetness that brought out the same in the lentils. Even though the result looked a bit soupy and brown, its appearance betrayed the wonderful, comforting flavor.

  • Yield:serves 4


  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 ounces ghee or butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 green chili, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup basmati rice, cooked, or naan bread


  1. 1.

    Rinse the lentils and pick over for any stones or dirt. Dissolve the turmeric in the stock and combine with the lentils in a heavy pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, until the lentils are just tender. Stir occassionally.

  2. 2.

    Heat the ghee or butter in a small skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Saute until soft, then add the garlic, chili, cumin, and coriander. Cooking, stirring constantly, until the spices are very fragrant and the flavors are married. Stir this mixture into the cooking lentils, and add the chopped tomato with a pinch of salt. Continue simmering until the lentils are done, then season to taste.

  3. 3.

    Add the coconut milk and stir well until heated through. Serve with rice or naan bread.