Green Lentil Curry is hearty, wholesome, and comforting with a delicious blend of lentils, coconut milk, and warming spices for a naturally vegan, protein packed meal. Cook on the stove, in an Instant Pot, crockpot, or even prepare it as a freezer meal!
Table of Contents
- Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Ingredients for Lentil Curry
- How to Use Bouillon Cubes for Broth?
- How to Make Green Lentil Curry
- Do I Need to Wash Lentils Before Cooking?
- Optional Add-In’s and Variations
- Tips for Best Results
- How to Serve
- How to Make It a Freezer Meal
- How to Store
- More Curry and Lentil Recipes
- Green Lentil Curry Recipe
With their ‘meaty’ texture, lentils are an excellent plant based protein to enjoy as part of any meat free meal. When combined with rich coconut milk and warming spices, coconut lentil curry is creamy, comforting, nutritious and simple to prepare for a midweek dinner.
For years, I hid behind (albeit delicious) soup recipes like slow cooker lentil soup and simple red lentil soup as the only way to enjoy lentils. This Indian inspired green lentil dish, though, is crowd pleasing, child approved and has quickly become a new favorite.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Multiple cooking methods: Stovetop, Instant Pot, crockpot, or freezer meal methods, all almost entirely hands off!
- Low budget: Dried lentils, canned coconut milk, and spices are all pantry staples and budget friendly.
- Plant based protein: Lentils are packed with protein, fiber, and many vitamins and nutrients (like iron). Perfect for meat free Mondays and other meatless meals.
- Diet friendly: Gluten free, dairy free, meat free, plant based, vegan!
- Comforting: The combination of ‘meaty’ lentils, creamy coconut milk, and warming spices is wholesome and satisfying.
- Super easy: Depending on which method you use, this recipe can be one pot, hands off, and even entirely no stir. All methods are super easy, though!
- Make ahead: Refrigerate leftovers for 5-6 days, freeze for 3 months, or turn into a freezer meal!
Ingredients for Lentil Curry
This green lentil recipe requires just 9 ingredients (plus salt) and is an excellent example of how flavors can be built on, for a dish that’s simple but packed with depth.
- Lentils: Uncooked green or brown lentils are best for this coconut lentil curry, as they hold their shape better when cooked. Red lentils (and yellow lentils) will fall apart and become mushy.
- Coconut milk: Use high-quality full-fat coconut milk for the best results.
Not all coconut milk is created equally. Try to choose brands that have a clean ingredients list—for example, coconut cream, water, and guar gum at the most. Avoid brands with lots of preservatives. I’ve also found that several organic brands are lumpy.
My favorite brands are 365, Thai kitchen, Trader Joe’s (coconut cream), and Compliments!
- Aromatics: You’ll need garlic and onion (or shallot).
- Tomato paste: Use canned or tube tomato paste (regular or double concentrate will work). You could substitute a plain tomato sauce, though it won’t be as flavorful.
- Spices: You don’t need a ton of spices to create a rich and warming flavor in this lentil curry recipe. I use a combination of ground coriander, turmeric, cumin, yellow curry powder, and salt. To enhance the healthfulness of the turmeric, also add a pinch of freshly cracked black pepper.
Easily adjust the heat in this green lentil curry recipe by using a mild, medium, or hot curry powder. However, my favorite is mild yellow curry powder, which is used to make yellow chicken curry, and my kids love it, too.
- Cilantro: To garnish (optional).
- Coconut oil: Or another neutral cooking oil like avocado oil.
- Vegetable broth: You can use water, but low sodium vegetable broth or chicken broth will provide far more flavor. Use ready made broth or a bouillon cube.
How to Use Bouillon Cubes for Broth?
Each pack of stock cubes/bouillon cubes will have instructions that say how much liquid each cube should be combined with. Luckily, these Go Bio organic bouillon cubes, use one cube per 3 cups of boiling water (as needed for this recipe). Stir in the water until dissolved, and it’s ready to use!
How to Make Green Lentil Curry
There are three simple ways you can prepare this coconut lentil curry based on what works best for you. Set it up in the morning and have it ready and waiting by dinner time (crockpot), set it and walk away (Instant Pot), or whip it up on the stovetop, choose your preferred method!
Below is a summary of the green lentil recipe. Refer to the recipe card at the bottom of the page for the full details.
Here is a brief summary of how to cook this green lentil curry recipe on the stovetop:
- Prepare the ingredients: Sort and rinse the lentils and chop the garlic and onion.
- Sauté the aromatics: Heat a large Dutch Oven/ heavy-bottomed pan with oil, add garlic and onion, and cook until slightly golden.
- Add the spices: Then stir frequently for 30 seconds.
- Add the remaining ingredients: Add the coconut milk, tomato paste, lentils, and water (or veg broth). Bring to a boil, cover the pot with a lid, and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes.
- Allow it to rest: remove the pan from the heat and wait 5 minutes before removing the lid and serving your creamy coconut lentil curry.
Slow Cooker Lentil Curry
- Sauté the aromatics: Follow the first three steps above, sauteing the onion and garlic with the spices.
- Cook in slow cooker: Transfer the garlic and onion mixture to your crockpot along with all the remaining ingredients (except garnish) and cook over HIGH for 3-4 hours or LOW for 6-8 hours.
Instant Pot Lentil Curry
- Add the ingredients: Add the ingredients (except garnish) to your Instant Pot in the following order: onion, garlic, turmeric, coriander, curry powder, ground cumin, salt, green lentils, water (or veg broth), coconut milk, and tomato paste. Don’t stir!
As the garlic and onion are still closest to the heat source, they don’t require sauteing before pressure cooking. Plus, the pressure cooker helps bring out more flavor from the ingredients in less time. However, you can sauté, if you prefer.
- Cook: Cover, seal, and pressure cook on high for 25 minutes. Then quick release and enjoy!
Keep reading below for the method of turning this into a quick Freezer meal!
Do I Need to Wash Lentils Before Cooking?
It’s always a good idea to sort through and rinse dried lentils, as there can be sediment/debris in with them. Pick out any loose hidden stones and shriveled lentils if there are any, then rinse lentils in a colander to remove any remaining sediment/dust, etc.
Optional Add-In’s and Variations
- Diced tomatoes: Add a pop of color and freshness to this warm green lentil recipe before serving or use within the curry alongside or instead of the tomato paste.
- Garam Masala: Use this instead of the individual spices (1+ tablespoon), or add a pinch (or more) towards the end of the cooking, for extra depth.
- Ginger: ½-1 tsp for extra depth of flavor.
- Cardamom: Add a pinch (around ¼ tsp) for depth.
- Leafy greens: Spinach or kale/ rainbow chard will easily add extra nutrients to this vegan lentil curry.
- Other vegetables: Experiment with adding finely chopped carrots, green beans, sweet potato, celery, cauliflower, red pepper, peas, etc., to this lentil curry recipe.
- Additional protein: Feel free to add your protein of choice but diced beef would also work) into the dish or use pre-cooked meat to add towards the end (I often use cooked shredded chicken breast in Instant Pot).
- More heat: Either adapt the curry powder (to medium/hot) or add some extra chili powder/ cayenne pepper powder, fresh chopped chilies, or red pepper flakes.
- Citrus: Add a splash of lime or lemon juice at the end for brightness or serve it with lemon/lime wedges.
- Sugar: I rarely find this necessary. However, if you want to balance the acidity in the dish, add a pinch of sugar (coconut sugar, brown sugar, or even a sugar free sweetener like erythritol).
Tips for Best Results
- Make sure your curry powder is fresh! It is key to the most delicious curry. I buy organic yellow curry powder from Splendor Garden on Amazon.
- Adjust the heat: This creamy coconut lentil curry is highly adaptable. Use a mild, medium, or hot curry powder, and make it even hotter with extra chili (powder, fresh, or flakes).
- No need to soak the lentils: In fact, I recommend you don’t; otherwise, the liquid ratio in this recipe will be off, and you’ll notice this recipe is more soupy than thick. You can usually continue to cook the lentils to reduce it further, but it’s quicker and easier to skip soaking the lentils.
- Adjust the consistency: If at any point (with the stovetop/crockpot methods), you notice your dish is getting too dry; feel free to add more water/broth.
- When using other lentils: The cooking time and texture can vary, so keep an eye on the recipe.
This recipe was designed specifically with unsoaked lentils in mind. If soaked, the ratio of liquid will be off. In general, while soaking lentils can reduce the cooking time somewhat, it isn’t necessary.
Either will work, though I love to use vegetable broth for extra flavor (beef or chicken broth work too if you aren’t vegetarian). However, use low sodium broth; otherwise, the curry may be too salty.
I don’t recommend using red lentils, as they take a minimal amount of time to cook and tend to fall apart and become mushy when cooked. However, feel free to experiment.
Absolutely. I haven’t tried adding raw meat before; however, I’ve added leftover oven baked chicken breast and other meats several times, adding it in towards the end (just long enough to warm the meat) before serving.
Alternatively, you could use a method similar to how I make this chicken and lentil soup, adjusting the cooking time accordingly (which may lead to slightly mushier lentils).
It’s technically fine to use any lentil in this lentil curry. However, the cooking time varies, so it may require some recipe tweaking. The texture will also vary. I avoid black/Puy lentils, as they stay very firm and don’t provide the same creamy, thick texture as other types.
Honestly, I’ve never tried anything other than coconut milk. However, several readers have pointed out their subs in the comments, including evaporated milk, heavy cream, or even Greek yogurt (add towards the end to avoid curdling). For a dairy free option, cashew cream may work.
Technically, yes. But the curry can taste a little ‘flat’ and won’t be as creamy compared to using full fat coconut milk.
Although similar, there are several differences between brown and green lentils. For example, brown lentils contain slightly higher levels of fiber and take slightly less time to cook, with an earthy flavor. In comparison, green lentils retain their shape best when cooking and have a slightly more peppery flavor. However, both work wonderfully for this recipe.
How to Serve
You can enjoy a big bowl of this curry alone or serve it with one or more of several sides, including:
- Bread: Toasted naan bread, garlic bread, and whole wheat pita bread.
- Grains: Like Instant Pot brown rice, Instant Pot basmati rice, or Instant Pot quinoa. For a lower carb option, you could use cauliflower rice.
- Yogurt: A dollop of yogurt over the creamy green lentil curry will add creaminess and offset the spice.
- Veggies: Roasted cauliflower or spinach, broccoli, etc.
- Salad: Leafy green salads and options like beets with goat cheese salad or savoy cabbage salad.
- Lettuce wraps: I’ll thank a reader (Kelly) in the comments for this idea. Serve the curry with lettuce wraps, yogurt, and possibly some halved grape/cherry tomatoes.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy a bowl of this green lentil curry is topped with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, some cilantro, avocado, lime wedges, and, optionally, even a little cheese (similar to a big bowl of chili).
How to Make It a Freezer Meal
Preparing a freezer meal version of this vegan curry eliminates all prep for when you next want to make this dish, for a simple, fuss free meal. It can be prepared for Instant Pot or Slow Cooker methods.
- Instant Pot: In a gallon-sized Ziplock bag, add all the ingredients, except water/broth and garnishes, finishing with tomato paste on top (very important for Instant Pot). Squeeze out all the excess air, seal, and freeze for up to 3 months. Pressure cook on High from frozen with 3 cups of water for 25 minutes with Quick Release.
- Slow Cooker: Pan fry onion and garlic for 3-5 minutes, then add the spices and sauté for further 30 seconds. Transfer to a gallon-size Ziploc bag with remaining ingredients, except water/broth and garnishes. Let as much air out as possible, seal, and freeze for up to 3 months. Then cook from frozen with 3 cups of water on LOW for 9 hours or on HIGH for 5 hours.
Love meal prep? Check out my compiled list of 20 healthy freezer meals.
How to Store
Make ahead: Easily turn this Indian lentil dish into a freezer meal to reduce the prep time (for Instant Pot or Slow Cooker). Read the section above for the complete method.
Store: Allow it to cool, and then store the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5-6 days.
Freeze: After cooling, store the leftover green lentil curry in a freezer-safe container or bag for up to three months. Allow it to thaw either in the fridge overnight or on the counter for 5-6 hours.
Reheat: Use a microwave or the stovetop to reheat the vegan lentil curry. I prefer to gently simmer it, covered, on the stovetop with an extra splash of water/broth, stirring occasionally. This should only take a few minutes (or longer if you decide to reheat from frozen).
More Curry and Lentil Recipes
Green Lentil Curry
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 6 garlic cloves crushed
- 1 tbsp coconut or avocado oil for frying
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp coriander ground
- 1 tsp salt
- 14 oz can coconut milk full fat
- 6 oz can tomato paste
- 2 cups green lentils uncooked & rinsed
- 3 cups water or low sodium broth
- Cilantro and/or green onions for garnish
- Greek yogurt and avocado for serving
Stovetop Lentil Curry:
- Preheat dutch oven or heavy bottom medium pot on low-medium heat and swirl oil to coat. Add onion and garlic, cook until golden brown (5 minutes), stirring occasionally.
- Add turmeric, coriander, curry powder, cumin and salt; cook for another 30 seconds, stirring frequently.
- Add coconut milk, tomato paste, water, lentils and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, cover and cook on low for 45 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Add cilantro and/or green onions and stir. Adjust thickness of curry with more broth, if you wish.
- Serve hot garnished with more cilantro/green onions, lime, avocado and yogurt, if you wish.
Slow Cooker Lentil Curry:
- Preheat small skillet on low-medium heat and swirl oil to coat. Add onion and garlic, cook until golden brown (5 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add turmeric, coriander, curry powder, cumin and salt; cook for another 30 seconds, stirring frequently.
- Transfer to a slow cooker and add coconut milk, tomato paste, water and green lentils. Stir to combine, cover and cook on High for at least 3 – 4 hours or on Low for 6 – 8 hours.
Instant Pot Lentil Curry:
- In Instant Pot, add ingredients in exact same order: onion, garlic, turmeric, coriander, curry powder, cumin, salt, green lentils, water, coconut milk and tomato paste. Do not stir!
- Cover, set pressure valve to Sealing and press Pressure Cooking on High for 25 minutes. After do Quick Release to release the pressure by turning the valve to Venting.
- Store: In the fridge in an airtight container for 5-6 days. Reheat by simmering on low with a splash of water or broth, in a small pot while covered and stirring once or twice. Shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.
- Freeze: Fully cook, cool completely and freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw curry in a fridge overnight or on a counter for 5-6 hours.
- Do I have to soak lentils? You do not have to soak lentils which makes them a fast cooking legume.
- Can I use broth instead of water? Absolutely, it will add more flavor to the curry. Use vegetable broth or if not strict vegan or vegetarian, chicken or beef broth works too. Just make sure it is low sodium, otherwise curry will be too salty.
- Make sure your curry powder is fresh! It is key to the most delicious curry.
- How to Make a Freezer Meal:
- Instant Pot: In a gallon size Ziplock bag, add all ingredients, except water and garnishes, finishing with tomato paste on top (very important for Instant Pot). Let as much air out as possible, seal and freeze for up to 3 months. Pressure cook on High from frozen with 3 cups of water for 25 minutes with Quick Release.
- Slow Cooker: Pan fry onion and garlic with spices sauteed for 30 seconds at the end. Transfer to a gallon size Ziploc bag with remaining ingredients, except water and garnishes. Let as much air out as possible, seal and freeze for up to 3 months. Then cook from frozen with 3 cups of water on Low for 9 hours or on High for 5 hours.