Curried Lentils with Coconut Milk

September 26, 2016

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: From Julia Turshen's Small Victories, these lentils come together in about 30 minutes, are deeply satisfying, and could be vegan if you leave out the yogurt. Naan is also really nice on the side here.

Re lentils: I like to use a mix of French green lentils and red split lentils. It's faster if you use solely the red split lentils, but I love the texture offered by the French green ones when they're part of the mix. It's completely delicious both ways, so use what you have. Do plan a little bit more ahead if you use the French green lentils — they may take as long as 45 minutes to cook if not longer.
Alexandra Stafford

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 55 min


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 shallot or small onion, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds or ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 cup (180 g) split red lentils or other (see notes above)
  • 1 13.5-ounce (398-ml) can full-fat unsweetened coconut milk
  • kosher salt
  • Cooked basmati rice, plain yogurt, chopped fresh cilantro, and naan for serving
In This Recipe


  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the ginger, garlic, shallot (or onion), coriander, cumin, and turmeric and cook, stirring now and then, until the vegetables are softened and the spices are very fragrant, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the lentils, coconut milk, and 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt (Note: if you are sensitive to salt or using table salt or even Morton's kosher salt, which is saltier than Diamond Crystal kosher salt, start with 1 teaspoon, then add more to taste—I use Diamond Crystal and so typically use 2, but use your judgement), then fill the empty coconut-milk can with water and add it to the saucepan. It will look like a lot of liquid, but the lentils will absorb it as they cook. Stir everything together, turn the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn the heat to low and let the lentils simmer, stirring now and then, until they’re completely soft, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt. (Note: If you're using those French green lentils, you will need to cook this longer, 30 to 45 minutes. Just keep tasting to see when the lentils are cooked through. You may or may not need to add more water.)
  3. Serve the lentils hot over rice. Top each serving with a spoonful of yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro. A side of naan is nice, too.

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Reviews (140) Questions (1)

140 Reviews

Heidi June 14, 2018
This is a lifesaver recipe for when I haven’t a dinner plan. It can be simmering in less than 10 minutes, and by the time my rice cooker has popped it’s ready. Don’t skip the yogurt! Leftovers topped with extra rice make easy grab and heat meals, and it freezes superbly.
Jon L. March 9, 2018
trying it tonite...
Lydia B. March 8, 2018
What kind of bread is that on the picture? <br />Thank you in advance
Author Comment
Alexandra S. March 8, 2018
Hi! It's just that Stonefire naan brand found at most grocery stores. I think it's really really good. I bread the larger naans into pieces and pop them in the toaster to heat. The brand also offers "mini" versions that are perfect for the toaster.
Ahu Y. February 15, 2018
Thanks for the recipe. I have done this so many times and everyone who has tasted loves it! Just a quick question, does it turn out as delicious if it's made with light coconut milk?
Author Comment
Alexandra S. February 20, 2018
I imagine that would be just fine :)
mbzr February 20, 2018
It is better with full fat (in my experience), but light is ok. I now double the recipe and use one can full fat coconut milk, and one can light. It freezes well, so it's worth it to me to double it.
john January 3, 2018
Do you recommend making this <br />in a pressure cooker? Can yellow levels be used instead of orange and green?
Author Comment
Alexandra S. February 20, 2018
I imagine it would do well in a pressure cooker. And yes re yellow in place of orange — I like the green ones because they hold their shape and offer a bit of texture while the others dissolve to mush, but if you don't mind mush, you can use all yellow.
Nick October 14, 2017
A good quick meal. I sautéed the onions before garlic, as garlic cooks faster. After a couple minutes, added the garlic and spices. Added Cayenne Pepper as well and even some Tikka Masala. Any relative spices add to it, and veggies added in would work as well.
Nick October 14, 2017
And, served over forbidden rice, made a great combination.
Author Comment
Alexandra S. October 14, 2017
Nice! All of this modifications sound great.
EmilyAJ October 9, 2017
I made this as written, with half red and half brown lentils. It took about 20 minutes to cook. We loved it, but the biggest fan was my 12 month old, who ate almost as much as we did!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. October 9, 2017
The best compliment! How sweet. Thanks for writing ... loved reading this :)
Megan H. September 14, 2017
What is a substitute for ground corriandor
Author Comment
Alexandra S. September 14, 2017
Do you not have it? Or not like it? You could omit it or use something like garam masala, which typically has ground coriander in it. But if you don't have that, I would simply omit it. There's a lot of flavor in this without it.
Megan H. October 10, 2017
I do not have it and I didn’t use it and it still was delicious! Thank you!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. October 10, 2017
Wonderful! Happy to hear this!
suziqcu August 29, 2017
My apologies, just as I went back to read carefully, I saw Alexandra's comment. Opps! Added water earlier and it looks great. Used french green lentils and we're roasting sweet potatoes, made basmati and also are having Naan! Covering all the bases, lol! it smells divine! Haven't yet added full can of water. I did add vegetable base bouillon paste to the water, not sure I needed to do that. Tastes a bit salty, even though it's reduced sodium. <br />
Author Comment
Alexandra S. August 29, 2017
No worries! These things happen all the time :) It all sounds soooo good! If it tastes too salty in the end, you can add more coconut milk or a little bit of lime. It may not taste salty, too, once it's mixed with the rice and sweet potatoes. Yum!
suziqcu August 30, 2017
It was delicious. My 15 month old granddaughter approved as well. I did add one carrot to the mix. It wasn't too salty in the end. Looking forward to leftovers!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. September 1, 2017
So happy to hear this, suziqcu!
suziqcu August 29, 2017
I am now reading as I cook this that it says, "you may need to add more water"...I don't see water in the recipe list or directions. How much water....with coconut milk, I guess.....Not sure what to do now...I'll watch it and make a call in a few minutes
Author Comment
Alexandra S. August 29, 2017
Hey! See, the first sentence in step 2. You fill the empty can of coconut milk with water, then dump that in.
ErinM724 July 26, 2017
Hmmm....I'm not sure how I feel about my first foray into this. I was hoping it would be a bit like Dal Makhni. I used brown lentils, which took about an hour to cook, along with a small amount of red lentils I had leftover. I used 2 tsp of salt, which was way too much for me, and I should have known that. I did add some red chile flakes, some garlic chili sauce and some lime to try to cut the salt, as well as a spoonful of plain yogurt with my portion. It never seemed to be "creamy" to me...maybe it was the brand of coconut milk I used? (Geisha brand....generally use Taste of Thai) Maybe I'll try again some time using the red/green combo, and do some Thai flavors instead by adding some curry paste....
Mary J. June 15, 2017
So, so good. I also used 3/4 c. of red and 3/4 c. of green lentils and used light coconut milk. My husband can't stop talking about it!
CanadaDan June 15, 2017
great dish for year round, hot or cold. added 1 tsp of curry powder and a dash of cayenne for heat, which helped i think
mbzr May 17, 2017
I've made this twice; once with full fat coconut milk and once with reduced fat. Full fat is richer/better, but reduced fat version was tasty too. I added a pinch of red chili flakes (bloomed w/the other spices) for a touch of heat. I used Trader Joe's small green lentils which cook in 15-20 minutes. I didn't have rice the first time, so served over quinoa. Yum! This is a keeper.
Dot L. May 10, 2017
This was great! I haven't had a kitchen in over a month, we are renovating ours, but this cooked up just fine on my portable burner in the basement. I added some tamarind as well since I had it and some curry leaves that needed using up. Definitely staying in the dinner rotation even when I get my kitchen back.
Author Comment
Alexandra S. May 10, 2017
Yay!! So happy to hear this.
Tessa F. May 5, 2017
I've had this recipe saved for some time and tried it last night. I really enjoyed it, but felt it needed some sour so I added tamarind paste. That did the trick
Author Comment
Alexandra S. May 6, 2017
Nice! Tamarind paste sounds great/interesting.
Kevin April 23, 2017
Left something to be desired, I don't quite know but there is definitely an ingredient missing, it didn't remind me of any curries I've have in restaurants, it smelt great but taste is a bit off
Author Comment
Alexandra S. May 6, 2017
Darn! Sorry to hear this, Kevin.
Alexandra R. May 19, 2017
It's fenugreek that is missing and ghee, but overall it's a solid dish.
Lisa L. April 8, 2017
So good and so easy. This will be cooked often in my house.
Author Comment
Alexandra S. April 9, 2017
ang W. April 8, 2017
i was being a bit lazy and did a nod to mujaddara by adding rice to the pot, 1/2 green 1/2 red lentils, ~3/4 c chicken stock for some of the water and added some extra water due to the rice. threw in some carrots. caramelized onions to add to the top at the finish. YUM! took at bit longer to cook and i covered and just kept an eye on it. a keeper "comfort food". i will probably increase the spice level next time as well.
Author Comment
Alexandra S. April 9, 2017
Nice! So happy to hear all of this!
mrathmel April 4, 2017
I made this yesterday and am eating for lunch today. I followed directions and used lite coconut milk, 1/2 green lentils and 1/2 red lentils. I also decided to try the Thai version and omitted the cumin and used diced Serrano pepper and cilantro stems in the coconut milk. Excellent result! One question, I added the diced pepper to the onion, garlic, ginger and sauteed everything. The "heat" level was a little mild. Should I add the pepper at a different step? I did jazz things up with a little raw diced pepper for lunch, along with cilantro leaves and a dab of plain yogurt. Yum Yum. This recipe is a keeper!
Author Comment
Alexandra S. April 9, 2017
mrathmel — so happy to hear all of this! It's possible that the serrano just wasn't that spicy. Next time, before you sauté the pepper, taste it raw. If it's not so spicy, you may want to include all of the seeds/pith, which will make it spicier.
Alexandra R. May 19, 2017
I'm going to try it Thai style next time and add Keffir lime leaf. Smart!