Coconut & Red Curry Lentil Stew With Sweet Potatoes

February 12, 2020
13 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog.
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

This hearty, fragrant stew is just the ticket for nights when you want big, bold flavors without a lot of fuss. It brings together red lentils, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and coconut milk—all balanced and enlivened by a few tablespoons of Thai red curry paste. This recipe is a mish-mash of ideas from soups and curries I’ve tried over the years, including this Sweet Potato–Coconut Curry and the Curried Lentil, Tomato, and Coconut Soup from Ottolenghi's Simple.

The flavors work so well together: the sweet potatoes and creamy coconut milk nicely temper the heat of the red curry paste, canned tomatoes bring tanginess and brightness, and two kinds of coconut (oil and milk) amplify the stew’s rich, sweet notes. (I recommend unrefined virgin coconut oil versus refined varieties for its fuller, purer coconut flavor.) One of my favorite details is the addition of grated lime zest and fish sauce, which add so much dimension to this already flavor-packed stew. To make the dish completely vegan, you can successfully swap out the fish sauce with soy sauce or coconut aminos mixed with rice vinegar and a big pinch of kosher salt.

Because Thai red curry paste can vary quite a bit in spiciness, start with a lesser amount of red curry paste in Step 2 and add more to taste once the lentils are tender. To simplify prep, use a Microplane for grating the ginger, garlic, and lime zest. If you don’t like cilantro, or have it on hand, add arugula, chopped chives, or a few handfuls of hardy greens (such as kale, spinach, or chard) near the end and simmer until tender. —EmilyC

What You'll Need
  • 2 tablespoons unrefined virgin coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 to 1 1/4 cups)
  • 2 sweet potatoes (16 to 18 ounces in total), peeled and chopped into 3/4-inch chunks
  • 1 pinch kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 4 teaspoons finely grated ginger (from a 3-inch piece)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste (such as Maesri or Thai Kitchen)
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes (with juices)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro (leaves and tender stems)
  • 1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 lime finely grated zest (juice reserved for finishing the dish)
  • 2 1/2 cups water, plus more to thin, as needed
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce, or to taste; see note about a vegan substitute
  • 1 tablespoon (per person) Greek yogurt or sour cream, to serve
  • 1 handful cilantro leaves, to serve
  1. Heat coconut oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 4 to 6 minutes, until softened. Add sweet potatoes and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook for 5 minutes (stirring often), or until the outsides lose their firmness.
  2. Push the sweet potatoes to the side of the pan and add ginger, garlic, and red curry paste. Cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant, then stir together with the sweet potatoes.
  3. Add red lentils, tomatoes, cilantro, coconut milk, lime zest, and water. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until lentils are soft, about 20 minutes, thinning with more water, if needed. Season soup with fish sauce, then off the heat, add the lime juice (start with 1 teaspoon and go from there). Taste again. Need more fish sauce or salt? Add a bit more. Need more heat? Add a few red pepper flakes.
  4. Divide among bowls and top with a dollop of yogurt and a little cilantro. (Make-ahead tip: stew can be made up to 3 days in advance; gently reheat before serving.)

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Amy Jersey Westcott
    Amy Jersey Westcott
  • Lauren
  • calendargirl
  • Danna Farabee
    Danna Farabee
  • EmilyC

Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

20 Reviews

jeff September 1, 2022
This was really good. I used the base as directed, but I can't help but put more spices into everything. I added almost a Tbsp each of: corriander, garam masala, and yellow curry. Generous helping of red pepper flakes and the vegan option in lieu of the fish sauce. And since I only had one sweet potato, I used peas for more veggie. It was perfect. And rice on the side. This will be in regular rotation of meals.
Amy J. April 26, 2021
Oh this was so good! Thank you - I followed your recipe to the T. It was fantastic. It's a really hearty meal. I suspect I could have gotten a zingier red curry paste, but it worked just fine. I did get a little generous with the red pepper flakes, it took it up just a notch.
EmilyC April 27, 2021
Thanks Amy -- so glad you liked it!
Alicia November 15, 2020
Turned out great but I did end up at least doubling (if not more) the amount of fish sauce to turn up the flavor (found it a wee bit bland before that). I added a whole bag of baby spinach at the end.
Susan September 21, 2020
This was easy to make and quite delicious, thank you. I added some fresh corn and baby spinach, maybe a little more ginger, cilantro to suite my taste, really good recipe.
EmilyC September 22, 2020
So glad you liked it, Susan! Thank you for the note!
Susan August 4, 2021
I just gave a frozen quart to a out of state friend. She called asking to come over before she left so she could make a quadruple batch for her sister, mother and the second half of her vacation! Do you think she liked it?
Susan September 21, 2020
This was easy and quite delicious, thank you. I added some fresh corn and baby spinach, maybe a little more ginger, cilantro to suite my taste, really good recipe.
Lauren August 23, 2020
Emily - Thanks for the recipe! I loved how easily the stew came together and having the ability to tailor everything to taste. Heat was awesome with 3 Tbsp of curry paste and a jalapeño from surplus lying around. I will definitely be making this again and again.
EmilyC September 22, 2020
Lauren -- so sorry I missed your nice comment. Thanks so much for trying this and circling back!
Queezle_Sister May 1, 2020
I prepared a batch for yesterday's lunch. It was easy enough to throw together while working from home, and all the parts went so well together. The cut sweet potatoes cooked perfectly at the same time that the lentils (brown) were cooked but not mush. Next time I will add more ginger, and perhaps use curry spice mix plus tomato paste for the spicing. That would convert this recipe into a true pantry meal.
EmilyC May 1, 2020
So glad you enjoyed this, and absolutely on playing around with the spices and flavorings! Thanks for trying it and letting me know!
calendargirl March 17, 2020
We loved this: true comfort food for these crazy times. Thank you for another excellent recipe. Hope everyone is well at your house.
EmilyC March 17, 2020
Thanks so much -- so happy you enjoyed this. I suspect I'll be making it often in the coming days! Hope you and yours are safe and well too! xo
Danna F. March 14, 2020
It was really a great tasting dish.
EmilyC March 15, 2020
Thanks so much for trying this, Danna! Happy you liked it!
Amy C. February 19, 2020
I made this last night for dinner and my husband (who is typically rather anti-vegan) liked it! I confess I put coconut cream in instead of coconut milk in an effort to make him like it... but I think I can go back to coconut milk as it was so flavourful! My red curry paste is quite strong so I only put one heaped teaspoon in. In retrospect I could have put a tad more. Thank you for the recipe, I think this is going to go into our repertoire :)
EmilyC February 20, 2020
Yay, so glad you and your husband enjoyed this! I can definitely relate on the red curry paste... I was pretty timid the first few times I made this, thinking that my kids wouldn’t be able to handle the heat, but it’s pretty amazing how much the coconut milk, sweet potatoes, and yogurt at the end temper the heat. Thanks for trying this and reporting back!
Linda February 18, 2020
I made this last night and it was so delicious! I followed the recipe as is--except I swapped out the sweet potatoes for fresh pumpkin..the lentils and pumpkin really made for a hearty and yummy curry!
EmilyC February 18, 2020
So glad you enjoyed this, Linda! Thanks so much for your note!