Red Lentil Curry

Updated: February 22, 2024, By Swasthi

Make this flavor-packed, creamy and delicious Red Lentil Curry under 40 mins. Red lentils are simmered in a super fragrant & spicy onion tomato curry-base. It is gluten-free and vegan if you make it with oil. All you need is a bowl of hot rice, millets, quinoa or flatbreads to enjoy this. I include instructions to make this Red Lentil Curry in a pot on the stovetop or in the pressure cooker (instant pot & stovetop cooker).

Red Lentil Curry



About Red Lentil Curry

Red Lentil are widely used across the globe as they are high in protein compared to a lot of other lentils. They also cook faster than their counterparts and are sweeter in flavor, this makes them more suitable for many different kinds of dishes like soups, curries and stew.

Also known as Masoor Dal, red lentils are a staple in the Indian sub-continent. They come from the whole Brown Lentils (sabut masur). The whole lentils are skinned & sometimes split. So you find them split or whole in the market.

This Red Lentil Curry is a fusion of South & North Indian styles. So you will find ingredients & cooking methods adapted from both these cuisines. But they are very basic.

If you ever heard people saying “I can make a lentil dish that smells like a meat curry”, it is this Red Lentil Curry! You only need pantry staples like onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, chili, garam masala, some whole spices, South Indian curry powder & cream/ yogurt. Below I also share a substitute for the curry powder.

It is essential to use good spice blends as they can make or break your dish. I use this homemade Curry powder and Garam masala. The curry is finished off with a moderate amount of cashew cream or heavy cream or yogurt, which not only makes the dish creamy but also adds a unique flavor. To make it low-calorie, simply omit the cream/yogurt and it still tastes delicious but less creamy.

To transform this to a vegan/vegetarian meat mock meat curry, simply add some soya nuggets or soya granules also known as textured vegetable protein (TVP). Please use only organic TVP if you try. Whether you are trying to stop eating meat or want to cut down the consumption, make this with red lentils & TVP. I am sure you will love it.

I have a separate pro-tips section below, please read that before you try out.

More similar recipes you may like,
Dal Makhani
Chickpea Curry
Tofu Curry
Aloo Chana
Butternut Squash Curry
Tofu Tikka Masala

Photo Guide

How to Make Red Lentil Curry (Stepwise Photos)

To make in pressure cooker – stovetop or instant pot, rinse your dal and start from step 4 below. Pressure cook for 7 minutes in instant pot or for 3 whistles in Indian cooker. Wait for the pressure to drop naturally. Add kasuri methi and cream.

Cook Lentils & prepare

1. Add 1 cup red lentils to a pot and rinse them thrice. Drain and pour 2½ cups water. Bring to a rolling boil on a high heat and reduce to medium.

cook red lentils in a pot

2. If you want you may skim the froth.

skim the froth

3. Let cook until tender (al dente), for 10 mins. Older lentils take longer to cook.

al dente cooked red lentils

4. While the lentils cook, chop and prepare the other ingredients as below.

  • Fine chop 1 medium onion to make ¾ to 1 cup
  • Grate or press 3 medium garlic cloves to make ¾ tablespoon
  • Grate or crush ½ inch slice ginger to make ¾ tablespoon
  • Optional – slit or chop 1 green chili /serrano peppers/ Thai/ Indian green chilies
  • Puree or chop (peel if needed) 3 medium tomatoes to make 1¾ cups
ingredients for red lentil curry

5. You need the following spices & other ingredients:

  • ½ teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder / paprika (more if you want, adjust to taste)
  • ¾ to 1 teaspoon garam masala (adjust to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon mild curry powder (or 2 tsp coriander powder, ¾ tsp cumin pow, ¼ tsp each turmeric, chili pow, cardamom, fennel, black pepper )
  • 2 teaspoons kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves, crushed)
  • 3 inch cinnamon piece + ½ tsp cumin seeds (omit if you don’t have)
  • optional – ⅓ cup heavy cream / yogurt/ cashew cream (I use 20 cashews, blend with ⅓ cup water to a smooth puree)
spices to make red lentil curry

Make Red Lentil Curry

6. Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons oil/ghee in a pan. Add the whole spices, onions, green chilies and curry leaves. Saute until golden, for about 8 mins.

temper whole spices in ghee/oil

7. Stir in ginger garlic and saute for a minute, until aromatic.

sauteed onions with ginger garlic

8. Stir in the salt, curry powder, garam masala and Kashmiri chili powder.

bloom ground spices to make red lentil curry

9. Add the tomatoes & a splash of water (if using fresh chopped tomatoes).

cook diced tomatoes

10. Cover and cook until the tomatoes break down. Sauté for 1 to 2 mins until the mixture turns aromatic.

onion tomato curry base

11. Add the cooked red lentils along with the leftover stock/ water. Mix well and add more water as needed. I need about ½ cup here. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.

stir in the red lentils into the curry base

12. If you want mash some of the lentils with the back of the spoon. This adds more creamy texture to your curry.

Bring to consistency and simmer the curry

13. Stir in kasuri methi and cream (if using). Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. To use yogurt whisk it well in a small bowl and stir in 2 to 3 tbsps of the red lentil curry. Mix well and add it back to the pan.

pouring cream and adding kasuri methi

14. Taste test. If you want, add more salt, garam masala or black pepper for heat. I didn’t have to add anything except salt.

creamy curry ready

Garnish red lentil curry with coriander leaves and squeeze some lemon juice. Serve it over Basmati rice or with Naan, Chapati, Roti or any other flatbreads with cucumber salad. If you want you may make a fresh tadka/tempering & pour it over the curry.

Red Lentil Curry Recipe

Pro Tips

  • We pre-cook lentils separately for cleaner and better flavors. Cook the lentils first to bring out their natural sweeter flavor, then simmer briefly with the onion tomato base. This makes a full-flavored curry.
  • This method also cuts down your cook-time. Cooking lentils with an acidic ingredient like tomatoes (especially canned tomatoes) is only going to increase the cook-time. So it is ideal to cook them first and then add to the curry.
  • Both the above points don’t apply when you pressure cook.
  • To save time, first begin to cook the lentils while you prepare the ingredients like onions, tomatoes etc.
  • Use fresh stock of lentils as older lentils (sitting in the shelf) take longer to cook. However if you have nothing other than the old lentils, soak them in boiling hot water for 20 mins and then cook.
  • I have made this recipe with only homemade spice blends that are fresh. Please use good quality spices. If you use old spice blends, you may need to increase the quantities.
  • The amount of water depends on the age of your lentils. Old lentils take more water.

Related Recipes

Recipe Card

Red Lentil Curry Recipe

Red Lentil Curry Recipe

5 from 17 votes
Make this delicious Indian-inspired red lentil curry under 35 mins. Creamy and full-flavored curry that is gluten-free and can be made vegan. Serve it with a side of salad, rice/quinoa or any flatbreads. Instructions included for stovetop and instant pot.
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For best results follow the step-by-step photos above the recipe card

Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time35 minutes
Servings4
AuthorSwasthi
Diet : Gluten Free, Vegetarian

Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )

  • 1 cup (200 grams) red lentils (split or whole)
  • cups water (more if needed, same for IP)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons oil / ghee or butter
  • 1 sprig curry leaves or bay leaf
  • 3 inch cinnamon piece + ½ tsp cumin seeds (omit if you don't have)
  • ¾ to 1 cup (1 medium) onions fine chopped
  • ¾ tablespoon (3 medium) garlic cloves grated/pressed
  • ¾ tablespoon (½ inch slice) ginger grated/crushed
  • 1 green chili (optional, chopped or slit, serrano peppers/ Thai/ Indian green chilies)
  • 1¾ cups (3 medium) Tomatoes (peeled & chopped/pureed or 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (more to adjust, cut down if your curry powder has salt)
  • ½ teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder / paprika (adjust to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (mild – or 2 tsp coriander powder, ¾ tsp cumin pow, ¼ tsp each turmeric, chili pow, cardamom, fennel, black pepper )
  • ¾ to 1 teaspoon garam masala (adjust to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
  • cup heavy cream / yogurt/ cashew cream (20 cashews blend with ⅓ cup water)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves to garnish


Instructions

How to make Red Lentil Curry

  • Add red lentils to a pot and rinse them thrice. Drain and pour water. Bring to a rolling boil on a high heat and reduce to medium.
  • Let cook until tender (al dente), for 10 mins. If you want you may skim the froth. Older lentils take longer to cook. While the lentils cook, chop and prepare the other ingredients.
  • Heat oil/ghee in a medium pan. Add the whole spices, onions, green chilies and curry leaves. Saute until golden, for about 8 mins.
  • Stir in ginger garlic and saute for a minute, until aromatic.
  • Stir in the curry powder, garam masala and Kashmiri chili powder, followed by tomatoes & (a splash of water if using fresh tomatoes). Cover and cook until the tomatoes break down.
  • Saute for 1 to 2 mins until the mixture turns aromatic.
  • Add the red lentils along with the leftover stock/ water. Mix well and more water as needed. You will need about ½ cup. Bring it to a boil and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • If you want mash some of the lentils with the back of the spoon. Stir in kasuri methi and cream. Simmer for 2 minutes.
  • Taste test. If you want, add more salt, garam masala or black pepper for heat.
  • Garnish with coriander leaves and squeeze some lemon juice.
  • Serve red lentil curry over rice or with Naan, Chapati, Roti or any other flatbreads.

Instant Pot Red Lentil Curry

  • You don't need to cook the lentils separately. Make the masala first, add the lentils and pressure cook for 7 minutes. Wait for natural pressure release and add kasuri methi and cream.

Stovetop Indian Pressure Cooker

  • You don't need to cook the lentils separately. Make the masala first, add the lentils to the cooker. Pressure cook for 2 to 3 whistles on a medium heat. Wait for the pressure to drop and add kasuri methi and cream. If you want make a extra tadka.


Notes

  • The cook times will change if the lentils are old.
  • Use good quality and fresh garam masala and curry powder. I use my homemade curry powder & garam masala for best results. 
  • I use whole skinned red lentils and they take only 10 mins to cook but split lentils cook even faster. If you are using old lentils, you may soak them in boiling water for 20 minutes. Use the same water to cook.
  • This is a low heat curry, if you want it hot, use hot curry powder and use more chili powder.
  • To use yogurt whisk it well in a small bowl and stir in 2 to 3 tbsps of the red lentil curry. Mix well and add it back to the pan.

Video

Watch Red Lentil Curry Video

NUTRITION INFO (estimation only)

Nutrition Facts
Red Lentil Curry Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 354 Calories from Fat 135
% Daily Value*
Fat 15g23%
Saturated Fat 5g31%
Trans Fat 0.03g
Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
Monounsaturated Fat 7g
Cholesterol 23mg8%
Sodium 655mg28%
Potassium 829mg24%
Carbohydrates 41g14%
Fiber 19g79%
Sugar 6g7%
Protein 15g30%
Vitamin A 1318IU26%
Vitamin C 31mg38%
Calcium 84mg8%
Iron 5mg28%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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© Swasthi’s Recipes

About Swasthi

I’m Swasthi Shreekanth, the recipe developer, food photographer & food writer behind Swasthi’s Recipes. My aim is to help you cook great Indian food with my time-tested recipes. After 2 decades of experience in practical Indian cooking I started this blog to help people cook better & more often at home. Whether you are a novice or an experienced cook I am sure Swasthi’s Recipes will assist you to enhance your cooking skills. More about me

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5 stars
I made this but had to substitute out half the ingredients because I didn’t have them on hand, including using a bean, lentil, and barley mix instead of just lentils, an unmarked container of vaguely yellow spices I had to assume was curry powder, and Chinese 5 spice instead of the garam masala. It somehow still tastes amazing, except for the beans being mildly crunchy because they’re so old they won’t soak up water even after boiling for 25 minutes. Next time I will buy lentils, but otherwise it tastes very similar to my ex’s authentic curry with whole spices and ingredients he had to bring from India. Probably better with fresh ingredients though.

5 stars
This is very easy and tasty. Thanks for posting this recipe

5 stars
This is a very good recipe if you are tired of dal tadka and makhani. Love the addition of lemon juice at the end. That truly lifted this recipe from same/same to excellent! Thank you.

5 stars
I loved this dish, not too hard to make and the spices are so perfectly balanced !

I see the buttons to toggle between 1x 2x and 3x but it just doubles everything each time, is that accurate for spice amounts?

Hi, I need to make a large portion for 8, how much daal would I need, and how much do I need to increase the recipie spices and ingredients by?

5 stars
Love it! Made it without cream. Makes a great meal that will be easy to tweak if I want. Will make again and again. Thank you!

5 stars
This is hands down my favorite red lentil curry! I appreciate your thought of cooking lentils before adding to the curry and this tip is a game changer. I could cook this under 35 mins. I love anything creamy, so I used canned coconut milk for heavy cream. Thank you for posting. I will be making this again and again.

Hi Swasthi- I just have black lentils on hand- could I substitute those for the red lentils in this recipe? Love your stuff

5 stars
I was looking for a red lentil recipe without coconut and found yours. This is excellent and so simple! I follow a vegan diet & can’t eat cream or butter. So I used oil and 2 tbsps peanut butter before finishing. I followed the recipe closely and kept everything else the same. It tastes so good like real Indian food. Thank you and I am very excited to try out more vegetarian and vegan recipes from here.

5 stars
Delicious red lentils! Turned out really well! I think I need to learn making smooth cashew cream. Mine was a bit gritty but still the curry tasted great. Wish you could include how to make cashew cream. All the recipes I checked required too many cashews. I am afraid I won’t be able to use up that much.

If using whole lentils, would you soak overnight? Any advice? I look forward to making this with brown lentils.

5 stars
Super recipe Swasthi! I made this and my husband loves it.

5 stars
I am shocked by how easy this red lentil curry is and yet so delicious. Definitely the best lentil curry I’ve ever had, without using a long list of ingredients. I had to omit the creamy ingredient to go low-fat, yet it was so good. Looking forward to make your tofu curry. Thanks and keep up the great work!

Can I get good results with green lentils instead of red? I have them in my pantry. Thank you.

5 stars
My husband discovered your website last month while looking for a chana masala recipe. We loved it and have been trying out many dishes from here. I made this red lentil curry and it is amazing! And we found it to be great as a base to make variations with potatoes, broccoli or halloumi. Appreciate your work and keep the recipes coming!

5 stars
Turned out fabulous! Made this recipe as written with only the addition of some dehydrated mushrooms. I used split red lentils and the dish whipped up faster than expected. Next time I am going to up the cashews because we loved it.

5 stars
Hi Swasthi,
I made this last night, working with what I had. Not enough Masoor Dal so had to use predominantly washed Moong Dal. Your Garam Masala is to die for and made such a difference to the shop bought stuff. I didn’t add cream but made a Ghee based tempering of Shallots, Garlic, Green Cardomom seeds, Black Mustard seeds, Black Cumin seeds Kalonji and Hing.
Really enjoyed it…and there’s some for tomorrow!

This recipe turned out amazing , more delicious than what I expected. I see you don’t use hing in many of your dishes. Is there a reason?

5 stars
Amazing! I have made red lentil curry many times but this was awesome. Goes to my favorites!

I once ate a lentil curry in my Indian friend’s home. It tasted delicious and right now I am craving for it. It had jackfruit meat and smelled like a meat curry but didn’t have the same texture like meat. Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe, going to try it