This vegan red lentil curry is the best easy and flavorful Indian-inspired meal for busy weeknights. The simmering process does most of the work! You only need a few easy-to-find ingredients (like lentils, spinach, sweet potatoes, and coconut milk) to make this recipe, and it's also great for meal prep. (Save leftovers for lunch the next day!) Coconut curry is ultra thick and creamy, packed with healthy vegetables, and still mild enough to be kid-approved.
At the heart of this recipe is the humble but might red lentil. Packed with plant-based protein and fiber, red lentils are an affordable pantry staple that can transform any dish into a substantial and nourishing meal. The soft and creamy texture of cooked red lentils is ideal for Indian-inspired curry or dahl.
For an even bigger punch of nutrition, there are antioxidant-loaded sweet potatoes. Browning them in a little bit of oil brings out their natural sweetness and adds an extra depth of flavor to the dish.
Then there's the coconut milk. It imparts a luscious and velvety smooth texture that'll keep you (and your kids!) coming back for more.
A generous handful of vibrant spinach is like the cherry on top. The dark leafy greens introduce a fresh, colorful element that balances out the richness of the lentils and coconut milk. Plus, even more vitamins and minerals!
The magic of this recipe truly comes alive when the ingredients are left to mingle and meld over a gentle simmer. Together, a handful of simple ingredients create an inviting and comforting harmony.
This uncomplicated curry is a true weeknight hero. The magic of the simmering process does most of the work, so there's minimal hands-on time. Proof you can have a wholesome and nourishing meal on the table with minimal effort.
Here's a full list of the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe.
- Grapeseed oil (or cooking oil of choice)
- Sweet potatoes
- Yellow onion
- Red bell pepper (optional)
- Fresh ginger
- Mild curry powder
- Ground turmeric
- Cayenne pepper (optional)
- Red lentils
- Canned full-fat coconut milk
- Baby spinach
- Optional for serving:
- Cooked rice, such as brown basmati rice
- Lime wedges
- Fresh cilantro leaves
- Fresh mint leaves
See the recipe card below for exact ingredient quantities and preparation methods.
- Chop the sweet potato into bite-size cubes, about ½-inch wide. I leave the skin on the sweet potatoes, but you can peel them before chopping if preferred.
- Dice (chop into small pieces) the onion and red bell pepper (if using)
- Mince (chop into very small pieces) the garlic
- Grate the ginger with a microplane
- Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh strainer
- Chop the baby spinach
Here's a quick step-by-step look at how to make red lentil curry with sweet potatoes and spinach. You can find more detailed instructions in the recipe card below.
Brown the sweet potatoes in a large skillet, pot, or Dutch oven.
Move the sweet potatoes to one side of the skillet and add oil, onion, and red bell pepper (if using).
Stir in the garlic, ginger, and ground spices.
Add the lentils, cover with water, and then bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender.
Stir in the coconut milk and simmer until the lentils are creamy and falling apart.
Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted.
Hint: Rinsing lentils before boiling removes dust and debris.
Want to make a substitution? Here are a few simple swaps that work well for this recipe.
- Spinach - instead of spinach, you can substitute chopped kale. (Add it in a few minutes earlier so it has some extra time to cook.)
- Sweet potato - use cubed butternut squash in place of sweet potato
- Bell pepper - any color bell pepper will work for this recipe
NOTE: I do not recommend substituting a green or brown lentils. Red lentils break down and fall apart more easily than other varieties, which lends a rich and creamy texture to this curry dish.
I also strongly recommend using canned full fat coconut milk to get the creamiest texture. Using light canned coconut milk (or the coconut milk that is packaged in cartons and sold in the dairy-free milk alternative section) won't give this curry the same texture.
Here are a few ways to make this lentil curry your own.
- Spicy - use the full ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper. You can also substitute a hot chili pepper in place of the bell pepper.
- Crunchy -toss in some chopped nuts or seeds as a garnish.
- Sweet - add a handful of raisins (I like golden raisins for this) or chopped dates.
- Kid friendly - omit the cayenne pepper and make sure you're using mild curry powder. Some kids may prefer this without the spinach.
- Thai-inspired - Substitute Thai red curry paste for the curry powder.
For a pureed version of coconut curry with lentils and Brussels sprouts, try this Roasted Butternut Squash Curry. I also have a recipe for One-Pot Tofu Pumpkin Curry if you're looking for a new way to use up your canned pumpkin puree!
The beauty of this recipe is that you can make the whole thing in one large skillet. I use my 12-inch All-Clad aluminum skillet, and there is just enough room in the pan. I recommend using a large pot or Dutch oven if you only have a smaller skillet.
Store the prepared curry in an airtight container for up to five days.If it thickens in the fridge, stir in a splash of water or coconut milk when reheating.
Curry is also a great meal for freezing! Store it in a freezer-safe container for up to three months. Thaw in the fridge overnight.
You will need to stir the curry more often toward the end of the cooking process to prevent it from sticking to the pan. If it's sticking, use your wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan, reduce the heat, and stir more often until done.
You do not need to soak red lentils before you cook them. Just rinse them to remove dust and debris.
Lentil curry is a nutritionally balanced meal with a healthy mix of fiber-rich carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Lentils are a rich source of fiber and plant-based protein, and the vegetables in curry are full of micronutrients and antioxidants.
Looking for lentil recipes that aren't curry? Try these:
These are my favorite dishes to serve with red lentil curry:
Easy Red Lentil Curry with Sweet Potatoes
- Knife and cutting board for chopping vegetables
- Microplane for grating ginger
- Fine mesh strainer or colander for rinsing lentils
- Large skillet, pot, or Dutch oven (see note)
- 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil divided (or cooking oil of choice)
- 2 medium sweet potatoes chopped into ½-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
- ½ cup diced yellow onion (about ¼ large onion)
- 1 red bell pepper diced (about 1 cup, optional)
- 3 garlic cloves minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger grated (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- ⅛-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste (optional, see note)
- 1 cup red lentils rinsed
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 (13.66-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
- 4 cups chopped baby spinach
Optional for serving:
- Cooked rice such as brown basmati rice (see note)
- Lime wedges
- Fresh cilantro leaves
- Fresh mint leaves
- Heat 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil in a large skillet, pot, or dutch oven (see note) over medium-high heat. Add the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for 7 minutes, or until browned.
- Move the sweet potatoes to one side of the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil, onion, and red bell pepper (if using), and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent.
- Stir in the garlic, ginger, curry powder, turmeric, and cayenne pepper (if using) and cook for 1 minute, or until fragrant.
- Add the lentils, 4 cups water (or enough to fully cover the lentils), and salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
- Stir in the coconut milk and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced and the lentils are creamy and falling apart. Stir more often toward the end to prevent the curry from sticking to the pan and use wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan if needed.
- Stir in the spinach and cook for 2 minutes, or until wilted. Turn off the heat and adjust the seasonings as desired.
- Serve over cooked rice with lime, cilantro, and mint if desired.