This curried lentil recipe, a vegan one-pot wonder, is spiced with turmeric, mustard seeds, cumin, and fresh ginger. Coconut milk offers a richness and subtle sweetness, balancing out the heat and spice. A heap of kale (or spinach) makes it a meal.

Curried lentils with kale and coconut

It’s getting to be that time of year: when nothing is sounding particularly delicious, when I’m over roasting root vegetables, when I’m not craving anything, when I find myself staring at the pantry, then inevitably reaching for the lentils and spices and coconut milk.

I’m not even sure why I made this recipe — I have two other curried lentil recipes that I love — but as I reflected (as one does after eating lentils?), I realized there were several influences:

  1. The promising title: 10 Minutes to the Richest Indian Soup.
  2. The accompanying enticing photo of a brilliant yellow broth laced with wilting greens.
  3. The realization that this new curry essentially combined the favorite elements of both lentil recipes I love — the ginger and coconut milk from one, the amped-up spices from the other — with the added bonus of a heap of spinach, making it a one-bowl wonder.

How to Make Curried Lentils

This is the basic process for making curried lentils:

  1. Starting by sweating onions and garlic until soft.
  2. Add spices — turmeric, coriander, cumin seed, fennel, crushed red pepper flakes, mustard seeds, and ginger — and cook for a minute or two.
  3. Add lentils and liquid: here we use a combination of water and coconut milk.
  4. Finishing with some sort of garnish (optional).

This is a dish that can be tailored to your liking by adding more or less of any of the spices, and it’s forgiving, too — if you don’t have a spice or two, it will likely turn out well anyway.

This version comes from Milk Street, and I’ve made a few small changes, which I’ve noted below. The most significant difference is the use of French green lentils, which hold their shape, in addition to red, which break down. The combination of textures is nice.

PS: Addictive Black Lentils with Spinach and Labneh

Here’s the play by play: Gather your ingredients.

curried lentils with kale and coconut milk ingredients on a board.

These are the two types of lentils I use:

The two bags of lentils used in this recipe: red and French green.

A microplane is great for finely grating ginger.

finely grated ginger with a microplane on a board

Sweat the minced onion and smashed whole garlic cloves in coconut (or other) oil.

sautéeing the onion and garlic in coconut oil in a dutch oven stovetop

Add the spices.

adding the curry spices to the onions sauteeing in a dutch oven stovetop

Add the lentils, water, and coconut milk and simmer for about 50 minutes.

The curry liquids simmering in a dutch oven stovetop.

Meanwhile, chop up some kale or other greens.

A board with chopped kale.

Stir them in.

A pot of curried lentils with kale simmering stovetop in a Dutch oven.


Curried lentils with kale and coconut in a bowl.
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Curried lentils with kale and coconut

Curried Lentils with Kale and Coconut Milk (Masoor Dal)

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Adapted from Milk Street‘s recipe for Goan lentil curry (masoor dal). 

I’ve made a few small changes:

  • In place of fennel, I’ve used cumin. The two spices are not similar, but I like cumin, and I like cumin in curries. You could certainly use both.
  • I like to toast the cumin and coriander seeds and grind them in a mortar and pestle, but using pre-ground spices is fine.
  • I like to use two kinds of lentils: French green lentils, which hold their shape, and red lentils, which break down. You certainly could use all red, which is what the recipe calls for.
  • I’ve use kale in place of spinach.
  • I omit the coconut and tomato garnish.

Don’t be afraid to make this ahead of time — it’s even tastier on day two. Recipe doubles well, too.


  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or peanut oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped, to yield 1-1.5 cups
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons yellow or brown mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin or fennel
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 31⁄2 cups water
  • 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 1/2 cup French green lentils
  • 6 ounces kale (or baby spinach), about 6 cups, leaves removed from stems, roughly chopped
  • fresh lime, for serving, optional


  1. In a large pot over medium-high, combine the oil, onion, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. When you hear a sizzle, cover the pot, turn heat to low, and cook, stirring every so often, until the onion has softened and is just beginning to color, 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in the ginger, the mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander, fennel and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the water, coconut milk, lentils, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, then bring to a boil. Reduce to low, cover and simmer, stirring once or twice, until the lentils have broken down, 40 to 50 minutes.
  2. Stir in the kale and return to a simmer. Taste and season with salt if desired. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate for a future day — it’s good cold straight from the fridge.
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Indian