RECIPE – South Indian Lentil Curry

by Henry Gould – Dec 16th, 2020

Everyone has their go-to favorite comfort foods; things they cook again and again, week in, week out. This lentil curry is high on my list for a number of reasons:

  • Delicious
  • Easy to make
  • Vegan
  • Inexpensive 
  • Freezes well
  • Nuritious  – High in protein, high in fiber
  • Antioxidants from the spices, chili and vegetables

The cooking of Southern India tends to favor less animal fat, and because of its tropical climate uses a lot of coconut oil and coconut milk which gives a lovely richness to the curry while still staying vegan.

Do your best to get hold of curry leaves, which are an amazing ingredient that have a unique smell that is very distinctive of South Indian cooking. Most Indian supermarkets carry them, such as Punjab Food Center on Main St or Fruiticana (multiple locations in Vancouver and Surrey).


South Indian Lentil Curry
  • 1 cup red lentils, soaked for 10 minutes in cold water then drained
  • 3 shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 thumb size piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped roughly
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
  • 3 whole red chilis (dried or fresh)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 small handful curry leaves (20-30 leaves)
  • Sea salt
  • Coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 1 5oz / 160ml small can of coconut milk

Heat a large pot over medium heat, then add 2-3 tbsp of coconut oil (or 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil) and fry the shallots. Stir constantly until they start to brown, then add the grated ginger, garlic and red chilis (dried of whole). Fry for a few more minutes, stir constantly so they don’t burn.

Add the black mustard seeds and cumin seeds, stir briefly to coat in the oil, then add the chopped tomatoes. Season generously with sea salt and the 1 tsp of turmeric, and continue cooking until the tomatoes reduce and begin to fry in the oil.

Add the lentils to the pot along with the small can of coconut milk and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil then lower to a very gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes, at which point the lentils should begin breaking down.

In a small dry pan, toast the fenugreek seeds and coriander seeds over medium heat until you can smell their aroma. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder and grind finely. Then, heat another tablespoon of coconut or vegetable oil in the same toasting pan and add the spices, along with the curry leaves. Fry for 10 seconds, stirring around, then add to the lentil curry.

Have a quick taste and adjust the seasoning with salt as needed. Serve over basmati rice or just on its own.

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