Warm and creamy vegan red lentil dal with coconut milk! Perfect for a hearty, flavorful, big bowl of comfort. This is definitely my new favorite comfort food and a family favorite. Lentils are high in fiber which makes this dish very filling! I usually serve it with brown rice, but it would be pretty delicious with naan too.
For this red lentil dal recipe, I use full-fat coconut milk, which gives it that rich creamy texture. The addition of fresh lemon juice helps balance this dish and cut through the heaviness.
The combination of spices transforms these simple ingredients into a flavorful dish that's creamy, rich, and comforting. I get really excited about the flavor combinations and experimenting in the kitchen with these spices.
I use red lentils because they break down during the cooking process and give the dish that creamy consistency you are looking for. Green and brown lentils hold their shape better during the cooking process so they would be great for salads, but not for this dish.
How to Cook without Oil
I don’t use a lot of oil when cooking, I cut it out whenever possible. So the onion, carrot, and garlic are sautéed without oil. The onion will release liquid to aid in the cooking process, but if the veggies start to stick, add a couple of tablespoons of water or broth. If you add too much you’ll boil the veggies.
Also, spices can burn quickly when dry roasting, so I measure out all the spices beforehand and have them ready to go when I start. If needed, turn down the heat to prevent them from burning, they only need a little heat to intensify their flavor. Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.
Tips for Vegan Red Lentil Dal
- Older lentils may take longer to cook.
- The ground cayenne pepper can be substituted with your favorite chili pepper. If substituting, finely dice and add it with the garlic.
- Split red lentils may cook faster.
- To increase your veggie intake, add a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach when you add coconut milk. Stir it in and it will wilt from the heat.
Troubleshooting the Recipe
I’ve gotten different results depending on the pan or pot I use. In my testing, a large soup pot doesn’t evaporate as much liquid as a large high-sided skillet. Start with 4 ½ cups of vegetable broth in a large soup pot or use 5 cups in a large high-sided skillet. If the lentils haven’t cooked fully after 25 minutes and are looking too dry, add more water or broth to the lentils. How much you needed will vary, start with a couple of tablespoons. You can always add more if needed.
While cooking in a large soup pot, if there is too much liquid once the lentils are done cooking, remove the lid to evaporate the excess liquid. To keep it at a simmer, you may need to increase the heat. You’re looking for a creamy consistency, and keep in mind the dal will thicken as it cools.
How to Store
Store in an air-tight container for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. It will thicken once chilled and loosen up a little once you heat it back up. If it’s too thick for you, add a splash of coconut milk or vegetable broth (last resort use water) to thin it back out.
I haven’t tried freezing the red lentil dal (I don’t get a chance with my family), but it should freeze fine for 2-3 months. If you’re serving it with rice, I would recommend freezing it without the rice.
I hope you enjoy this recipe for red lentil dal!
More Comforting Vegan Oil-Free Recipes
- Potato curry recipe
- Spicy chickpea stew with zucchini
- Oil-free potato hash
- Mixed vegetable curry with coconut milk
- Butternut squash lentil soup
- White bean and potato soup
Originally published on August 8, 2019. I made some improvements to the recipe and the photos. Updated on April 26, 2021.Print
Warm creamy vegan red lentil dal with coconut milk! Perfect for a hearty, flavorful, big bowl of comfort.
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ inch fresh ginger, grated
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 2 cups (400 g) dry red lentils
- 4 ½ -5 cups (1065-1183 mL) vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1 can (13.5 ounces (400 mL) full-fat coconut milk
- 2 handfuls of fresh spinach, optional
- ½ lemon, juiced
With brown rice, basmati rice, or naan
Fresh chopped cilantro
Cashew lime crema or unsweetened vegan yogurt
- Rinse the red lentils in a colander, set aside.
- Mix the curry powder, cumin, turmeric, paprika, garam masala, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a large soup pot or large high-sided skillet, sauté the onion and carrot, for oil-free cooking add a tablespoon of water if they start to stick.
- When the veggies have started to soften and the onion is translucent add the crushed garlic, ginger, and saute for about a minute.
- Add the mixed spices (that you set aside) to the pot, coat the veggies with them, and dry roast the spices for about 30 seconds. Lower the heat if necessary to prevent your spices from burning.
- Add the vegetable broth, and use it to deglaze the pan, scraping off the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Start with 4 ½ cups of vegetable broth if using a large soup pot and start with 5 cups of vegetable broth if using a large high-sided skillet.
- Then add the lentils and salt, stir to combine, and to prevent the lentils from clumping.
- Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.
- Cook covered for about 25-30 minutes or until the lentils are cooked and creamy, stirring occasionally.
- If the lentils are not done, cook for 5 more minutes, adding a few tablespoons more of water or vegetable broth if the curry is dry. It should be creamy, but not dry.
- The time and liquid required may vary depending on what type of pot or pan you’re using.
- When the lentils are done (soft, creamy, and no longer firm), stir in the coconut milk and spinach (if using), cook for about 5-10 minutes uncovered on low to thicken.
- When the spinach is wilted, finish the dish with the juice of half a lemon and serve over brown rice, basmati, or naan.
Ground spices burn easily so have everything ready to go before cooking.
I wouldn’t recommend substituting the red lentils for another kind. Green and brown lentils hold their shape better during the cooking process and are great for salads. Red lentils break down and become creamy, which is the consistency you’re looking for with this dish.
Older lentils may take longer to cook.
Depending on the pan used the curry may need more broth if too much liquid is evaporated. If there is too much liquid left, simmer with the lid off for a few minutes to evaporate more liquid.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Category: Main Course
- Method: stovetop
- Cuisine: Indian inspired
Keywords: Vegan red lentil dal, dal with coconut milk, red lentil Dahl