Sunday, November 10, 2013

Restaurant-Style Lentil Curry ~ Coconut Milk, Warm Spices, Fresh Lime

This long Veteran's Day weekend was spent meandering around Boston, visiting gorgeous portraits at the Museum of Fine Arts and cooking this creamy lentil curry. 

If you've read this blog long enough, you know I'm an art and Indian food lover. I'm fan of bustling cities too. Saturday, Boston was jumping with energetic shoppers. People were touring the museum, sitting in the cafes and restaurants, lining up at the food trucks and and strolling around downtown. At first, the constant crowds seemed like a nuisance, especially on the Green Line train. But my husband and I quickly acclimated to the high energy. We had our own little urban adventure which started in Cambridge, trying on hats at the hat shop (naturally I fell in love with a vintage-style red one) and ended in Chinatown for a fresh and light shrimp stir fry and schezwan noodles. 

A portrait done by John Singer Sargent. I love the striking red dress and the ornate gold frame.

My favorite Monet painting being restored at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. We have a large framed print of this painting hanging in our apartment. Everytime we go to the museum, I have to visit her.  

Back to the lentils....

Living right near Boston inspires my cooking in so many ways. We have many wonderful Indian restaurants here. If you've ever enjoyed lentil curry in an Indian restaurant, aka mother's lentils or dal makhani, you know how good it tastes. It's typically made with heavy cream. The lentils are slowly simmered in the cream, creating a rich and homey meal. I wanted to reproduce this dish at home, but without the heavy cream. The result was almost identical. Don't you just love when that happens?

Restaurant Style Lentil Curry Recipe

Some Notes:

Dal Makhani or lentil curry is a quintessential North Indian dish. It's creamy and comforting. I adore it. Traditionally, it takes a long time to prepare and calls for heavy whipping cream. I don't eat much dairy these days. So, I swapped the heavy cream for more heart healthy coconut milk. It worked like a charm. My version doesn't take a long time to prepare either. I suppose you can use heavy cream if that's what you prefer. For that matter, I think light coconut milk will work too. But I haven't tried it with light coconut milk.

This dish is infused with a bit of ginger, hot chili and warm cumin. The right amount of complex flavor is achieved by easily whizzing up your own chili-ginger-garlic paste in a food processor. Next, a readily available store-bought curry paste is added to it, a delicious little trick I learned from making countless curries.

Before you turn your nose up to store bought curry paste, please keep in mind that I've been making Indian food for years. Actually, I'm a bit obsessed with it, buying Indian food cookbooks whenever I can. I even have a spice grinder for making my own curry powders. But in this recipe, I use  Patak's Original Curry Paste Mild, found in almost every supermarket from Britain to the USA. It has a deep color and rich flavor, creating an authentic-tasting lentil curry with minimal effort. The curry paste keeps very well in the fridge too. Use it in other dishes like scrambled eggs, chickpea curry or sauteed chicken.

I like using French green lentils here because they hold their shape and don't break down too much. Black lentils are classic and wonderful too. I think even brown lentils would work here.

Serve this dish with basmati, brown or white rice for a complete vegan protein. It's filling and reheats well. It will get very thick as it sits overnight. You can thin it out with water more coconut milk or unsweetened coconut milk beverage.

The next day, it makes an absolutely delicious rich and creamy lentil soup reheated with a good amount of unsweetened coconut milk beverage and served with minced scallions, fresh lime juice and green chili on top. All that's needed for a wonderful meatless meal is some steamed rice or a piece of crusty bread with some sliced avocado on the side or this salad with fresh lime dressing. Just reheat the lentils, on the stove over medium heat, with unsweetened coconut milk beverage like Silk or So Delicious. It's high in fiber, gluten free, dairy-free and full of iron, vitamin B and K, calcium and omega 3's.

Makes 4 cups

You'll Need:
  • 2 cups of French green lentils, rinsed
  • 1 large onion, chopped into large pieces
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped into large pieces
  • All or part of a chili pepper. I used a green Thai bird's eye pepper.
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 lime, zest half of it and reserve the zest
  • 1 tablespoon of mild Patak's Original Curry Paste (see notes)
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • Coconut oil or neutral tasting oil for cooking
  • 1 can of full fat coconut milk. I like Thai Kitchen brand.
  • Sea salt or kosher salt
  • Serving Suggestions: lime wedges, naan, roti, chapati, rice, quinoa, fresh cilantro, fresh mint, chutney, diced chili pepper, diced scallions

The Rundown:

Place the rinsed lentils in a large pot with enough water to cover about an inch above the lentils. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low. Cover the pot and cook the lentils until they're soft and all the water has been absorbed. Some lentils are drier and older than others and may need more water to soften. So, taste them and add a little more water if necessary. I like most of my lentils in tact, but cooked well.

Meanwhile, put the onion, ginger, chili and garlic in a food processor. Process until it forms a paste. Heat some coconut oil in a small nonstick skillet and cook the onion-chili-garlic paste, with a pinch of salt, until some of the paste turns golden brown.  Add one tablespoon of Patak's Curry Paste and cook until fragrant. Stir in one teaspoon of ground cumin and cook about one more minute to release its flavor, stirring the entire time to prevent the spices from burning.

Stir the cooked curry-onion-chili-garlic spice paste into the pot with the cooked lentils. Add the coconut milk, tomato paste and lime zest. Adjust the salt. Simmer, covered, on low for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with a few squirts of fresh lime juice and any other of the above suggestions. If you'd like to eat it for a few days, see the notes section for lots of tips. Enjoy!
More Recipes From Jilly:

Rice & Lentil Pilaf ~ Creamy Lentils, Lots of Caramelized Onions & Fluffy Rice

Thai Red Lentil Soup ~ Creamy Coconut Milk, Warm Spices & Lime

Fluffy Basmati Rice


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