Easy and Healthy Red Lentil Curry With Fresh Curry Leaves

Source: Micki Seibel, June 2012

Source: Micki Seibel, June 2012

It’s Easy To Make Red Lentil Curry

Despite the seemingly long list of ingredients, this is a simple dish to make. It’s a great dish to make for large groups as the ingredients can be doubled or tripled, as needed. It’s both gluten-free and dairy-free, and it’s vegetarian. This makes it an easy dish to make for dinner parties where one must balance multiple food intolerances. Best of all, it’s healthy and packed with protein.

This recipe is executed in two parts: first you simmer the core curry ingredient. Second, you sauté the aromatics and stir them into the curry at the end. This speeds the overall cooking time without sacrificing on the depth of flavor.

I choose red lentils for my curries because they are the sweetest and nuttiest in flavor of all of lentils (green, yellow, brown) so bring the richest flavor to your base curry.

Cook Time

Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Ready in: 
Yields: Serves 4


  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 green chiles, seeds removed and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp sesame or sunflower oil
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 12 curry leaves, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro (coriander), chopped


  1. Place the lentils in a non-reactive bowl and fill it with room temperature water to 1-2″ inches above the level of the lentil. Let the lentil soak for 1 hour.
  2. Place the lentils, ginger, turmeric, chiles, tomatoes, salt, and vegetable broth in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are softened and the water has a yellow, creamy texture.
  4. Meanwhile at the 20 minute mark, heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and saute until they release an aroma, 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the curry leaves and garlic and saute until the garlic turns brown at the edges, about 5 minutes.
  6. Stir the cilantro and the cumin-curry-garlic mixture into the lentils and simmer for 10 additional minutes. serve over rice.

Curry Powder is NOT A Substitute for Curry Leaves

Source: Micki Seibel, June 2012

Source: Micki Seibel, June 2012

Curry powder is NOT a substitute for curry leaves. Despite the name, the two ingredients are not even related. In fact, curry powder does not even contain curry leaves at all! Curry powder is a spice mixture that was created in Britain to replicate the flavors of Indian cooking. It usually contains a mixture of coriander, cumin, fenugreek, red pepper, and turmeric but the actual blend can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Curry leaves, on the other hand, are the aromatic leaves of the tropical curry tree. You can find fresh curry leaves at Indian or Asian grocery stores and some gourmet groceries. If you can’t find curry leaves, you can substitute fresh basil. Although basil will produce a different flavor than the curry leaves, you still get the aromatic punch of fresh leaves that blends well the other ingredients. Besides, its a whole lot better than what you would have if you used that curry powder.

How Not to Screw It Up

  1. Curry powder is NOT a substitute for curry leaves. Got it? Good. ;-)