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Easy and Healthy Red Lentil Curry Recipe With Fresh Curry Leaves

Updated on August 29, 2012

Cook Time

Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 40 min
Ready in: 1 hour 40 min
Yields: Serves 4

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.


  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 green chiles, seeds removed and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 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, tumeric, chiles, tomatoes, salt, and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes or until the lentils are softened and the water has a yellow, creamy texture.
  4. 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 serve over rice.

Curry Powder Is Not a Substitute For Fresh Curry Leaves

Fresh curry leaves
Fresh curry leaves | Source

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, it's a whole lot better than what you would have if you used that curry powder.

Tried this Recipe? Rate it.

4.5 stars from 4 ratings of Red Lentil Curry


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    • MickiS profile image

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      They are commonly sold in Indian grocery stores which for me in San Francisco are not hard to find. So, I guess the answer really depends on where you are, Carol.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      I have never used fresh curry leaves. I am certainly inspired to do so. Are they really hard to find? Great curry dish..we love it.

    • MickiS profile image

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Please do let me know if you try it, Milli. The curry leaves are aromatic, and if you already cook and like Indian, I think you'll love their clean and familiar flavor. Welcome to HubPages, by the way. Good to have you.

    • profile image

      Milli Thornton 5 years ago

      Very interesting to learn about the difference between curry leaves and curry powder. We have a local Indian grocery store where I can look for fresh curry leaves. I enjoyed your photo too (wasn't sure until then how to visualize what they look like).

      My husband and I love to cook Indian, but we've never tried the curry leaves. Should be an interesting way to spice things up. I'll let you know if we try this recipe. We're both meat eaters but we do enjoy the occasional lentil dish. Thanks!

    • MickiS profile image

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      It's super easy, Simone. You should have a go at it some day SOON. :-)

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I've never made my own curry before- mostly because most of the recipes that look good to me have meat in them, which doesn't really fit with the whole 'vegetarian' thing, but this looks good AND is vegetarian-friendly! Huzzah! I love lentils and would love to have a go at making this someday.

    • MickiS profile image

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Thanks for the comment. I ended up researching curry powder the first time I tried this recipe as I was just learning about Indian cooking. I never even knew there were curry leaves! They are delicious.

    • hisandhers profile image

      hisandhers 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

      Wow I never knew that about curry powder! I feel as if my eyes have been opened. Can't wait to try this recipe. Voted up!