Red Curry Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach is a flavorful, warmly spiced vegetarian dish that is perfect for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. Made with red lentils, sweet potato, and fresh baby spinach, this healthy and delicious dish is jam-packed with nutrition.
A healthy, veggie-packed twist on traditional Indian dal, this red curry lentils with sweet potatoes and spinach recipe is a hearty, satisfying comfort food meal that's perfect for warming your belly on a chilly fall or winter evening.
Red lentils are one of my favorite plant-based proteins to use for vegetarian and vegan meals. They're mild in flavor and they cook down into a thick, creamy, sauce-like consistency. Add a little coconut milk and an aromatic blend of spices and you have yourself a flavorful main dish even meat eaters will love.
This recipe has been a staple in my house for many years. When I was in college, I would often make a big batch of red curry lentils to eat all week long. It's healthy, cheap, and satisfying - everything a college student needs.
Now, I make it every few weeks or so when the weather turns cool. It's one of my favorites and I hope it will be one of yours, too!
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Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Flavorful & Satisfying- Rich and hearty, this red lentil curry with vegetables is super flavorful thanks to the red curry paste and warm, earthy spices like garam masala, turmeric, and ginger. Plus, it's filling enough to keep you satisfied long after lunch or dinner.
- Healthy- Chock full of fiber, plant protein, and lots of vitamins and minerals, this vegan curry dish is both heart-healthy and gut-friendly.
- Hearty Meatless Meal- This is one vegetarian dish that won't leave you hungry for more next time you do Meatless Monday. Whether you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or you just like to eat meatless on occasion, this recipe is perfect.
Here are some notes on key ingredients. For a full list of ingredients, check out the recipe card below.
- Red Lentils- These reddish-orange little legumes are one of my favorite pantry staples. They cook quickly, making them ideal for quick, easy, and healthy dinners.
- Sweet Potato- I recommend dicing the sweet potato into small, ½-inch cubes to ensure they're cooked through by the time the rest of the dish is finished cooking.
- Spinach- Roughly chopping the spinach helps it blend into the curry better. Spinach only needs a few minutes to wilt and cook down into the rest of the dish.
- Diced Tomatoes- Tomatoes are an acidic ingredient that are used to balance the richness of the rest of the dish. Just one 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes makes a wonderfully balanced curry sauce.
- Red Curry Paste- One of my favorite ingredients. Thai red curry paste can typically be found in the Asian section of the grocery store. It is made from red chili peppers, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, shallot, coriander, and lime.
- Coconut Milk- Creamy, rich, and just slightly coconut-flavored, a touch of full-fat coconut milk is all these red curry lentils need to add the luscious, velvety texture we're after.
- Spices- I use a blend of curry powder, garam masala, ginger, turmeric, and cayenne pepper to create a warm, earthy flavor that is beautifully flavorful and aromatic.
- Sugar- Just a small amount of sugar brings balance to this savory curry dish.
Step by Step Instructions
Here is how to make red curry lentils with sweet potatoes and spinach.
Step 1: Sauté the onion and sweet potato. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep skillet or saucepan. Add the onion, sweet potato, and salt and cook until the onion begins to soften and brown, about 5-7 minutes.
This creates the first layer of flavor in our curry dish and helps the sweet potato begin to cook.
Step 2: Cook the aromatics and spices. Add the garlic, ginger, red curry paste, spices, and sugar to the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spices begin to brown and become very fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
Cooking the spices and aromatics in the oil releases their flavor. The spices may stick to the bottom of the pot - this is a good thing.
Step 3: Simmer the lentils. Pour in the diced tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any fond. Add the red lentils and water into the skillet and stir well to combine. Bring the lentils to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potatoes are tender and the lentils are fully cooked, about 20 minutes.
Red lentils break down as they cook, turning "mushy," creating a thick, hearty, stew-like curry.
Step 4: Finish cooking and serve. Stir in the coconut milk, spinach, and cilantro. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes or until the spinach has wilted and the lentil mixture has thickened to a desirable consistency. Serve over rice or with warm naan bread.
You should be able to easily pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork.
Tips and Tricks
- Cut the sweet potato into equal-sized cubes. In order for the sweet potatoes to cook evenly, it's important to cut them into similar-sized cubes. Additionally, make sure you cut them small enough (about ½-inch) so that they can cook through in time for the rest of the dish to be done.
- Mise en place. A French culinary term that means "putting in place." Red curry lentils with sweet potatoes and spinach is a dish that comes together pretty quickly. In order to make cooking this dish stress-free, I recommend preparing and measuring out all of your ingredients ahead of time.
- Watch the lentils. As lentils cook, they absorb water and release starch. Keep an eye on them as they cook, stirring occasionally, to prevent them from drying out too quickly and sticking to the bottom of your pot.
Substitutions and Variations
Red lentil curry with sweet potato and spinach fits well into many diets. The dish is naturally gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan. However, there are still times when ingredient substitutions are necessary. So, here are a few ways you can customize this dish to fit your diet and taste preferences.
- Red Lentils- Yellow lentils are a great substitute for red lentils because they turn "mushy," similar to red lentils. However, they may take a little longer to cook. Another substitute is green or brown lentils. But, these will most certainly take longer to cook and hold their shape better than red lentils.
- Sweet Potato- Butternut squash, pumpkin, yams, russet potatoes, or carrots would all make great substitutes for sweet potato.
- Spinach- Frozen chopped spinach can be used in place of fresh spinach. Additionally, kale, Swiss chard, or beet greens are similar to spinach and would work well in this dish.
- Red Curry Paste- While the flavor and richness of red curry paste is hard to substitute, there are a few ways to achieve a similar flavor profile. Try using 2 additional teaspoons of curry powder in place of the 2 tablespoons of red curry paste. On the other hand, an equal amount of yellow curry paste or green curry paste can be used.
- Diced Tomatoes- For a smoother sauce, use tomato purée or crushed tomatoes. For a chunkier curry, stewed or whole tomatoes can be used and broken up with a wooden spoon.
- Garam Masala- Swap garam masala for an equal amount of curry powder.
- Garlic- Use ½ teaspoon of garlic powder in place of the fresh garlic cloves.
- Ginger- A tablespoon of minced or grated fresh ginger root can be substituted for ground ginger.
- Olive Oil- Any neutral-flavored oil, butter, or ghee can be used instead of olive oil.
- Extra Spicy- Add red pepper flakes, minced jalapeño, or additional cayenne pepper to increase the heat.
- Extra Protein- Cube up a block of tofu for an extra boost of protein. If you don't follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you can add shredded chicken or white fish if you'd like.
- Gluten-Free- While this red curry lentil dish is naturally gluten-free, I always recommend checking labels to ensure there is no possibility of cross-contamination.
What to Serve With Red Curry Lentils
Red lentil curry with sweet potatoes and spinach can be enjoyed as a meal all on its own or served with starches, proteins, or vegetables. Here are a few of my favorite side dishes and toppings to serve with this hearty dish.
- Basmati or Jasmine Rice
- Brown Rice, Quinoa, or Farro
- Warm Naan Bread or Chapati
- Cauliflower Rice
- Roasted Cauliflower
- Sautéed Spinach or Kale
- Roasted Tomatoes
- Leafy Green Salad
- Fresh Cilantro
- Sliced Fresh Jalapeño
- Lime Juice
- Chopped Peanuts or Cashews
- Toasted Unsweetened Coconut Flakes or Slivered Almonds
Storage and Reheating
This red curry lentils with sweet potatoes and spinach dish is one of my absolute favorite freezer-friendly meals. I ate this weekly in college, often making a large batch to store in the freezer for those extra busy weeks.
How to Store
- Refrigerator- Sweet potato and lentil curry can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, making it perfect for meal prepping and eating throughout the week.
- Freezer- If you won't finish the leftovers within a few days, freezing is always an option. Red lentil and sweet potato curry freezes fabulously, which is helpful for those nights you're just too busy to cook. Store leftovers in a freezer-safe container for 3-6 months.
How to Reheat
If your red lentil curry is frozen, it's best to thaw it in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours (depending on the portion size) before reheating.
- Stovetop- Heat the red curry lentils in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until steaming hot. If the dish seems too thick, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or coconut milk to loosen it up.
- Microwave- For convenience, the microwave can also be used to reheat this curry dish. Place an individual portion in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on high for approximately 2 minutes, stirring halfway through.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, this dish is rich in fiber, plant protein, and iron, all of which are good for heart health. It's a well-balanced vegetarian meal that will leave you feeling happy and satisfied.
Red lentils are a legume and are a naturally gluten-free food.
Nope, no need to soak red lentils. Unlike some other legumes, red lentils are small enough to fully cook and break down without pre-soaking. Just rinse and sort them to remove any debris and you're good to go.
Certainly. Yellow lentils are the best substitute since they break down in a similar manner to red lentils. However, green and brown lentils can also be used, keeping in mind that this will increase the cook time.
I don't recommend making this recipe in a slow cooker since sautéing the aromatics and spices is an important step in building the flavors of this curry. You can make this recipe in an Instant Pot since they do have a sauté setting. However, I have never tested this myself.
More Vegetarian Recipes
- Potato and Cauliflower Tikka Masala
- Crispy Baked Orange Tofu
- Gluten-Free Corn Chowder
- Roasted Pumpkin Soup
Red Curry Lentils with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ large yellow onion diced
- 1 medium sweet potato peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 tablespoons red curry paste
- ½ tablespoon garam masala
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper powder or to taste
- 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 ½ cup red lentils rinsed and picked over
- 4 cups water
- ½ cup coconut milk
- 2 cups baby spinach leaves roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro chopped
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep skillet or saucepan. Add the onion, sweet potato, and salt and cook until the onion begins to soften and brown, about 5-7 minutes.2 tablespoon olive oil, ½ large yellow onion, 1 medium sweet potato, ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Add the garlic, ginger, red curry paste, spices, and sugar to the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spices begin to brown and become very fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.2 cloves garlic, ¼ teaspoon ground ginger, 2 tablespoons red curry paste, ½ tablespoon garam masala, 1 teaspoon curry powder, ½ teaspoon turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
- Pour in the diced tomatoes, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any fond. Add the red lentils and water into the skillet and stir well to combine. Bring the lentils to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, until the sweet potatoes are tender and the lentils are fully cooked, about 20 minutes.1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, 1 ½ cup red lentils, 4 cups water
- Stir in the coconut milk, spinach, and cilantro. Simmer for an additional 5 minutes or until the spinach has wilted and the lentil mixture has thickened to a desirable consistency. Serve over rice or with warm naan bread.½ cup coconut milk, 2 cups baby spinach leaves, 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for 3-6 months.