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Spicy Red Lentils

This spicy and warm dish is perfect for cooler weather but is great any time of year. It is a rich, hearty, nourishing and satisfying dish.

Spicy Red Lentils (cooked, uncooked and spices)
Clockwise from bottom left: cooked lentils, coriander, uncooked lentils, turmeric and cumin

I started incorporating lentils into my plant-based diet as an alternative to beans. I love beans but was starting to get a little bored with them. At the same time I began learning about ayurvedic eating and lentils are essential in ayurveda because they are easily digestable. Of all the many colored lentils, red lentils are my favorite. They have a rich, mellow flavor that pairs exceptionally well with the sweet potatoes in this recipe. I also love the color scheme of the red lentils with the sweet potatoes and warm-hued spices.

Sauteed sweet potatoes and onion
Sauteed sweet potatoes and onion
Minced garlic and ginger and spices
Minced garlic and ginger and spices
Rinsed lentils
Rinsed lentils
Lentils, spices, sweet potatoes and onion
Lentils, spices, sweet potatoes and onion

Simmering the lentils, vegetables and spices
Simmering the lentils, vegetables and spices


2 Tbsp coconut oil

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 cups finely diced sweet potato

1 Tbsp fresh minced ginger (or 1-1/4 tsp ground ginger, see note)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup red lentils

2 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp ground turmeric

Couple dashes of cayenne pepper (more or less, depending on heat preference)

1 cup canned diced tomatoes



1 15 oz can lite coconut milk (can also use full-fat coconut milk).

1. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, heat oil, and sauté onion until softened. Add sweet potato and minced ginger (if using) and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic; stir, and reduce heat to low.

2. Add lentils, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ground ginger (if using) and red pepper to pan. Stir until lentils are well coated with oil. Add tomatoes and 4 cups water. Raise heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat until mixture is at a fast simmer. Cook uncovered until lentils and potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes.

3. Season to taste with salt, and continue to simmer until mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes. Whisk to blend lentils and sweet potatoes. If lentils are too soupy, increase heat and cook for a little longer. Alternately, if lentils are too firm but all of the liquid is gone, reduce heat some more, add a little more water and cook for 5-10 minutes longer.

If using coconut milk, add now and simmer 5-10 minutes more until well incorporated and hot.

4. To serve, place lentils in a serving bowl and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. If desired, shave thin strips of fresh coconut on top. Serve hot, by itself or over hot basmati rice.

Note: If using fresh minced ginger, add it at the same time as the sweet potatoes. If using ground ginger, add it in at the same time as the other spices.


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