I made this recipe last week at the tail end of a persistent winter cold—one that hung around aggressively for ten days, rather than the five or six I’m used to for that kind of illness. I was tired and congested, and I craved something nourishing, hearty, and—to use a word that a friend recently reminded me of—gloppy. These creamy tomato coconut red lentils proved to be the perfect medicine.
The recipe came together easily because I had nearly all of it in my pantry: canned tomatoes, coconut milk, red lentils, spices. It’s just the thing for a busy night or a moment when cooking isn’t very appealing, but the idea of something thick and spiced and stewy really is.
I hesitate to call the dish a dal, because the way I prepared it wasn’t at all traditional. But I guess it’s dal-like, just thicker, and you could eat or serve it similarly. It’s perfect for scooping up with naan, or plating along with steamed greens, and/or cooked rice. The grain mix you see in the photos is actually a mixture of red quinoa and white basmati rice, which I adapted from one of Divya Alter’s recipes in What to Eat for How You Feel (a good book for when you’re all sniffles an an aching head).
I added kale to the recipe at the end, because it’s my habit to incorporate greens into this kind of stew-like dish when I can. You can leave it out, or you could add spinach or chard or even chopped broccoli florets in its place.
Creamy Tomato Coconut Red Lentils
- 1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil such as refined avocado or grapeseed
- 1 white or yellow onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh peeled and minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup red lentils picked over
- 1 cup peeled and cubed sweet potato or winter squash about 1 small potato
- 1 1/2 cups 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes and their juices
- 2 1/2 cups water
- 3/4 teaspoon salt plus more as needed
- 1 small bunch kale or another leafy green of choice, washed and chopped
- 1 cup full fat coconut milk substitute all purpose cashew cream if coconut milk's not for you
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Lime juice to taste
- For serving: Naan cooked rice or quinoa, chopped cilantro
- Heat the oil in a medium sized pot over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring every now and then, or until the onion is clear and soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the cumin, turmeric, coriander, and cinnamon; stir the spices with the garlic and onions for a minute, until everything is very fragrant.
- Add the red lentils, sweet potato or winter squash, tomatoes, water, and salt to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover the pot, give everything a stir, then add the kale. Once the kale is mixed in, re-cover the pot and cook for another five minutes. Finally, stir in the coconut milk or cashew cream.
- Taste the mixture and adjust the salt as needed; add black pepper to taste, as well as some lime juice if desired. Serve with a cooked whole grain, naan, vegetables, or all of the above!
The homemade naan in the picture, by the way, is an all-purpose version of Alexandra’s awesome spelt naan bread! I didn’t have spelt flour on hand, but I’m excited to try the recipe with a half-and-half mixture of spelt and AP, or all spelt next time. It’s as simple as Alexandra says it is to make, and the naan is super tender and tasty.
I’m glad to have had comfort food like this around to bring me back to feeling 100%. And I’m grateful for the leftovers in my freezer, since my first day of the spring semester is tomorrow, and I’m about to fall back into the swing of a working student schedule. If you try it, hope the meal is comforting to you, too. I’ll be circling back on Sunday with the usual reads and beautiful recipe links.
Be well, and stay warm.