Slow cooker masala lentils are one of my favorite make-ahead lentil recipes! Serve them with rice, flatbread, or your favorite leafy greens for a nutritious vegan meal. Designed for the slow cooker, but with a stovetop option.

Two white, ceramic bowls hold dishes of masala spiced lentils and cooked brown rice.

Living in a small New York City apartment means exercising caution when it comes to new appliances. There isn’t a lot of space to go around.

Having a slow cooker, though, has been a real advantage to me. Being able to “set-it-and-forget-it” really is as convenient and helpful as it sounds. And I love making big batches of food that can be frozen and used for future easy, homemade suppers.

These slow cooker masala lentils are one of my favorite slow cooker recipes. Why? Versatility. The lentils can be combined with cooked rice for a simple, yet nutritious vegan dinner. They can be folded into wraps, scooped up with your favorite flatbread, mixed with any whole grain, stuffed into a sweet potato—there’s no end to the possibilities.

Plus, they’re filling and flavorful.

Lentils: a nutrient powerhouse

Of all the vegan proteins out there, lentils are one of my absolute favorites. They’re rich in B vitamins, zinc, iron, potassium, and magnesium. They’re full of fiber, which makes them beneficial for digestive health and wellness. And of course they’re also a terrific source of protein, with about 10-12 grams of protein per half cup of cooked lentils.

I don’t only love lentils for their good nutrition. I also love how versatile they are. They can be eaten whole in salads or bowls, stirred into pasta, made into meatloaf, turned into a plant-based pate, and so much more.

Here, the lentils are cooked up to be soupy and saucy. They’re also seasoned with garam masala, which is one of my favorite spice blends. The slow cooker masala lentils also incorporate tomatoes for umami, tamarind paste for some brightness, and cashew cream or coconut milk for a creamy texture.

What is garam masala?

Garam masala is a spice blend that often contains some mixture of fennel, bay leaves, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and/or red chili powder. It varies from region to region in India, and it has sweet, earthy notes.

Garam masala can often be found in both major and specialty grocers. You can also make your own blend, if you plan to use the spice mix often.

What slow cooker is best for the recipe?

When I first made this recipe, I used a 6 quart slow cooker from Hamilton Beach. Hamilton Beach slow cookers are reliable, inexpensive machines!

My current slow cooker is the wonderful Wolf gourmet slow cooker. Full disclosure: I was gifted this slow cooker, and it’s really pricey. It is a wonderful machine, and I love having it. You can set it to high to sauté onions and garlic before setting it on a slow cook setting for things to simmer, hands off.

If you have an Instant Pot, you can of course use that (on a slow cooker setting) for the recipe.

Can I make this recipe without a slow cooker?

Absolutely. I include instructions for making it without a slow cooker in the recipe card!

Three white stoneware bowls rest on a white surface. They've been filled with a whole grain rice and tomato-stewed legume mixture.

Slow cooker masala lentils ingredients

The slow cooker masala lentils recipe features a lot of household ingredients—onion, garlic, broth. A few of the recipe list highlights below:

Lentils

I love to use pardina lentils, my favorite kind, in the recipe. But brown, black, and green lentils will all work nicely, too.

Coconut milk (or cashew cream)

You can use either coconut milk or cashew cream in the recipe. Coconut milk adds lovely flavor, but cashew cream is my personal preference.

Garam masala

You can use a store-bought blend, or make your own.

Tamarind paste

Tamarind paste can also be found in specialty markets, as well as a lot of mainstream grocers (or online). It adds a wonderful tart flavor to this recipe. If you don’t have it, you can leave it out; if it’s something you like to keep at home, the recipe will still be savory and flavorful without it! You can help to replace it with a generous extra squeeze of lime.

This recipe could easily be modified to include a different blend of spices or even different ingredients; I’m thinking that sweet potato would be a marvelous addition. But it’s great just as it is: an easy, low-stress, protein-rich, iron-rich, and highly nourishing meal.

How to serve slow cooker masala lentils

There are so many ways to enjoy these flavorful lentils! Some of my favorites:

  • Over rice
  • With flatbread
  • Over quinoa or bulgur
  • In a wrap or dosa
  • In a grain bowl

Or whatever strikes your fancy!

An overhead image of a white, ceramic bowl that has been filled with brown rice and lentils cooked in a red sauce. It rests against a white backdrop.
Two white, ceramic bowls hold dishes of masala spiced lentils and cooked brown rice.
4.16 from 13 votes

Slow Cooker Masala Lentils (gluten free, soy free)

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 10 minutes
Yields: 10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced, fresh ginger
  • 2 cups brown, green, or pardina lentils
  • 4 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes (1 15-ounce can)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste optional, adds tartness
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • A few shakes black pepper
  • 3/4 cup cashew cream (substitute 1 cup full-fat coconut milk)
  • cooked rice (optional, for serving)
  • chopped fresh cilantro (optional, for serving)

Instructions

  • Place all ingredients except for the cashew cream or coconut milk in your slow cooker. Stir. Cook on high heat for 4 hours or on low heat for 8 hours. In the last hour or two of cooking, respectively, check to see if the lentils need more liquid, and add extra broth or water. You can adjust this based on how thick you'd like the finished lentils to be, keeping in mind that you'll be adding more liquid in the form of the cashew cream or coconut milk.
  • When the lentils are ready, stir in the cashew cream or coconut milk. Serve the lentils over a whole grain, if desired, and garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro.
  • If you're cooking the lentils on the stovetop: sauté the onion in a tablespoon avocado oil (or another neutral cooking oil) or 1/4 cup vegetable broth over medium heat till the onion is soft and clear (about 5-7 minutes). Add the garlic and ginger and cook for one more minute. Add the remaining ingredients except for the cashew cream or coconut milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 15 minutes, or until the lentils are thickened. Stir in the cashew cream or coconut milk, season to taste with additional salt, and serve.

Notes

Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days, and they can be frozen for up to 6 weeks.
Two ceramic bowls have been piled with masala spiced, cooked lentils. Another bowl in the backdrop is filled with cooked brown rice.

There’s nothing like a big, saucy batch of lentils to add nutrition and flavor to your meals all week long. I hope you’ll come to enjoy this savory, fragrant dish as much as I do.

xo

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Recipe Rating




    183 Comments
  1. OK, so I am an unapologetic omnivore, with 90% of my meals consisting of meat. I made this because my wife has asked for a meatless day, given the circumstances, period. It being Mother’s Day, I figured what better day to make an exception to the norm. Long story short, this was fantastic and I would 100% make it again. Use all of the ingredients suggested. The tamarind makes a difference.

  2. If you aren’t available to add the coconut milk later during the cooking process, could it be added at the beginning instead?

    • I think so! I tend to taste the creaminess more when I finish with the milk or cashew cream, but I’m sure this would work, too 🙂

  3. I think it would be best to precook the onions and garlic, they come out a bit crunchy even after six hours cooking. Otherwise the recipe is really good.

  4. A good base recipe. I would recommend doubling the garam masala, adding cumin, curry powder and chilli powder. This gives it more flavour and kick.

  5. I am sitting enjoying this dish as I post. I froze a good part of it because it yields a lot. It is so delicious and easy. One tweak, I took all of the spices and sautéed them along with cumin seeds in a bit of coconut oil. Once this became fragrant, I popped it all into the slow cooker. The best part of this recipe was, I had everything I needed in the house. Thank you for a wholesome, hearty, easy recipe.

    • Hi Leslie,

      I’m not sure. I think the cooking time would be shorter, as red lentils cook more quickly, but I suspect I’d need to try it for a precise estimate! You could try cooking on high and keeping an eye on it to make sure it’s cooking the way you want it to.

      G

  6. This was amazing, so tasty plus my first successful slow cooker meal to boot (had nearly given up on it!) Delicious, thank you and so easy to make. Thumbs up from my 9 year old son 🙂

  7. On its own, I thought this recipe was pretty bland and it took WAYY longer than expected for the lentils to fully cook in the crock pot unfortunately. (7hrs on high) I ended up making a few adjustments. I doubled the amount of garam masala, and maple syrup. At the end, I added full fat coconut milk instead of low fat and served it all over some brown rice, with a side of achaar to spice things up. With those changes, we enjoyed our meal and had tons of leftovers, so we took your advice and froze some of it in individual portions for lunches.

  8. I enjoyed this recipe mostly because it was very easy to make and I had all the ingredients already in my pantry. In my opinion it had good flavor; however, my husband didn’t like it as much. So very sad! I will have to change it – maybe by adding a few more veggies and changing the spices a little bit (for us it was a bit salty).

    Thank you for the recipe.

  9. I just made this recipe and my house smells amazing!! Looking back I wish I wouldn’t have added additional liquid in the last hour because once the coconut milk was added it became more like a loose stew and I wanted it a bit thicker. You live and you learn. The only modification I’d make in the future would be to add in some chopped up jalapeno. I didn’t have any on hand and instead added a few heavy shakes of cayenne- but that’s for my personal taste. With all that said, this recipe is delicious!

  10. I would definitely make more bean stews this winter like my favorite ribollita recipe!

  11. I have so many recipes I would love to try, but maybe first a vegan mac and cheese. Yummy.

  12. I am so curious to see how all these vegan slow cooker recipes turn out. I have not used one since I started my vegan diet back in February 🙂

  13. I haven’t made a lot of slow-cooker recipes… but I’m a college student and we’re coming up on finals crunch time here… anything that could save me time is definitely worth trying! Whipping up a big batch of these masala lentils would last me all week! They look delicious!

  14. I think I would like to try a white bean chili recipe or minestrone soup! ❤️

  15. I don’t have a slow cooker/crock pot. (Is there truly a difference???) Which feels sort of blasphemous. I’ve been looking into getting one, so this seems very fortuitous. Fingers crossed!

    Also, that looks absolutely delicious. It’s gonna have to be one of the first recipes I try once I actually have a slow cooker.

  16. This is the first recipe I’ve made from this blog, and I am officially obsessed with it as well as slow-cooker recipes in general. I looked at my husband and said, “Seriously, it’s this easy?!” I will definitely be doing this for beans/soups/chilis on a weekly basis, so thank you!

    • Thank you, Brittany! I’m so glad you liked it. I must admit, having a slow cooker has really been an incredible asset in the last two weeks, and I’m quickly falling in love with mine. I’ll be sure to keep sharing my favorite recipes!

  17. Your lentil recipe looks yummy! I’ve never cooked oats in a slow cooker so that would be what I would want to try first. It would be nice to have breakfast ready in the mornings.

  18. The madras lentils sound (and look!) delicious. I don’t have a slow cooker so I’m often having to pass over recipes that call for them. It would be great to remedy that!

  19. Would love a new slow cooker with a timer- that seems like a great feature for beans when I am running late from work!!

  20. Being a college student, space and time are two things I don’t have a lot of. I could whip up some yummy curry dishes with this perfect addition to my quaint (and cramped…) dorm. And my roommate would be happy!

  21. I would love to own a slow cooker so I can have nice warm meals when I get home from work! I love recipes just like this one.

  22. I’d like to try making desserts in the slow cooker. I’ve seen so many good ones!

  23. This was delicious! I had it last night. Mmmmmmm!!!!!! Can’t wait to eat the leftovers.

  24. Slow cooker warm porridge on winter mornings sounds just delightful! Thanks for the new recipe.

  25. I loved my slow cooker! It recently decided that it had enough and quit working on me! It stopped turning on and if you were able to get that far it would turn itself off when trying to program it! It’s about 11 years old and well loved!

  26. My husband just told me he wants a slow cooker! Destiny 🙂

    I would make vegan chili!

  27. This dish sounds delicious. I’ve been trying to track down some recipes as I recently won a slow cooker =) I don’t use it very often though, it kind of sits at the back of the cupboard… but I will pull it out to try this =)

  28. I have this in my slow cooker right now! I’m excited to taste the finished product.

    I love my slow cooker and use it often. A Year of Slow Cooking has many recipes that are vegan or can be converted to become vegan. Some favorites are 21 Lentil and Sweet Potato Curry, Bombay Beans and Potatoes and Sweet Potato Chili.

    Thank you for the giveaway!

  29. I have made so many of your delicious recipes and can’t wait to try this one.. Your cookbook is one of my favourites as is your blog

  30. Ooohh I’d love to try this recipe in a slow cooker or perhaps a black bean stew recipe!

  31. I’d love to try a vegan potato soup. I haven’t made it since I started the omni to vegan transition, and it’s the right weather for soup!

  32. Hmm…I’m sure I’d make some kind of stew or chili in my slow cooker. Thanks for the giveaway; I have one that has never worked and I’ve just never replaced it! xoxo

  33. I’m also curious about the slow cooker oatmeal, but I’d definitely be putting this to use for chili!

  34. I’ve been dreaming of making a delicious curried butternut squash soup, it would be a so simple to prepare in the slow cooker too!

  35. Rajma! (Indian red kidney beans) —
    I make it in a small cooker currently, using Anupy Singla’s recipe, but it’s so good it would be great to make a bigger amount at once.

  36. Some sort of bean chili/stew…chilis are my favorite thing to make in slow cookers 🙂

  37. I’ve always wanted to try a slow cooker as well! Imagine coming home after a long day of work to a delicious black bean stew ready to be devoured!

  38. I’d like to find a nice rice breakfast dish. It would be great to wake up to the wonderful scent of breakfast ready for the table.

  39. Ah, I’ve been thinking of getting a slow cooker for a while now, but I wasn’t sure that I would use it enough to justify the purchase. This recipe looks like a great start!

  40. I think I would use the slow cooker to making staples, like bbq sauces, tomato sauces, and beans. I love the idea of being able to set a button and forget about it.

  41. Just looking at pics of this Masala Lentils make me want it NOW!!!! Yumm!~Thanks so much for lovely ideas.

  42. I would love to have a sow cooker! This recipe is what I would make, it looks so good!

  43. As for what type of recipe I’d like to make – either steel cut oats for an easy nourishing breakfast, or this masala lentils recipe!

  44. This looks so amazing and perfect for the cold rainy weather I’ve been seeing lately!

  45. I want to try making desserts in a slower cooker! I found a recipe for chocolate peanut butter cake that looks yummy.