Kitchn Love Letters

These Curried Lentils Taste Way More Complicated than They Actually Are

updated Sep 24, 2019
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Credit: Marie Telling

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. And we decided to start sharing some of our absolute favorites with you. Here’s a peek into what we’re cooking and eating in our own kitchens.

I love cooking, but for the longest time you might not have guessed it from my weeknight dinners. Sure, when guests were over I’d spend hours trying out elaborate recipes, but as soon as I was alone my diet reverted back to a mix of Sweetgreen, take-out ramen, and 10-minute nachos. 

I would like to say that one day I magically decided to take better care of myself. But the truth is that I started dating someone and wanted to impress him with delicious dinners. And as I wasn’t about to spend hours in the kitchen every night, I started looking for quick recipes that looked impressive.

One of them has been a faithful companion of my lazy evenings for the past three years: Julia Turshen’s curried red lentils with coconut milk. The relationship didn’t last, but the recipe did. 

Credit: Marie Telling

Here’s How I Make Julia Turshen’s Red Lentils

The best part about this flavorful dal is that it’s so easy to prepare. You only need a handful of ingredients — all of which are pretty cheap, and you probably have most of them in your pantry.

Aromatics are essential: The recipe calls for shallots, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, and turmeric, but you can substitute for what you have on hand. I’ve used half an onion when I was out of shallots and I often replace some of the spices with curry powder or garam masala. Apart from that, all you need are split red lentils, coconut milk, a few spoons of olive oil, some cilantro, and cooked rice.  

Most of the prep work is with the aromatics: Mince the ginger, garlic, and shallots before adding it all to your pan with olive oil and spices. Then let everything brown, stirring regularly, for 10 minutes before adding other ingredients. This toasts the spices to bring out their flavors and will take your dish from good to great.

Once everything is very fragrant, you can add the lentils, coconut milk, water, and salt. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are soft. And that’s it! Serve it with some rice, fresh cilantro, and perhaps a spoonful of yogurt.  

The dish is super comforting, packed with warm flavors, and one of the best ways to brighten up a cool night. It’s also secretly vegan (as long as you skip the optional yogurt). I’ve made this dish countless times for myself, but I’ve also served it to friends and family. Everyone loves it. As it turns out, you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen to impress.