Madras Lentils - an easy-to-make, tasty vegetarian curry that combines lentils and kidney beans in a creamy tomato sauce. It’s made from pantry staples which makes it easy to whip up when you have nothing else in your refrigerator.
During the school year, we do a bit of meal planning and prep on the weekend but inevitably we have nights when I have no plan and cross my fingers that we can make something for what's left in the pantry- or hope there is something hidden in the freezer. This recipe has saved the day in both ways.
Made with two favorites- beans and lentils this dish is packed with flavor and makes the house smell amazing. It is packed with fiber and plant-based protein making a fulfilling and satisfying meal. For more info about the benefits of lentils.
This recipe was inspired by a free sample tasting of the Tasty Bite Madras Lentils at Costco. My kids love the free samples at Costco, I find it hilarious- and frustrating- all the things they will try there but would never touch if I try to serve it to them at home.
The sample was pretty tasty so I started working on a recipe at home. The result is this cozy and aromatic dish I crave on chilly days. No, the kids are not into it but they are missing out and more for me:)
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat, and as it warms, add the finely chopped onions. Sauté them until they achieve a soft, translucent, and golden hue, ensuring a caramelized sweetness. This typically takes around 10 minutes when using thinly sliced, room-temperature onions.
Introduce the diced red bell pepper, jalapeno, minced garlic, and grated ginger to the pot, allowing the mixture to sauté until it emanates a fragrant aroma.
Next, incorporate the spices, including tomato paste, chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, turmeric, garam masala, and red pepper flakes. Let the tomato paste toast for about 2 minutes while you continue to stir.
Pour in the tomato sauce, ensuring a thorough mix. Add the canned lentils (drained and rinsed), red kidney beans (drained and rinsed) and the richness of coconut milk. Stir the ingredients together. To intensify the flavors, let the mixture simmer on low heat, mostly covered with a lid.
If you are short on time- 20 minutes should do the trick. If time permits, allow it to simmer for up to an hour, stirring occasionally. Just before serving, garnish the buttery lentils with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice, providing a final touch to this aromatic and comforting Madras Lentils creation.
Tips and Tricks
Take your time with the Onions- Your goal is to have them turn soft, translucent, and golden as they edge toward caramelization. The suggested 10-minute timeframe is based on using very thinly sliced, room-temperature onions. If you opt for thicker slices or begin with cold onions, potentially double the cooking time. The aim is to cook them down completely, which not only imparts a delightful sweetness to the sauce but also allows them to seamlessly blend into the final sauce. The onions themselves become an integral part of the sauce.
Don’t skimp on the garlic- Don't hold back when it comes to the garlic; it may seem like a generous amount, and truth be told, it is. The trio of onions, garlic, ginger, and cumin bears the brunt of the flavor, resulting in a dish that is mild yet incredibly rich in taste.
Toasting the tomato paste- this a critical step in enhancing the overall flavor profile. Indian cuisine is renowned for its intricate layering of flavors during the cooking process.
Choose to simmer or skip it—this recipe is designed for weekday convenience, so I opted for the latter. However, if you find yourself with some extra time, consider adding half a cup of water and allowing it to simmer on low heat, mostly covered with a lid, for up to an hour, stirring periodically. The flavors will only get better with more time.
Make Extra- If you're like me and can't get enough of the incredible flavors in this dish, consider making a larger batch and freezing the extra portions for future enjoyment. One of the remarkable things about Madras Lentils is that the flavors continue to improve over time, making it an ideal candidate for batch cooking and freezing.
While the Madras Lentils is a delightful dish as written in the instructions and recipe card- you have to love a flexible recipe, so here are some alterations and variations:
Using Dried Lentils:
- If you prefer using dried lentils, be aware that they absorb more liquid than canned ones. You will need to add extra water or vegetable broth to maintain the desired consistency. I would add an extra 1 ½ cups of water and ½ cup of dry lentils. (Learn how to cook perfect lentils every time)
Experiment with Different Lentils:
- Instead of red lentils, try black or brown lentils. Keep in mind that black lentils may require slightly longer cooking and can offer a different texture, adding a bit of bite to the dish.
Substituting Coconut Milk:
- If you don't have coconut milk on hand, try heavy cream or cashew milk.
Adding More Vegetables:
- Enhance the nutritional value and variety of your Madras Lentils by incorporating additional vegetables. Sliced bell peppers or diced squash can be excellent choices to introduce extra flavors and textures into the dish. Be creative and experiment with your favorite veggies.
Adjusting the Spice Level:
- Customize the spiciness of the dish to match your palate. If you prefer a milder version, reduce the amount of chili powder or omit it entirely. For those who enjoy some heat, feel free to increase the amount of chili powder or even add some chopped fresh green chilis peppers for an extra kick.
Use an immersion Blender:
- For a creamier texture, employ an immersion blender after the lentils, kidney beans, and other ingredients have simmered.
- Squeeze of Lime Juice: Garnish the dish with a generous squeeze of lime juice. The citrusy brightness beautifully contrasts the rich and savory flavors.
- Bed of Rice or Brown Rice: Serve your Madras Lentils over a bed of fluffy white rice or nutritious brown rice. The grains absorb the flavorful sauce, providing a satisfying base for the curry.
- Naan Bread: Accompany your Madras Lentils with warm and pillowy naan bread. The soft, slightly chewy texture of naan is an ideal vessel for scooping up every bit of the curry.
- Topped with a Handful of Cashews: For an added crunch and a touch of nuttiness, sprinkle a handful of cashews over your Madras Lentils just before serving.
More Hearty Soup Recipes:
Let any unused portion cool before transferring to airtight containers for short-term refrigeration (3-4 days) or long-term freezing. Thaw in the refrigerator for optimal texture upon reheating, either on the stovetop or in the microwave. Consider adding a splash of water during reheating if needed. Keep in mind that Madras Lentils often develop even richer flavors the next day or after being frozen, making them a delicious and convenient option for future meals.
What are madras lentils?
Madras Lentils are very similar to Dal Makhani, a popular vegetarian curry dish in North Indian cuisine. The dish typically features a combination of lentils and kidney beans cooked in a rich and aromatic tomato-based sauce. The lentils used are often red or black gram lentils, and the inclusion of various spices, such as cumin, coriander, garam masala, and chili powder, contributes to the dish's robust and complex flavor.
The sauce in Madras lentils is often made creamy with the addition of coconut milk or cream, providing a velvety texture. The dish is known for its deep, savory taste with a hint of sweetness from caramelized onions and tomatoes.
While the traditional Dal Makhani features Black Urad Dal and Red Kidney Beans, this version of Madras Lentils opts for Red Lentils (Whole Masoor Dal) instead of Black Urad Dal. The use of Red Lentils not only adds a nutritional boost but also accelerates the cooking time, making this dish a quicker alternative to its traditional counterpart.
More Lentils Soup Recipes:
Madras Lentils Recipe
- 1 onion
- 2 tablespoon olive oils
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 jalapeno seeded, stemmed and diced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons grated ginger root
- 3 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 turmeric
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- ½ red pepper flakes
- 1 28 oz can tomatoes
- ½ cups of water
- 1 canned lentins
- 1 can red kidney beans
- 1 can of coconut milk
- Cilantro for garnish
- Lime Juice for garnish
- In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onions and sauté until soft, translucent, and golden, ensuring they caramelize for added sweetness. This takes about 10 minutes with thinly sliced, room-temperature onions.
- Add diced red bell pepper, jalapeno, minced garlic, and grated ginger. Sauté until fragrant.
- Stir in tomato paste, chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, turmeric, garam masala, and red pepper flakes. Allow the tomato paste to toast for a few minutes.
- Pour in the tomato sauce and mix well.
- Add green lentils with water or use canned lentils, red kidney beans, and coconut milk. Stir to combine.
- Simmer the mixture on low heat, mostly covered with a lid. If time allows, let it simmer for up to an hour, stirring occasionally.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro before serving.