Madras Curry Lentils Recipe
The perfect healthy, delicious, protein and flavor-packed meal: homemade curry madras lentils! This is one of our absolute favorite go-to meals. We have it several times a month. This lentil recipe is vegan, but you can always add a little cheese or yogurt at the time of serving if you’d like. Not a huge fan of spice or curry? No worries! This dish can be made as mild or as spicy as your taste buds prefer.
You know those “Tasty Bite” meal-size, ready-to-eat Indian lentils? Well we got in a bad habit of eating those in college on occasion. They were delicious, quick, and easy, but we hated the fact that they were individually packaged and created a lot of waste. Also, they were not organic. So several years ago we started looking for imitation recipes so we could make our own. Over the years we have combined, tweaked, and played with various recipes until we found our own little groove. This is our base recipe, though we make variations on it sometimes too! I’ll touch on that later.
It isn’t exactly like Tasty Bite, but it’s damn good. Given that it’s organic, less waste, and homemade… I say BETTER!
These curry madras lentils can be made in small batches to enjoy over a couple of meals, or as we like to do, in larger batches to freeze in portions for months to come. Then you can just pull out a meal-size container at a time, defrost, re-heat on the stove, and Bam! Dinner is pretty much done. We like to put about a cup of the finished lentils in the bottom of a bowl, then pile on all sorts of seasonal sauteed veggies on top. Kale, chard, broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini, fresh tomatoes… whatever is coming out of the garden at the time! Or if you don’t have a garden? Hit up the farmer’s market!
We like to make big ole batches of these bad boys. But I know not everyone will be down for that, so for your convenience, I am including both a scaled-down recipe along with the larger portions we make as shown in the photos.
Makes 15 cups
|FULL PORTION (shown in photos)|
Makes 30 cups
• 1 pounds dry adzuki beans
• 1 pounds dry green lentils (about 2.25 cups)
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 2 tbsp Olive oil and/or coconut oil
• 2 medium yellow onions, diced
• 1 medium bulbs/heads of garlic, about 8 cloves, peeled and chopped
• 12-14 oz can of coconut cream
• (1) 16 oz jar of tomato preserves – we use homegrown tomato puree from the freezer. Sub with canned crushed tomatoes
• 1 small “hand” of fresh ginger and turmeric root each, grated. This should result in approximately 2-3 Tbsp after grating.
• 1 Tbsp curry powder
• ½ Tbsp salt
• ¼ Tbsp turmeric powder
• ¼ Tbsp cumin
• ¼ Tbsp chili powder
• ½ tsp Black pepper
• ¼ tsp garam marsala
• 2 pounds dry adzuki beans
• 2 pounds dry green lentils (about 4.5 cups)
• 1 tsp salt
• 4 tbsp Olive oil and/or coconut oil
• 4 medium yellow onions, diced
• 2 medium bulbs/heads of garlic, about 16 cloves, peeled and chopped
• (2) 12-14 oz cans of coconut cream
• (2) 16 oz jars of tomato preserves – we use homegrown tomato puree from the freezer. Sub with canned crushed tomatoes
• 1 medium “hand” of fresh ginger and turmeric root each, grated. This should result in approximately 5-6 Tbsp after grating.
• 2 Tbsp curry powder
• 1 Tbsp salt
• ½ Tbsp turmeric powder
• ½ Tbsp cumin
• ½ Tbsp chili powder
• 1 tsp Black pepper
• ½ tsp garam marsala
Bean Cooking Instructions
Step 1: Soak the Adzuki Beans
We love using small red adzuki beans for this recipe for several reasons! One, because they’re incredibly nutritious, packed with protein, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Secondly, adzuki beans don’t need to be soaked overnight for an extended period of time like other dried beans do! Additionally, they also don’t quite take as long to cook.
Soak the adzukis for just about 2 hours before you start to cook. We do this in the large stock pot we’re going to use for cooking the beans. It could also be done in a separate bowl. Add enough water to fully cover the beans. After 2 hours, drain the water.
Step 2: Start Cooking the Adzuki Beans
To cook the adzukis, they need 4 cups of water per every cup of dry beans. We will also be adding the lentils into the same pot (later) so this means we want to start with enough water for the lentils also, avoiding the need to go back and add cold water and slow down the cooking process. For our full recipe, we have found we need about 2 gallons of water. We fill a 3-gallon (12-quart) stainless steel stock pot, two-thirds full of water. If you are making a half-portion, you’ll want 1 gallon of water and at least a 1.5 to two gallon pot.
Why am I making such a big deal about describing the water volume in detail? I have my reasons. In the past we made the mistake of not adding enough water. As the adzukis and lentils cooked, expanded, and soaked up water, the pot of beans became very thick and difficult to stir. Some beans got stuck and burned to the bottom. Furthermore, some got all unpleasantly mashed. It is best to have ample water so you can freely stir your beans as they cook. Yes, at the beginning, it seems like a TON of water for very little beans. Just trust me here.
Okay, okay… Get to the point:
Combine your dry adzuki beans with 1 or 2 gallons of water depending on the size you’re making. Add ½ teaspoon or a full teaspoon of salt to the water, again adjusting for your batch. Bring to a boil. Once a boil is reached, reduce to a simmer. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Stir on occasion.
Step 3: Add Lentils
After the adzukis have been cooking for 25 minutes, it is time to add the lentils to the party! By staggering their start time in the pot, this allows them both to cook until perfectly done, without either getting too overdone and mushy.
Add the dried green lentils to the pot of hot water and half-cooked adzuki beans. Brown or red lentils could also be used. Return to a boil if needed, then reduce to a simmer again. Cook for 30 another minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 4: Drain Water
The beans should have cooked for just under an hour combined. Carefully sample a couple of each type to make sure they’re not still hard. We prefer to stop the cooking process when they’re soft, but before they’re overly soft and mushy. This is because they will still continue to cook and soften a little while they’re still in a large hot mass together.
It takes a little finesse to drain the water. We always cook way too much to use an actual strainer, so we cover the pot with a lid and gently tip it into the sink to drain the water. Keep a strainer below to catch any runaways, and be careful of the steam! It’s no biggie if you can’t get allll the water out, but try to remove as much as possible.
Leave the now-drained beans in the pot.
Curry Sauce Instructions
While the beans are cooking, it is a great time to prep ingredients and start cooking the curry sauce! We never wait until the beans are done to start the sauce. I just kept it separated here for easy reading.
Step 1: Sauté onions
In a medium pot (we use a minimum of a 3-quart sauce pan) over medium heat, add 1-2 tablespoons each evoo and coconut oil. Next add your diced onion. Sprinkle in ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt, again adjusting for the half or full size batch. Sauté until the onions are tender and translucent. Stir on occasion. Reduce to medium-low heat as needed.
Step 2: Add the “Wellness Trifecta”
Around this homestead, we refer to a combination of fresh turmeric, ginger, and garlic as a holy trifecta, flavor trifecta, or wellness trifecta. This combination of seasonings is insanely good for you, and insanely tasty, so we use it just about anywhere possible. These three are main players in our Fire Cider recipe too.
On top of the now-softened onions, add the garlic, ginger, and turmeric. We usually mince the garlic but you could also use a garlic press. For the ginger and turmeric, we finely grate it on a microplane. Stir. Let these get happy in the pot for a few minutes before going to Step 3. If they start to stick to the pan a little like ours does sometimes, add another dash of olive oil to help them out.
Step 3: Add Seasonings
Next, add all the other called-for spices in the amounts described above. Cumin, black pepper, turmeric powder, curry powder, chili powder, and garam masala. Stir in well, and allow to get happy again for a couple minutes before proceeding.
Would you like some suggestions on where we source our organic spices? Well, this is the curry seasoning we love. We use it all. the. time. Not just for “recipes” like this one, but just sprinkled over veggies as they’re cooking too. If you’re a huge turmeric fan and want to add it into your diet more (which we all should!), I suggest getting a this one-pound bag that should last you a while. Yet if you use it less, here is a smaller option.
If all of these seasonings aren’t something you think you’ll use that often, check out this awesome Indian seasoning sampler pack that includes curry, garam masala, turmeric, cumin, and more! And if you aren’t yet aware of the amazing health benefits of turmeric, stay tuned. I have a post coming all about it soon.
If you had to skip any of these, the garam masala would be it, though it does add a very nice little somethin’ special to the dish! Here is a really affordable organic garam masala! Did you know that black pepper increases the bioavailability and stellar beneficial effects of turmeric by over 1000x!? Therefore, do not skip the black pepper. If you don’t have access to fresh turmeric, double the amount of turmeric powder used here. On the other hand, if you don’t have turmeric powder but do have the fresh stuff, add a couple extra tablespoons of fresh.
Sliding Heat Scale:
Note that we use our own homegrown dried chili powder. It is fairly hot. Probably hotter than store-bought, but more complex in flavor. I am a heat-wimp so our curry recipe is definitely on the mild side! Feel free to scale up or down to taste.
While you are making and taste-testing your sauce, keep in mind that the flavors are supposed to be very concentrated and strong at this point. The fairly small amount of sauce is going to spread out to flavor a very large amount of beans. Everything will mellow out a bit then.
Step 4: Add Liquids
It’s time to get saucy! Now add the tomato preserves and coconut cream. Mix them in. Allow it all to simmer and reduce for about ten minutes, letting the flavors meld. Yes, we prefer the whole-fat organic coconut cream. Canned coconut “milk” usually has water listed as the first ingredient, thus, your sauce will be more watery.
Final Step: Combine the Curry Sauce & Beans
Finally, let’s mix the finished curry sauce into the cooked beans! We do this by slowly pouring about half of the sauce over the now-drained beans, mix once halfway through, and then add the rest. It does splatter a bit! To make less of a mess, you could ladle it in. Mix it well, so that the curry sauce is evenly spread and coated throughout the beans.
That was pretty simple, wasn’t it? And guess what? Now you have dinner made for several, maybe even dozens of meals! Even though the curry lentils are done, I am not finished throwing tips at you yet! Keep reading to see how we safely cool, store, freeze, and eat the beans!
Did you know that I used to be a food inspector? Therefore, I can’t help but mention a little food safety information here. One of the most common causes of foodborne illness is food being held at room temperature in the “danger zone” (41-135°F) for too long. One way this very easily happens is when food is not properly rapidly cooled. Large masses of hot, thick foods (like our pot of beans here!) are exceptionally good at retaining heat. So we need to help it cool down quickly.
The goal is to cool foods from hot (over 135°F) down to below 41°F as quickly as possible (within no more than 4-6 hours) to prevent harmful bacteria and toxins to develop. Those guys are what will make you sick to your stomach. Without intervention, large batches of hot food can stay lukewarm in the middle for days, even in a refrigerator. When I inspected restaurants, it was a daily occurence to find huge pots of refried beans, gravy, soups, and stews in walk-in refrigerators, still measuring around 90°F in the middle of the pot TWO DAYS after cooking. Yeah, insert barf-face emoji here.
How to Rapidly Cool Foods
To rapidly cool hot foods, one way is divide it into smaller portions, preferably wide shallow pans, and refrigerate uncovered. In this case, we are going to be dividing and packing up our beans into plastic freezer containers soon! However, I really don’t love the idea of putting hot foods into plastic, even if they are BPA-free (which they are). So we use other methods to rapidly cool our beans a bit first.
In one side of our sink, we create an “ice bath”. After the pot has been off the heat and cooled for at least a half an hour, plug the sink, put the pot in, and add ice, ice packs, and water all around the sides, as full as possible. Let the pot sit in the ice bath. Stir frequently. Stirring hot foods is the third way to rapidly cool them and helps immensely.
Once the beans have cooled down significantly we package them up. They’re usually still lukewarm at this point, but no longer hot.
Package for Freezing
We love and use these containers for freezing our curry lentils, and also our homemade soups! They’re reusable, BPA-free, and made in the USA. The set comes with a variety of sizes: quart, pint, and half-pint size, just like jars. We usually pack the quart size first, and then if we run out, move to the pint size.
When we eat these curry lentils, about a cup per person seems to be a nice, filling portion. With a quart holding 4 cups, that means each quart holds two 2-person meals. Consequently, this recipe and the photo below shows 15 meals ready for us! Fill them to the “fill line”, pop on the lid, and get them in the freezer.
What about freezing in glass jars, you ask? Well, we used to. But then jars started breaking on us more and more. It was causing a lot of food waste, since we didn’t want to risk encountering possible glass shards by salvaging and eating the food from the cracked jars.
Here is the trick: We have found that smaller size wide mouth half-pint and pint jars, when sold as “freezer safe”, do freeze well. So we totally use those pints for our tomato sauces and half-pints for our homemade pesto, with no issues! It is when you move into the quart jar size that they start to crack on you. It’s the little bend in their shoulders that causes it. And for beans and soups, we really need quart size. So those plastic containers have been a life saver!
Using the Curry Lentils
A day before we want them, we take a quart out of the freezer and defrost it in the fridge. For two people, we scoop out about half of the quart into a sauce pan and reheat them on the stove. We’ll use the other half within the next few days for another meal. They are good for about a week in the fridge.
While the curry lentils are heating up, we make whatever it is we want to eat them with. 99% of the time, that means a cast iron wok full of sauteed seasonal vegetables. We have used this amazing wok damn near every night for the last 8 years! It lives on our stove. It’s basically my best friend.
The photo above was poised just to show you a photo of the finished lentils, but the photo below is a more realistic representation of what they look like when we eat them. Buried in veggies. Sometimes we’ll add a little dollop of plain organic yogurt (a healthier alternative to sour cream) or some grated organic sharp white cheddar cheese. If you’re feeling indulgent, try a nice slice of homemade sourdough along with it! Another variation is to add a fried egg on top of the lentils and veggies. Annnnnd now I’m hungry.
Speaking of variations….
Now that you know this base recipe, feel free to play around and make it your own! For example, if we have an excess of greens coming out of the garden, we’ll often chop a bunch up and add them to the sauce. Same with bell peppers. When we grew tomatillos in the past, the result was a freezer full of tomatillo salsa by the end of the summer. So that got added to the sauce in the place of one jar of tomatoes on more than one occasion. Basically, get creative and experiment!
I hope you love this recipe as much as we do!
As I said, it is one of our favorites. Once it is made, it is beyond quick and easy to whip up a healthy, delicious, vegetarian meal with with them! Feel free to spread the love and share this post.
OK, so I FINALLY got around to making this – (it only took Covid and a snowstorm) to keep me inside.
I loved you before…but girl…..life changer!! Bye Tasty Bite pouches – hello home made and heart healthy 🙂