What Is Red Lentil Curry?

Emily Pate

Red lentil curry is a dish of South Asian origin, most often seen in Indian cuisine. It features a soft, quick-cooking lentil of which Red Chief is the most common type. The curry sauce varies significantly, as the term applies to any number of spice blends containing herbs like turmeric, cumin, and coriander, among others. Red lentil curry's other basic ingredients add flavor and texture. It is usually prepared by sauteing spices and herbs first, then adding lentils and vegetables to simmer.

Curry powder.
Curry powder.

The red lentil variety is a quick-cooking legume grown in pods containing one or more disc-shaped seeds. This ancient food is likely native to India and is a staple ingredient in regional and pan-Asian cuisine. Rich in protein, it is a common ingredient in main dishes.

Curry spices typically include ground coriander.
Curry spices typically include ground coriander.

Red Chief is perhaps the most common lentil of this color. The legume has a salmon hue when raw, turning gold after cooking. It offers a signature earthy taste, absorbing flavors well. This variety doesn't hold shape well, however, so red lentil curry tends to have have a stew-like consistency.

Fenugreek is a popular ingredient in curry dishes.
Fenugreek is a popular ingredient in curry dishes.

The term "curry" refers to a variety of spice blends in South Asian cuisine, not any one seasoning or herb. Curry leaf, however, is an herb often used in Indian dishes of this type, as well as Sri Lankan foods. Common ingredients depend on the region and type of cuisine, but typically include coriander, cumin, and turmeric, as well as fenugreek and red pepper. Other spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom are typical. Fresh spices may be blended together to make a curry, or a pre-mixed powder in yellow, green, or red may be used.

A variety of other staple ingredients are found in red lentil curry recipes. Garlic cloves, oil, and onion may be sauteed along with peppers and coconut milk for a creamy, mellow-tasting curry with varying spiciness. Vegetables like zucchini or summer squash can add texture and richness, and fresh cilantro may be incorporated as well.

Preparation and service of red lentil curry is similar to other dishes of this type. Onion, ginger, and garlic along with curry spices are sauteed in oil, then lentils are added to simmer for several minutes before adding vegetables. Red lentils have their husks removed and require less cooking time, about 10 to 30 minutes total, with an average begin about 20 minutes. Fresh cilantro is chopped and placed atop the curry, sometimes with a lime wedge on the side.

Creamy yogurt and fresh vegetables are good additions to a red lentil curry.
Creamy yogurt and fresh vegetables are good additions to a red lentil curry.

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