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What Is Red Lentil Stew?

Megan Shoop
Megan Shoop

Red lentil stew is a traditional Indian dish that typically includes red lentils and a very wide variety of spices and vegetables served with rice. This stew may be made into a curry with the addition of certain spices. Some recipes contain meat, while others are vegetarian. Cooks may even make two versions for mixed groups. There are also many ways to prepare red lentil stew, allowing a variety of cooks to modify the recipe to their particular tastes and dietary needs.

Similar to split peas and beans, lentils are legumes that contain a wealth of vitamins and nutrients. Some doctors say that they can protect heart health as well as lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Lentils also contain high amounts of protein, meaning those seeking a diet low in animal products can eat them daily to stay full and satisfied. There are green and yellow lentils in addition to the red variety. Each type has a slightly different flavor, with red lentils featuring the deepest, richest flavors.


Spices typical to red lentil stew vary widely across the spectrum of sweet, spicy, and smoky flavors. Cumin, coriander, ginger, cloves, turmeric, curry powders, and chipotle seasoning are just a handful of spices used in this dish. These flavors are often highlighted with fresh cilantro, parsley, onions and garlic. Chopped chilies often make it into the mix, as well. All kinds of hot peppers may be used, from slightly sweet anchos to seriously spicy jalapenos.

Vegetables that generally show up in red lentil stew range from carrots and potatoes, chickpeas, and black or white beans. Pumpkin, acorn, and butternut squashes may all make an appearance, as might celery and tomatoes. All of these vegetables can be used in a single dish, though the cook may certainly include just two or three if he or she is looking for a certain flavor.

When cooking red lentil stew, the cook typically starts by simmering the lentils and spices in some kind of broth or water. The vegetables are added when the lentils start to soften. Cooking vegetables along with the lentils might result in mushy veggies. Hard veggies, like potatoes and celery, may be cooked along with the lentils, but tomatoes and pumpkin should be left out until later.

Those adding meat to their red lentil stew should typically either simmer it in the dish with the softer veggies, or sauté it and add it at the end. Lamb, pork, and chicken are all acceptable additions, as is shrimp. Shrimp are generally added at the very end of cooking time to prevent them from becoming rubbery.

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