Easy-to-make, this vegan coconut curry lentil soup with turmeric is warming, delicious and healthy. It comes together quickly and is perfect for a cold evening. Red lentils break down during cooking, thickening the soup, which is richly flavored with coconut milk, garlic and ginger as well as a variety of spices, including turmeric, mustard seeds, coriander, fennel and red pepper flakes. A squeeze of fresh lime juice at the end imparts a bright acidity that cuts the richness of the coconut milk. It sounds complicated, but the prep time is less than 15 minutes and dinner is on the table in about an hour. Serve this lentil soup at your next dinner party. It’s as beautiful as it is delicious.
Coconut curry lentil soup with turmeric is of the cuisine of Goa, a region of India’s southwest coast on the Arabian Sea. Goan food is mild and primarily pescatarian and lacto-vegetarian and lentils are widely used. This soup uses many of the common flavoring ingredients of the region, including coconut (oil, milk and flakes), mustard seeds, onion and garlic. This recipe has the same wonderful flavor profile as my Goan Shrimp Curry recipe. It’s packed with flavor, but it’s not particularly spicy hot. For an added kick of heat, top the soup with an optional spoonful of chili crisp.
This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe originally published in Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Magazine.
How is this coconut curry lentil soup with turmeric healthy?
My favorite saying for I dish I consider healthy is: "It's a bowl of health." And this coconut curry lentil soup certainly is. Here's how:
According to the Cleveland Clinic, lentils contribute to good health in powerful ways. Lentils are high in plant-based protein, which helps you build and maintain strong muscles, bones and skin. They can also help manage your appetite and support weight loss. Lentils contain plant-based compounds called polyphenols. The anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective nature of these compounds mean that lentils may help reduce your risk of chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. And, importantly, for overall digestive health and immunity, lentils are rich in a type of fiber that feeds “good” gut bacteria and supports a healthy gut microbiome.
Onions and Garlic
These members of the allium family of vegetables are one of the 6 anti-cancer foods promoted by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, known as G-BOMBS (greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries and seeds). Dr. Fuhrman points to many studies that show that onions and garlic contain phytochemicals that help prevent cancer, while promoting cardiac health and overall immunity.
The medical community recognizes that chronic low-level inflammation can contribute to the development of many diseases including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's. The spice turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory. According to the Cleveland Clinic, taking turmeric may be beneficial for chronic conditions where inflammation starts to affect the tissues of our body. Cleveland Clinic points to one study where ulcerative colitis patients that took curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) were more likely to stay in remission than those who did not.
Ingredients for Coconut Curry Lentil Soup
Red lentils are a must for this coconut curry lentil soup with turmeric, as they break down beautifully to thicken the soup. You could also use yellow (split) lentils if that’s what you have, but avoid brown, green and black lentils, as these varieties hold their shape and will not create the thick luscious soup that we want.
Aroy-D is my favorite brand of coconut milk for one simple reason - it contains nothing but coconut and water! There are no gums. No weird ingredients I can't pronounce. And it’s the smoothest, creamiest I've tried - not chunky or oily like some brands. Chaokoh is also excellent, but I have read reports online from animal rights organizations that Chaokoh uses forced monkey labor for harvesting of their coconuts. Several major retailers, including Walmart, Cosco, Target and Kroger, have pulled Chaokoh products from their shelves in response to consumer complaints. I cannot be certain that this is true, but in case it is, I chose Aroy-D, available on Amazon.
It's hard to imagine a better showcase for high quality spices than this coconut curry lentil recipe. My go-to spice source is Burlap and Barrel, a Public Benefit Corporation focused on building new international spice supply chains that are equitable, transparent and traceable. They work with small family farmers that grow the finest spices available in the world. You can see, smell and taste the difference in quality versus mass-produced, commercial spices. For this coconut curry lentil recipe, I used Burlap and Barrel New Harvest Turmeric (exceptionally sweet and floral) and Lucknow Fennel from India and Red River Coriander from Vietnam. Their spices change seasonally based on what is available. Join their Quarterly Spice Club and be delighted with an eagerly awaited quarterly shipment of wonderful spices and specialty foods.
- coconut oil
- sea salt
- mustard seeds
- ground turmeric
- ground coriander
- ground fennel
- red pepper flakes
- coconut milk
- red lentils
- lime juice
- coconut flakes (optional)
- tomato (optional)
- chili crisp (optional)
See recipe card for quantities.
Instructions for Coconut Curry Lentil Soup
Heat coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add diced onions, smashed garlic and 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt to the saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn transparent and start to caramelize (brown).
Add 2 teaspoons of the grated ginger along with the mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander, fennel and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Stir in the water, coconut milk and lentils and heat to boiling. Turn down the heat to a simmer, cover and continue cooking until the lentils break down and thicken the soup. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the freshness of your lentils and the heat of your stove.
When the lentils are ready, stir in the spinach until wilted. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice, the remaining 1 teaspoon of ginger and sea salt to taste. Serve in shallow bowls topped with chopped tomatoes, unsweetened coconut flakes and a spoonful chili crisp, if desired.
Don't burn your spices! It's important to let them cook with the onions and garlic until fragrant, but going too far and burning them will result in a bitter flavor.
FAQ for Coconut Curry Lentil Soup
The type of lentils you choose depends on the type of dish you are cooking. Some lentil varieties hold their shape very well and are better for salads, where others break down during cooking and are better for thick soups. Here are 4 of the most common varieties of lentils:
1. Brown lentils are the most common variety of lentils that you’ll see in your grocery store. They have a mild, earthy flavor, hold their shape well and are often used in warm salads, soups, and vegetarian burgers.
2. Green lentils also hold their shape well and have a stronger flavor than brown lentils. The most famous green lentils are the fabulous French Puy lentils. These lentils are firm and chewy and are great in salads or in other side dishes.
3. Red lentils are sweet and nutty. They cook quickly and break down while cooking. This thickens the liquid they are cooked in. Red lentils are perfect for dishes like Indian dal and soups like this coconut curry lentil soup with turmeric.
4. Black beluga lentils hold their shape well and look like caviar when cooked (which is how they got their name, e.g. beluga caviar!). They have a rich earthy flavor and are often used in salads and hearty side dishes.
Coconut curry lentil soup with turmeric is full of hearty lentils, onions and spinach. And then topped with chopped tomatoes, coconut flakes and chili crisp, it is for me, a complete meal. If you like, you can serve this delicious soup with basmati rice or some warmed nan bread. Some papadam on the side would add some welcome crunch and a simple sliced cucumber salad dressed with seasoned rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil and ginger would also be fantastic.
Store coconut curry lentil soup with turmeric covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for 3-4 months.
Coconut Curry Lentil Soup with Turmeric
- 2 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated, divided
- 2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3½ cups water
- 1 14 oz can coconut milk
- 1 cup red lentils
- 5 oz baby spinach
- 2 tablespoon lime juice
- unsweetened coconut flakes, optional, to serve
- chopped tomato optional, to serve
- chili crisp, optional, to serve
- Heat coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add diced onions, smashed garlic and 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt to the saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn transparent and start to caramelize (brown).
- Add 2 teaspoons of the grated ginger along with the mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander, fennel and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the water, coconut milk and lentils and heat to boiling. Turn down the heat to a simmer, cover and continue cooking until the lentils break down and thicken the soup. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the freshness of your lentils and the heat of your stove.
- When the lentils are ready, stir in the spinach until wilted. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice, the remaining 1 teaspoon of ginger and sea salt to taste. Serve in shallow bowls topped with chopped tomatoes, unsweetened coconut flakes and a spoonful chili crisp, if desired.