If you're looking for a flavorful plant-based dinner idea, look no further than this instant pot red lentil curry! This recipe is packed with healthy, inexpensive ingredients and is ready in just over 30 minutes.
Why this recipe works
- Dietary-features: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free
- Made with healthy, inexpensive pantry staples
- Ready in just over 30 minutes (most of which is inactive time)
- Easy to double and freeze for meal prep
Seriously, this is a go-to recipe at my house. I always keep a variety of lentils on hand for quick Instant Pot meals (and red lentil veggie burgers!).
Red lentils cook quickly and really soak up flavor, making them a great option for last-minute dinners.
What you'll need
- Red or orange lentils: Green and brown lentils do not work here because they have a different cook time.
- Sweet potato: Choose an orange-flesh sweet potato (Jewel or Garnet).
- Yellow onion is my go-to but white onion and red onion work in a pinch.
- Garlic and ginger: Fresh is preferred but ½ teaspoon garlic powder and ginger powder can be used in place of fresh as needed. Add in with the other spices.
- Curry powder, cumin, ground coriander and cayenne pepper are the main spices. Curry powder comes in many different forms. You can buy a pre-made curry powder (this is the kind that I like to use) or make and customize your own.
- Full fat coconut milk adds creaminess. Reduced fat can be used for a lower fat meal.
- Spinach: I use fresh spinach but frozen will work too. Frozen spinach will take a few more minutes to thaw in the hot curry.
Red lentils nutrition
Red lentils are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber. A one cup serving of cooked red lentils contains about 17 grams of protein; that's a lot of plant-based protein!
Lentils are also dense with B vitamins and provide a healthy serving of complex carbohydrates. Red lentils are actually brown lentils with their outer skin removed, much like brown rice and white rice. This causes them to lose their shape much more quickly than brown lentils.
Sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamin A. The sweet potato skins are full of fiber, potassium and iron, so I leave them on in this curry.
The sweet potatoes soften enough during cooking that you hardly notice the skin is there! However, you can remove the skin if you prefer and the dish will be just as delicious.
Step by step instructions
Before you begin: Rinse the lentils thoroughly under running water to remove any debris. Scrub sweet potatoes if you are leaving the skins on OR skin the sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes with skins on will hold their shape better.
Step 1: Press the "sauté" function on your Instant Pot. Adjust the timer to 7 minutes. Once it reads "hot" add the olive oil. Add the diced sweet potato and onions, sautéing until onions are softened, about 5-6 minutes.
Step 2: Add minced garlic and ginger and sauté a minute more.
Step 3: Stir in the spices and sauté for 30 seconds more. Add in 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable broth to deglaze the pot. This removes any stuck on bits and helps to prevent the burn error!
Step 4: Stir in coconut milk, vegetable broth, and red lentils. Lock the lid in place and turn the vent to "sealing".
Cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally, which will take about 10-15 minutes.
Step 5: Remove the lid and stir in the fresh spinach. It will wilt down just from the heat of the curry but you can adjust the heat to "sauté" to wilt it more quickly. Enjoy with a side of rice or quinoa.
- Heat: You can purchase mild, medium or hot varieties of curry powder depending on your preferred spice level. Add in a minced jalapeno along with the garlic for more heat.
- Extra veggies: If you have any extra veggies that need to be used up you can dice them up small and sauté them with the sweet potato and onion. Celery, carrots, peas and green beans are all great additions to lentil curry.
- Serving ideas: Make it a complete meal by serving with rice or quinoa. Sprinkle with fresh lime juice and green onions and you're set for a filling vegetarian meal.
- Are you looking for a traditional recipe? This isn't it! This recipe is inspired by my favorite Indian flavors but it definitely doesn't use traditional methods or ingredients. For something more authentic try searching "masoor dal".
Yes, you can double the recipe if you have a 6 quart or 8 quart Instant Pot. Double every ingredient, including the liquid.
Yes, this recipe freezes really well. Let the lentils cool to room temperature before transferring to freezer containers. Freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating in the microwave or on the stove over medium-low heat.
For best quality, keep leftovers for 3-4 days. Reheat single servings in the microwave in ~2 minutes or reheat on the stove in a small sauce pot over medium-low heat until warmed through.
Since brown lentils take longer to cook I recommend using red lentils in this recipe.
The best way to prevent the burn error with this recipe is to:
1) wait until the pot reads HOT before adding oil and
2) deglaze the pot with vegetable broth after sautéing aromatics and blooming the spices.
By pouring in a few tablespoons of vegetable broth and scraping off stuck on bits from the bottom of the pot you are more likely to avoid ingredients from sticking to the pot while cooking.
Looking for more Instant Pot recipes?
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Instant Pot Red Lentil Curry with Sweet Potatoes
- 1 cup dry red lentils rinsed
- 1 tablespoon olive or peanut oil
- 1 pound sweet potato diced into 1 inch pieces
- 1 medium yellow onion finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon salt more to taste
- 3-4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger about 1" ginger
- 1 and ½ tablespoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon coriander seed
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper optional; makes it lightly spicy
- 1 cup full fat coconut milk
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 3 cups fresh spinach
- for serving: lime wedges, chopped cilantro, sliced green onion
- Press the "sauté" button on the Instant Pot. Set to "normal" heat. Once it reads "hot", add the oil. When hot, add the sweet potato, onion, and salt. Sauté for 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion starts to brown.
- Add the minced garlic and ginger. Sauté for 1 minute, until fragrant. Stir in the spices (curry powder, cumin, coriander seed, cayenne pepper). Continue stirring for 30 seconds to prevent the spices from burning.
- Drizzle in 2-3 tablespoons vegetable broth or water to deglaze the pot. Stir to remove any stuck on spices or onion.
- Stir in the coconut milk, remaining vegetable broth and red lentils. Lock the lid in place and turn the pressure vent to "sealing".
- Select "high pressure" and set the timer to 5 minutes. It will take about 10 minutes for the pot to come to pressure. Allow the pressure to release naturally after the 5 minutes are up; this will take about 10-15 minutes.
- When the pressure has released, remove the lid and stir in the fresh spinach. Serve with rice or quinoa and top with green onions, fresh chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.
- Ginger and garlic: ½ teaspoon ground ginger or garlic powder can be used in place of fresh as needed. Add in with the other spices.
- Leftovers and reheating: For best quality, keep leftovers for 3-4 days. Reheat single servings in the microwave in ~2 minutes or reheat on the stove in a small sauce pot over medium-low heat until warmed through.
- Freezing: Let the lentils cool to room temperature before transferring to freezer containers. Freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating in the microwave or on the stove over medium-low heat.
- Doubling: You can double the recipe if you have a 6 quart or 8 quart Instant Pot. Double every ingredient, including the liquid.
Author's note: This recipe was originally shared January 2019. It was updated August 2021 with new photos, a video and more tips. The recipe remains with the same with the addition of coriander and rewritten instructions for more consistent results.