Inspired by a traditional Indian recipe that combines two tasty, high-protein legumes, this already-vegan lentil and kidney bean curry makes a filling, quick, and easy dinner.
The original recipe uses 15 to 20 ingredients, many of which are spices. For this nearly-instant version, I use any one of several vegan varieties of readymade Indian simmer sauces. Whatever you add these sauces to takes on rich, complex flavors that can otherwise only be experienced at Indian restaurants (or if you actually follow the instructions of fine Indian home cooks; in the plant-based world, that would be Vegan Richa).
As for myself, I’ve always been too lazy to roast and grind and mix and measure all the myriad spices that add up to the amazing flavors of Indian dishes. Indian simmer sauces, which burst onto the market within the last few years, have been a game-changer for me. Look for them in the international foods aisles in supermarkets and in natural foods stores.
Varieties come in a range of vegan options from mild to spicy, including Goan coconut, Kashmir curry, and Madras curry. My favorite for this particular recipe is Jalfrezi. Some of them include dairy, so be sure to check labels. Some of the key ingredients in the vegan sauces are coconut milk, tomato, ginger, garlic, and of course, lots of spices.
Speaking of time-savers, organic canned brown lentils are tasty and hold their shape nicely. I never remember to cook lentils in advance of when I need them. But if you prefer to cook your own, directions follow the recipe box.
As shown, you can serve this quick dish with rice or other grain, and for a real treat, fresh naan or other flatbread. I happened to have some cooked black forbidden rice on hand, but you can use brown Basmati or white Jasmine rice, or even quinoa or couscous.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium tomato, diced
- 12-ounce jar Indian simmer sauce, any vegan variety
- Two 15-ounce cans lentils, drained and rinsed
- 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a small soup pot or steep-sided stir-fry pan. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until the onion is golden.
- Add the tomato, simmer sauce, lentils, kidney beans, and lemon juice. Turn the heat up and bring to a simmer, then lower it again and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or until piping hot.
- Stir in the cilantro, season with salt and pepper (you may not need any salt at all, so taste first).
- Serve at once in shallow bowls, on its own or with hot cooked grain and/or fresh flatbread, as suggested in the headnote.
How to cook lentils
If you want to cook your own lentils, go for it! It’s not difficult and doesn’t take much time, but as I mentioned, as for me, it’s a matter of remembering to do so before I need them. Here are the steps:
- Unlike many other legumes, lentils don’t need to be presoaked. Rinse them and check for small stones.
- Combine lentils with water in a large saucepan, using 2 1/2 parts water to 1 part lentils (i.e., 2 1/2 cups water per 1 cup lentils). Bring to a slow boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover to let the lentils simmer, leaving the lid ajar.
- Add more water if needed. Lentils don’t need to absorb all the water they’re cooked in, so you can always drain excess liquid off.
- Brown or green lentils take about 30 minutes to cook. It’s best to stop the cooking process when they’re just tender but still hold their shape. Beluga and de puy lentils might take slightly less time. Red lentils take 15 minutes or less, and cook to a mushy, so plan on using them as a base for soups and stews, not for recipes like this one.
- No matter what kind of lentils you’re cooking, check them from time to time and and add more water if need be, but don’t stir too much. Drain any excess water.