This quick and easy version of Indian Madras Lentils is ideal for a fast and flavorful weeknight meal. Serve it with a side of basmati rice or warm flatbread for a healthy and hearty vegan dinner. Enjoy!
As the days grow shorter and the nights cooler, there's nothing quite like a bowl of warm, spiced lentils to wrap up your day. Enter these vegan Madras Lentils: a dish that's as comforting as it is quick. It's a modern twist on a classic Indian dish - that you can make with easy ingredients and no special equipment.
So, next time you're in need of a quick culinary escape, let these Madras Lentils transport you to the bustling streets of Chennai, where flavors are always rich and life is full of zest.
What are Madras Lentils?
Despite the fact that you can find the term "Madras Lentils" on both Indian menus and store bought offerings, it's not truly an authentic Indian dish. It's more of a Western creation. 😉
The name 'Madras' comes from the former title of the city now known as Chennai. The dish referred to as 'Madras lentils' is a westernized version of several classic Indian lentil dishes, inspired by the flavors and cuisine of Madras.
Madras lentils draw inspiration from dishes like 'Dal Makhani' or 'Maa ki Dal' which are made with whole black lentils and kidney beans, slow-cooked to perfection with aromatic spices and often finished with butter and cream for richness. The 'Madras' version keeps the essential elements of this comfort food intact - lentils, beans and spices - while omitting the dairy. Perfect for a vegan diet!
While 'Madras lentils' may not be all that authentic - it sure is popular. And it's also one of the simplest Indian recipes that you can make at home in your own kitchen!
Why You'll Love This Recipe
Who says comfort food can't be nutritious and delicious? These Madras lentils are:
- Healthy & Wholesome. Packed with plenty of plant based protein and fiber, this is a hearty dish that satisfies without weighing you down.
- Quick enough for a Weeknight Dinner. This simplified version of the original dish can be made without a pressure cooker and cooks in under 30 minutes thanks to the use of canned lentils and beans.
- An easy one pot vegan meal! Less fuss and less mess.
Ingredients & Substitutions
Canned Black Lentils & Kidney Beans
These pantry staples are the stars of the dish! The traditional version of Madras Lentils uses dried beans and lentils that need to be soaked and simmered for a long time. Using the canned versions delivers great results in way less time!
Classic Indian Spices
Cumin, turmeric, garam masala, and coriander all play their part in creating the quintessential Indian flavor profile we all love.
No crushed tomatoes? No problem. Feel free to use fresh diced tomatoes or even tomato puree in a pinch.
If garam masala isn't on hand, try a blend of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to mimic its warm, sweet notes.
While olive oil is a great choice, coconut oil can add a subtle sweetness and vegan butter will give a richer flavor.
Rinse the Lentils and Beans. Canned legumes can be very high in sodium. Use a strainer to give both the beans and lentils a good rinse under cold water to remove all that extra salt before cooking.
Cook it Low and Slow. Even though this is a quick recipe, giving the dish some time to simmer at the end will deepen the flavors. So don't get impatient!
Serving Suggestions. Pair these Madras Lentils with fluffy basmati rice, a warm piece of vegan naan bread, or even serve atop a baked potato for a fun twist!
Get Garnishes! Fresh cilantro adds a pop of color and a burst of freshness to the dish. You may also want to serve your madras lentils with a handful of chopped onions, slivered chili peppers, or a dollop of vegan raita.
Storing Leftovers. Store leftover Madras Lentils in a covered container in the fridge for 3-4 days, or freeze for up to 2 months. To serve the lentils again, allow them to defrost (if frozen) and warm on the stovetop over medium heat.
Add more plant based protein. Amp up the protein by adding cubes of firm tofu or tempeh to the curry!
Add more veggies. Feel free to add more fresh veggies to the dish as well. Bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, or kale are all great additions.
More Vegan Indian Recipes
If you love these Madras Lentils, be sure to check out these other tasty vegan ideas:
30-Minute Madras Lentils (Vegan)
- 2 cans 15 ounces each black lentils, drained and rinsed
- 1 can 15 ounces red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or any vegan cooking oil
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1- inch piece ginger minced
- 1 green chili slit (optional, adjust to heat preference)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 can 14 ounces crushed tomatoes
- Salt to taste
- 1-2 cups vegetable broth or water for desired consistency
- 1 tablespoon vegan butter or additional olive oil for a buttery flavor
- Fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
- Prepare the Canned Lentils and Beans: Since the canned lentils and beans are pre-cooked, simply rinse them to remove any excess sodium and set aside.
- Sauté the Aromatics: Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and wait until they start to crackle. Then, add the onions, garlic, ginger, and green chili. Sauté until the onions are soft and golden.
- Add the Spices: Stir in the turmeric, red chili powder, garam masala, and ground coriander. Cook the spices for about a minute until they are fragrant.
- Cook the Tomato Base: Add the crushed tomatoes and salt to the pot. Let the mixture simmer until it thickens slightly, which should take about 8-10 minutes.
- Combine with Lentils and Beans: Add the rinsed lentils and kidney beans to the pot. Mix well with the tomato and spice mixture.
- Adjust Consistency: Pour in the vegetable broth or water to reach the consistency you like for your dal.
- Simmer: Allow the mixture to come to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes to blend the flavors together.
- Finish with Vegan Butter: Stir in the vegan butter or extra olive oil right before you're ready to serve.
- Garnish: Sprinkle with freshly chopped cilantro for a touch of color and freshness.