Meatless Monday: Red Lentil and Spinach Masala

Red Lentil and Spinach Masala

I’m currently participating in my own winter Olympics of sorts, so please forgive that this is not being written in real time. Camp No Counselors resumed for a crazy winter session in Vermont. Since I’m not much of a skier, I hung back at the lodge yesterday and taught cooking classes. Other activities included a Chili Cook-Off, bracelet crafting, and tarot card reading. I was charged with project managing dinner for all 100 campers last night, so my classes may have been a veiled attempt at recruiting slave labor to prep the majority of the meal. I’ll give a full report when I return.

But onto the recipe at hand…

My weekly client is always passing along interesting dishes that I might not have otherwise tried. This red lentil recipe from Naturally Ella was one of them. She’s got a beautiful aesthetic and eye towards healthy dishes. We were also both featured in Food & Wine a few months ago for our healthy takes on comfort food, so I feel an affinity there.

Red Lentil and Spinach Masala

Red Lentil and Spinach Masala

Red Lentil and Spinach Masala

I’m really terrible about keeping whole cumin seeds in my spice cabinet – I’ll always opt for ground versions of spices to save the extra work, even though I know they aren’t as flavorful. So my masala is kind of a bastardized version of Erin’s. But the finished dish still tastes great, so I’ll go with convenience over authenticity in this case.

Red Lentil and Spinach Masala

My jar of red lentils had gone untouched for probably a year. So I decided to remake this red lentil recipe at home to use them up. Even with the wilted spinach, the dish kept in my fridge for over a week. I ate it alongside these burgers and as a protein-rich topping for quinoa. It’s just the kind of stick-to-your ribs without clogging your heart comfort food that I love this time of year.

I hope you had a great long weekend! Send me some good vibes for the color war apache relay in the snow today.



Red Lentil and Spinach Masala

Red Lentil and Spinach Masala

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Serving Size: 4

Red Lentil and Spinach Masala

This recipe was inspired by Naturally Ella.


  • 1 tablespoon olive or coconut oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 serrano chili pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander
  • One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • One 15-ounce can unsweetened full fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 5 ounces baby spinach


  1. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Saute the onion over medium-high heat until soft, 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, serrano, cumin, garam masala, and coriander. Cook until very fragrant, 2 minutes. Carefully pour in the tomatoes, scraping up any brown bits that formed on the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced and the tomato chunks have softened, 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the lentils and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook until the lentils are tender, 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the lentils from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Fold in the spinach and cook until wilted, 3 minutes. Serve alongside coconut rice.


This is a great make-ahead meal and can keep in the fridge for up to week.

instagram  If you make this, share a photo and tag me @PhoebeLapine #feedmephoebe - I would love to see it!


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You cooked for 100?! I feel faint at the idea. Great recipe btw, red lentils are the only kind of legume I can eat without, um, producing fumes.

My new favorite recipe! Hearty, fragrant, delicious and even loved by my six year old. Definitely made with love! I am now making it for a second time and I almost always just try recipes once for creative fun. Thank you!

Very delicious! I didn’t have red lentils, but it was great with green (just took longer to cook). Will be making again very soon. I even liked the left overs, and I’m very picky about leftovers. Microwave was fine for that. Thank you for sharing!

I did end up having to add half a cup more liquid since the cook time was so much more. In making it again, I just precooked the green lentils, and that was much better!

Thank you for this fantastic recipe! I had it on my to-make list for quite a while; finally got around to making it today and it was a huge hit! We like spicy, so I added 2 teaspoons of red chili flakes in with the spices. So delicious! I will definitely be making this again.

I made this for dinner tonight, it was FABULOUS! Even my picky kids ate it! This recipe will definitely be going into my dinner rotation!

Thank you, thank you. You already know this is a great receipe but let me tell you why it is one of the best. I have Multiple Scerosis which, as i’m sure you know, affects my body (hands specifically) and my short term memory. So No i don’t have a stove but i do have an electric wok. This is a perfect receipe for the wok. I buy my veggies cut up and everything else is a staple in my pantry with the exception of the coconut milk. No problem it will be from now on. I can’t remember the last time i actually cooked something so thank you for that. I hope to see more receipes that i can make….my children will be so greatfull.

Wow LaVina, your note made my day. That’s so wonderful to hear that you’re able to make the lentils and enjoy them. Check out the lentil soup I posted today. any thicker soup/stew should be ok in the wok. Here are a few more ideas:

Thank you for commenting and wishing you the best of luck with more recipes xoxox

I made this exactly as you prescribed and it was completely delicious! Thank you so much. It is going to become a staple! I have the idea to substitute the coconut milk which is highly calorific for almond milk for a change and up the spice a bit. I want to make it more often and can’t face the coconut milk calories every single time even though it is fabulous! Ha….. I am looking forward to making it with almond milk later. Thank you so much for a gorgeous recipe and photos!

I’m so glad you liked it Lisa! One of my favorite red lentil recipes. Coconut has lots of benefits to make up for the calories, but I’m sure this would be interesting with almond milk too. Let me know how it goes! xo

This looks so yummy! I’m planning on trying it this week 😀

Can I substitute the dry lentils for canned lentils? Or does it need that longer cooking time for the liquids/flavours to thicken/absorb?

Absolutely! I would let some of the sauce thicken though before adding them. Simmer it without the lentils for at least half the time mentioned or it will be too soupy. Good luck!

I, too, made this with green lentils tonight. (It took 35 minutes to cook – not bad at all.) And it was great! I actually use a half a can of tomato paste instead of diced tomatoes out of necessity, and it was still very tasty and filling.

Something I have been curious about: when a recipe calls for lentils, do they expect them to have been soaked overnight? I never know when cooking with lentils, and I can never seem to get my lentils soft enough, even when following recipes. Is there something I should be doing to prepare lentils before cooking with them?


not usually, but you certainly can! if you soak they will cook slightly faster and require a bit less liquid. I didn’t soak mine for this one. To get them soft you might just have to simmer a little longer. Lentils are tough to judge – you’ll always want to cook to taste.

I have a go-to red lentil recipe, but it was getting a little stale. Found this on Pinterest and made it last night. I increased the amount of spices a bit and used a jalepeno pepper instead of a serrano because that’s what I had. Served it with a garnish of cilantro and avocado. It was delicious. I set the sriracha on the table because it wasn’t very hot (and we like to breathe fire), but it was so delicious that we didn’t even use any sriracha! One of your commenters mentioned that they added red chili flakes, which I might do next time, but like I said, it’s delicious without the heat! And I think the best part is that I always have all of the ingredients on hand, so I can make it without a special trip to the grocery store or additional line item on the grocery list!

THanks for the feedback Charity! Serranos are usually a lot spicier than jalapeno, so I’m not surprised you needed a little extra kick. Love sriracha on everything, so totally approve 🙂

Good morning Phoebe, i’m making this wonderful recipe again. Thought you might like to know of some changes i made this time. Since frozen veggies seem to be the order of the month, both inside and outside, i added frozen california blend. It might need to cook a little longer. I have also put in some tumeric. If it tastes as good as it looks it should be outstanding. I’ll let you know how it goes. Stay warm.

Looks beautiful, dying to make, but was wondering about using dried lentils… I’m not that experienced with lentils & just wanted to know if they should be pre-cooked or just added dried?

Thanks in advance 🙂

so glad I stumbled upon this recipe. I have already made it twice and we love it! I used half and half the first time and just 2% milk the second time and each time was very good. I love the creaminess of the recipe and the spice combination! Thanks for sharing!

I loved this dish! I took a shortcut by using an already made Ginger & Garlic paste (mine was by Smith & Jones product of India). It saves a lot of time when I prepare Indian dishes! This is the 2nd time I’m making this dish in a week. The coconut gives great flavors. I covered the dish the entire cooking time which made the steam give softness to the tomatoes and then the spinach. Bravo on such a great dish!

Made this for dinner tonight; it was delicious. We have enough leftovers for tomorrow night also and I’m sure it will be even better. This is definitely going in the rotation. Thanks!

My first foray into cooking with lentils. A very easy recipe to follow, can’t wait to try it tonight when my hungry husband comes home.

I’m making this now – should have asked earlier! Using split lentils. It does not specify whole vs split so in wondering if I should cut down the cook time!

So I cooked it about the same time as the recipe said with split lentils (I tasted part way thru to check). This turned out delicious!! I’m still eating it from Sunday! Great easy cold weather dish!

yay Anna! I’m so glad you followed your instincts since I was a slow poke to reply. Most of the time the red lentils come split, and I assume this is what I used. It’s hard to tell from the photos after the fact. If you had used whole it probably just would have taken a little longer. This recipe is so versatile though, I don’t think you could have gone wrong 🙂 So glad you are enjoying leftovers! xoxo

just to add to the accolades for this amazing recipe … I made this tonight and it definitely ranks in my top 5 favorites of my entire dinner recipe rotation. I used light coconut milk and upped the spinach to 8 oz. This tastes exactly like a dish at our favorite Indian restaurant. Love it, thank you so much!!

This was soooo good!! My boyfriend and I, who are total meat fiends, both said it was one of the best meals we’ve ever made. I don’t even really like lentils, and I still want to eat it every day. Thanks so much for sharing!!!!